Posts Tagged ‘National Theatre’

Now, that sounds like something from Gilbert and Sullivan doesn’t it? Well, I wish I felt as jolly as those operettas often are, performed as they often are in village hall amateur productions by people with community spirit stamped right through them like a stick of Blackpool rock.

I’ve just had to cancel tickets for tonight’s live stream performance (Shakespeare’s King Lear), beamed  from the National Theatre to our local independent cinema – something I’ve been looking forward to for weeks – because I don’t want to be a nuisance to the rest of the audience or get thrown out for causing a disruption.

Can you tell I’m feeling pretty sorry for myself? I’ve had a hacking cough for over a week. From where it came I have no idea but I lost my voice completely last Thursday, much to the delight of a few who shall remain nameless. As it wasn’t getting any better or showing any signs of going somewhere else, I capitulated and went to the doctor.

 “Haven’t seen you for a long time,”  he said.

Well no, you wouldn’t have because I’m never ill enough to bother you, I thought.

He started typing something into his laptop, half listened to my reason for being there in the first place, waved his stethoscope vaguely in my direction, typed a bit more and said, “there we are, a course of antibiotics. They might not work because I can’t tell if this is viral or bacterial.”

As you can imagine this didn’t inspire me with much confidence but as I was feeling too rough to argue (yes, I felt that bad), I thanked him for the three minutes of his time and on the way out paid the pharmacy a ludicrous amount for two items – the tablets and some foul tasting linctus in a brown glass bottle, looking suspiciously similar to the stuff I pour periodically down the drain to keep the water flowing.

Once home, I opened the packet of pills and the first thing I saw on the box was: “Please read the enclosed leaflet before taking this medicine.”

So I did.

There were reams of reasons not to take the blessed tablets – possible side effects, common side effects, less common side effects, other side effects; the list measured nineteen inches (I actually got the tape-measure out). I couldn’t believe it. I’d end up feeling worse than the reason for which I went to the doctor in the first place.

I swigged the linctus down and cast the tablets aside, determined to tough it out and not take them.

However, after yet another virtually sleepless night (cough, cough, cough),   I reluctantly began taking the wretched things (two a day and make sure you finish the course even if you start to feel better), and waited for the first sign of a side effect. Happy to report nothing of significance yet and I’m beginning to feel a bit better. But I might have done anyway.

I don’t like the idea of antibiotics, doled out with not so much as a hope you feel better soon. Why don’t our doctors have an alternative plan or is it all about money? Yes, I suppose it is. How many patients can they get through their practice in a session, prescribe them pills from whichever pharmaceutical lab is the flavour of the month or the one which provides the most funding?

Or maybe I’m just being cynical. Hey! That’s good! I must be feeling better.

Normal service resumes next week when hopefully I’ll be fighting fit and definitely antibiotic free.


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Last week I went with friends to see the National Theatre’s production of Alan Bennett’s new play, ‘People.’ We didn’t have to trawl all the way to London and worry about missing the last train home because we were comfortably ensconced in our local village hall, the play being beamed live and direct to us by satellite. This is where technology has my whole-hearted approval because although the excitement of attending a London theatre cannot be replicated, we had an excellent evening at a fraction of the cost. We were able to enjoy a drink before the performance and had the bonus of watching a short film of Alan Bennett talking about his play while the real audience found their seats. It was all very civilised.

‘People’ is about that exceedingly British  institution, The National Trust, and as  the play progressed I couldn’t help wondering if the Trust was deeply offended by the points Bennett was making. He suggests that the Trust portrays a “pretend England,” that it is “so decent, so worthy, so dull,” and likens it to the Anglican Church with its “sacrament of coffee and walnut cake.”

So what does he mean by a “pretend England?” I think he’s saying that our stately homes should be allowed to grow old gracefully, without the tarting up and titivation that the Trust affords them. He is decrying the movement towards the “themed” visits of which the Trust has lately become fond; tales of ghostly apparitions who woo visiting masses before they wend their way to the organically sourced produce in the cafe for a jolly nice tea. He’s also making the point that nowadays society only finds worth in something that has financial value; therefore crumbling old piles must be restored to within inches of their originality, often eradicating all traces of the families who used to call these dear old places home.

I know what he means.  I have been disappointed with several of the Trust properties I’ve visited. There is a dishonesty about them; they are too pristine; too polished. Volunteer helpers dressed in period costume hang around redecorated drawing rooms waiting to impart sparse knowledge of the period or family who once lived there – move away from frequently asked questions at your peril. It’s like trying to get an answer from your bank’s far flung call centre. I have, however, discovered not all the furniture and artefacts on display originate from the particular house: the Trust imports furniture and artefacts “of the period,” while several properties feature contract-weight fitted carpets, which, quite frankly, is just wrong.

It’s not all bad, though. Chartwell, in Kent, the home of Winston Churchill, is a delight: the house gives one the feeling that Winston has just nipped out to nearby Westerham; his garden studio is left waiting for his return, tubes of half-squeezed oil paint strewn about, paintings half-finished, brushes ready. Likewise Greenway, Agatha Christie’s beautiful house overlooking the river Dart in Devon. Her wardrobe, a few dresses and a fur coat gently swaying on the rails, evokes a genuine spectral quality that no amount of themed storytelling can emulate.

Back at the village hall during the interval, where the middle classes sipped glasses of warm Chablis or jostled each other for the last tub of stem ginger ice-cream, it occurred to me that here was the backbone of the National Trust’s membership bank; the same people who, just a few minutes earlier, had been laughing uproariously as the play unfolded. Alan Bennett is the master of observation; his characters, always flawed, are spot-on and usually deeply funny or traumatically tragic. He would have had a field day here, in amongst the mostly retired audience from the stock-broker belt, with his tongue wedged firmly in his cheek. But that’s the ultimate point, isn’t it?

Alan Bennett. Photo, BBC

Alan Bennett.
Photo, BBC

However curmudgeonly our dear playwright appears, he is a National Treasure and epitomises the faded Englishness he craves for the Trust, thereby giving us licence to do what we Brits do best. Laugh at ourselves.

Long may we last.

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