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UNITED KINGDOM | Tuesday, 19 August 2014 | Views [241]

At 11:00 Monday night, my sister and father went to watch Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens. It was a two hour show featuring such songs as “All I Need is Disco” and “Glitter Boots Saved My Life.” I'd managed to convince my mother to get up with me and go to Blackwells at 7:30 in the morning, when they opened special to sell Murakami's latest book. (Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki.)

 The bookstore wasn't terribly exciting. I picked up a copy of the book and purchased it, entering my name in the raffle for a signed copy of the book. (If I'd won, I was wiling to pay shipping back to the U.S. I didn't win.) We received to orange juice (served in real glasses) and a pain-au-chocolat (they also had croissants.) And I got a version of the book with stickers! And got to start reading it several hours before anyone else could (Maybe I'm just bitter that my favorite author's most recent novel took two full months to arrive after I tried to buy it through Amazon. Being able to buy a recent book from an author I enjoy early had its appeal.)

 With that done, my mother and I looked for a coffee shop. We found one a little bit down the same street, right next to the grocery store we were planning on going to next. They had a belgian hot chocolate, which was very good, even if I didn't realize I was supposed to stir it. So the first few sips tasted like steamed milk, and the bottom tasted like melted chocolate. It was good, but a bit too rich that early in the morning. I asked for a glass of water and still couldn't finish it.

 Then we went to the grocery store. To everyone's surprise, I was able to find a dish for dinner- Chicken korma, and also microwaveable rice. Being a college student has made me good at identifying what is microwaveable and what requires a lot more effort. I was disappointed to see that Kinder Eggs now came in two different color-s pink and blue, with correspondingly gendered coins inside. Because clearly every toy, including the ones that come inside chocolate, must be appropriately gendered.

 When we got back to the apartment, my father and sister were both getting ready for the day, despite their claims they wound's be up until 1:00 in the afternoon. So we were able to consult them on the shows. The Happy Prince and Prelude to a Number were both half-price, and we'd previously thought both were interesting. Additionally, The Sonneteers was 2-for-1 today. We consulted together, and then agreed that my mother would go for a walk, my father and sister would go to the Half-Price Hut, and I would go to the box office for The Sonneteers. We would all meet up at the venue for The Happy Prince at 12:00. We would get lunch after that.

 I went from the apartment to the box office. As I was getting the tickets (I needed to pay in cash because it was a church, and the church had a rule against credit cards. That is probably the most interesting explanation I've heard, in large part because most places that only take cash don't give you an explanation) it was starting to rain. So I scrapped my plan of taking a walk and went to Plesance to hang out. Only one person approached me with a flier. It was sad.

 Around 11:30, I got up and walked to the venue. Down South University. Down Nicholson. Down Clerk. Down South Clerk. I never turned, those are just all the names that the street had. It had another name for about two blocks, but it didn't keep that long enough to be worth putting onto a map. At last, I found venue. It was raining pretty considerably, so I poked around a bit to see if there was someplace covered I could sit. There was.

 While I waited for my family, I saw two people wearing venue t-shirts and carrying a stack of review excerpts. They were looking for the posers to hang them up on.

“Are any of them for old shows?” One of them asked.

“No. They're all for current shows.”

“We need a poster person.”

The way they said it made it sound like some venues did have a dedicated person who knew where every poster was hung, and could add reviews to it or take it down as necessary. It seems tiring.

 My father and sister ate breakfast at the apartment, then headed out to the half-price hut. They waited in the line, and then succeeded in buying the tickets to both shows. By this point it was around 11:30. They had plenty of time to get to the Venue. They went out to Prince's street and took a left. (No! Haven't we learned anything from looking for the grocery store?) 18 minutes later, they realized they were heading the wrong direction. So they started running back. My sister even put away her umbrella, because it was more hassle than it was worth. The only time they stopped was to text my mother that they had the ticekts, but they were running a bit late.

 My mother must have given up on her walk idea relatively early, but she found the venue with plenty o time to spare. We met up and waited for them. Then they announced that seating was open. She asked the ushers if I could go in and save a seat, explaining the situation. The ushers told us to be patient, there were 6 minutes and plenty of room in there. My mother went to the edge of the venue to wait, and I stayed inside where it was dry. When the play was about to begin, the userhs waved me in. I found a seat and waited for my family.

 When my father and sister showed up, they saw my mom and headed towards the theater. There was no longer anyone nearby, but they could hear voices from the inside. They avoided that door, and went instead up a flight of stairs to emerge into darkness, not sure how to get down. They needed a flashlight app. Then they got to the main area, saw me, and sat down one row behind. They still had their unchecked tickets. At the end of the show, we gave them to the ushers, who were slightly confused as to how my family had avoided them. But it all worked out.

The Happy Prince was an adaption of one of Oscar Wilde's fairy tales. As such, it was geared towards a younger audience than The Importance of Being Ernest, though that was more of a decision of the director/cast than pure necessity.

The Happy Prince begins with a bird who is in love with a reed. He tries to convince the reed of the depth of his emotion, but of course the reed cannot respond. He stays a day beyond when his family has left for Egypt to convince her, but at last, desolate, flies on.

He stops in a town and rests on the statue of a prince, gilt in gold leaves with sapphires for eyes and a ruby at the end of of his sword. The prince should be happy but is instead crying. When the bird asks why, the prince responds that he can see the suffering of the people. There is a room where a seamstress is up, sewing flowers onto the dress of the queen's loveliest lady-in-waiting. But the work is hard, and her child is sick. So the prince asks the bird to peck away his ruby and give it to the woman. Similarly, he asks that one of his eyes be given to a writer, struggling through the cold to finish a play, and the other to a little matchbox girl who dropped all of her matches. At last, he says that his gold gilding should be distributed to the townspeople. After all this, the bird cannot leave the statue, and he stays for several months, even as it turns colder. At last, the bird falls dead at the prince's feet, and the re is a crack as the prince's leaden heart breaks.

Personally, that's not very high on the list of stories I would want to tell to my children. But the way the piece was performed made it childish. There were four actors, and two of them were part of the meta-story about an apprentice learning the tricks of staging. Including actual magic tricks and the explanation about how single object can have vast importance. With that part cut out, the musical would have been a lot less childish, though probably a good deal shorter as well. (They did hand out gold-colored-foil-wrapped candy to represent the distribution of the Prince's gilding, so that was nice.)

For lunch, we stopped in an Indian restaurant. They had tikka masala pizza, which was weird in how normal it was. The tikka masala sauce was much milder than I was expecting, and the pizza featured regular mozarella cheese and tomato sauce. After eating in several countries serving pizza with a sharper cheese and no sauce, having almost normal pizza with tikka masala chicken on top was a little disconcerting.

After lunch my parents were full, but my sister and I were both tempted by all of the dessert shops we'd passed on the way. So we split up. My sister and I promptly ignored the baked desserts and stumbled into a candy shop. Flying saucers! Also rhubarb and custard candy, which was just strange enough to justify buying a mixed bag. We now needed to retreat to somewhere to eat it, so off we went to the venue, then a cafe there. We sat quietly in a corner and tried our candy.

Mostly, rhubarb and custard candy just tasted like sugar. Mostly, that's all any of the candy tasted like sugar. The flying saucers were good (we'd compromised on getting 6 of them since we weren't sure if they would be or not. They're hit-or-miss) and the fizzy coke bottles were tasty as always. I've missed British candy.

The next show was called Prelude to a Number. It described itself as show about math. We showed up, and the boards were full of expressions, which is a good sign. Then the group came on. They described themselves as “a band that found ourselves in the theater section and are trying to get out.” I can understand their description. Their music was better than their storylines.

There were three different characters, plus second-person narration. One of them liked music, and at some point realized that the music he liked listening to was mathematically and rhythmically similar to the song his parents had been dancing to when they first met. Another was an investment banker who made his money using the golden ratio. And then there was Theresa, a girl who apartment had been broken into and who appeared to have obsessive-compulsive disorder. The latter two met at a grocery store at the end, but for the most part the only link between them was phi.

In short, it was a play about math from people who didn't have that deep a knowledge about math. As evidenced by the extraordinary emphasis they put on phi. While phi is undeniably important in math, it's perhaps more notable for having a lot of influence in art and music as it an aesthetically pleasing ratio. By contrast, I have yet to see someone who didn't understand math try and write a story using the number e. In fact, I'm pretty sure the only place I've seen e come up is in textbooks.

 It was a little disappointing. And technically they didn't actually say anything wrong. They just didn't say anything meaningfully right either. I wasn't exactly expecting a musical that explained Euler's formula (though that would be awesome) but I would have liked something a little less superficial. At least the music was nice enough.

 With that over, we had a lot more time to get to the next venue than we needed. So we went off, shopping at any stores that seemed interesting. At a pound-stretcher store I managed to find a felt tip .3 mm pen (not as nice as gel, but beggars can't be choosers and all that.) Then we found a charity shop and, on a whim, I tried on a red coat. It fit, and looked really nice, so I bought it.

 A little bit further down the street, there was another charity shop. We stopped into this one, and my sister looked at the kilts. She had no idea what size she was in British measurements, but she grabbed the mostly-full kilt she found and tried it on. It fit. She bought that, leaving the fun of discovering what clan that kilt was from for an Internet connection later.

 By this point, we didn't quite have enough time for a formal diversion. But a little bit down that street was yet another charity shop. So we popped into it just for the fun of it. And then started touching sweaters.

 In the tourist shops earlier, I'd kept touching scarves and sweaters and gloves made out of cashmere. They were so soft, but so expensive. I like cashmere. I dream some day of being able to knit an entire sweater out of cashmere. But for now, I can't afford that. I can, however, afford a 100% cashmere sweater if it appears at a heavy discount at a charity shop. I found one, tried it on, and even found out that it looked nice in addition to being super soft.

 For the rest of the day I tried to wear the sweater and the coat as much as possible. For the rest of the day, I was rather warm, since it wasn't that cold a day.

 Our final show for the day was The Sonneteers. It was by far the best. It contained two stories- Shakespeare and his Fair Youth, and a student and teacher who's relationship mirrors theirs somewhat. It alternated between the two stories, with the biggest difference being that Shakespeare and his lover used Shakespearean language. The other two would quote sonnets, but beyond that the language was modern.

 There were two things that could help understand the play-- knowledge of Shakespeare's sonnets and knowledge of Shakespeare's life and the theories about who the Fair Youth was, especially Henry Wriothlesly. I had the former, but not the latter, which made that part of the story much harder to follow. Even so, I thought the two stories were very well interwoven (kind of like an extended version of the improv game Freeze, only with only two scenarios and a lot less humor) and it made me more familiar with a lot of Shakespeare's sonnets.

After dinner, my sister and I went out to look for theater. We were handed a couple of fliers, but none for shows we wanted to see. We returned to our apartment defeated. Theater-wise, it had been a pretty disappointing day. But it had been good for shopping, and all of the people trying to interest me in comedy had given me a new idea for a show.

 “Improvised Tragedy!”

“Like Cluedo, only sadder!”

“Do you like comedy?” When people ignore us and walk away, “good, because do I have a depressing tragedy for you!”

 It will be a smash hit at the 2015 Fringe Festival. Watch for us there! (Except don't actually.)

Tags: cashmere, fringe, musicals, shakespeare, sweater, tickets, wilde

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