My weekend was something of a cultural binge: taking in two (and a bit) art exhibitions and some 12 hours of theatrical extravaganza (though, so far as I know, there are no suggested government limits on the maximum safe volume of culture to be consumed in 24 hours). You might ask why I chose to subject myself to quite so much culture over one weekend: go on, you know you want to!
Well, as you asked so nicely, I can tell you in a single word (or perhaps a single word with a definite article): the Olympics. Shortly, travelling into, and to an even greater extent around, London is going to become a significantly more challenging and unpleasant experience as it will be full of folk hoping to take part in an orgy of corporate branding with the odd sporting event thrown-in. Since I suffer from claustrophobia in crowds (and even more so in small spaces filled with a crowd: yes London Underground, I’m talking to you), I am trying to squeeze in as much London-based culture before the hordes descend. There is also the need to catch plays and exhibitions that will be over by the time it is safe to return. So, I had my own little cultural Olympiad over the weekend.
Talking of the Olympics, I wonder if the current flourishing of Shakespeare on the television and in theatres across the land is relying on a probable misunderstanding: that the Stratford of the games and of the Bard are the same place? I do wonder how many disappointed visitors will be unable to find Anne Hathaway’s cottage in E15?
Art-wise, on Saturday I took in the Master Drawings at the Courtauld and on Sunday “A taste of Impressionism” from Paris via the US to the Royal Academy. I would thoroughly recommend both – some truly beautiful works. The tragedy, as always, is that they are already fading from my useless visual memory – I shall have to return. Luckily, I will be able to go back to both for nowt – thanks to my (paid) friendships with the National Art Fund and Royal Academy (so not entirely free, but sunk cost at least). While at the RA, I was also able to see the contents of the John Madejski Fine Rooms. I’ve known of the existence of these rooms for some time, but they had never been open on all my many previous visits – and I assumed they were like Brigadoon and only accessible once a century (so elusive are they, that I couldn’t even access the relevant part of the RA website when researching this post to check the spelling). The rooms contained works by Academicians – and all held at least some interest, and a couple were real stunners (for me at least).
Theatrically, I saw Last of the Hausmanns at the National and Diplomacy at the Old Vic on Saturday – both plays well worth two-and-a-half hours of anyone’s time (I even managed to learn some relatively recent European history). But, on Sunday I went to see Gatz which starts at 14:30 and doesn’t finish until 22:45. They do offer you three intervals – two of 15 minutes and one of over an hour to have dinner – but it’s still a very long time to be folded up in a theatre seat. The “play” is quite extraordinary and well-worth seeing: The concept is an amazing idea for anyone to have come up with, and perhaps even more incredible that they managed to convince enough others to enable it to actually happen. However, by the end I did wonder if my lower body would ever work again and most of my upper body was none too pleased with me either. It also seemed that all that concentrated culture had turned my brain to mush: perhaps HMG should have a suggested limit for culture after all. Miraculously, given my age, I do seem to have recovered pretty rapidly – or so I thought until I went to the cinema this afternoon. After a couple of hours in the usually comfortable embrace of the Arts Cinema’s seating, I was having flashbacks to Sunday night. I think I will have to start rationing my culture in future: perhaps limit myself to no more than 6 hours per weekend. Either that or find a personal trainer who can prepare my body for the ordeal of sustaining the arts in this country: oddly, most seem more obsessed with helping me lose weight (and here’s me struggling to retain what little weight I have) than preparing me for the theatre or gallery. This seems to be a rather serious gap in the market, if you ask me…