Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Christmas Pantomime -- Aladdin

The pantomime is a Christmas tradition in the UK, and this year the New Wimbledon Theatre has been publicising their production of Aladdin almost everywhere, including the ticket gates at Putney station. Eager as ever to get the authentic British experience here, we got tickets and went along.

This year there are four celebrities playing the role of the Genie: Ruby Wax, Pamela Anderson, Paul O'Grady and some woman off Eastenders. We were booked to see Pam, but due to "family commitments" we got Ruby instead.

In the end, it didn't matter much. The Genie was only on for a fraction of the show, and Ruby played it as a sarcastic, withering character who was either too cool or too busy to care about the surroundings. Thus, the show was mostly carried by the main cast: Wishy-Washy and Widow Twanky, Abanazar, and to a lesser extent Aladdin and Jasmine. There were plenty of jokes, lots of booing and hissing, and a rather out of place segment of Peking's Got Talent (we all got to sing about a worm at the bottom of the garden).

One highlight was Brian Blessed, who is famous for shouting lines. He had a microphone, but when he yelled "I can't hear you" for the third time, I'm sure they had the microphone off and his voice still filled the theatre. His appearances were formulaic -- turn up, encourage a few boos and hisses, spell out the plot (loudly) and then disappear to lightning. When you're the bad guy in the pantomime though, that's what you're there for.

Overall, the panto was quite good fun, and certainly a good way to spend an otherwise cold and dreary Sunday afternoon.

This contrasted rather nicely with Inherit the Wind, a play inspired by the Scopes trial of the 1920s. This was a much more serious play, although it had plenty of light moments. Kevin Spacey played the defence lawyer, and did a good job of an old-ish man who for some reason reminded me of Mark Twain. The eventual outcome was just as obvious as Aladdin, but the play kept our attention the whole way through. I spent a lot of the time feeling incredulous at how a town could be so closed-minded against science; but then again, the whole play was apparently a statement against the McCarthy communist-hating era that was around when the play was written.

Aladdin and Brian Blessed was certainly a contrast to Inherit the Wind and Kevin Spacey. Still, we had icecream in the interval at both.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Windsor Castle

Last weekend the weather was terrible, so we decided to head down to Windsor Castle. Windsor Castle is a convenient 45 minute train ride from Putney, and when we got there the weather was very atmospheric -- it was pouring down.

While we waited for the rain to stop, we had roast dinner for lunch at a pub looking up at the castle's Round Tower. It looked ominously at us through the gloom. By the time we had finished and made our way up, the rain had mostly stopped. We had the castle mostly to ourselves on account of the weather, and got to waltz past all the markers indicating that the line would take 45 minutes from this point.

The first stop was the Dolls' House. This was a gift for Queen Mary, and is essentially a miniature mansion. There are dozens of small rooms, each individually furnished, and apparently both the electricity and the plumbing work. The house was meant to be as state-of-the-art as possible in the 1920s, and one of the proud features was the vacuum cleaner tucked away in a small room.

Next, there was a temporary exhibition on King Henry VII. This wasn't nearly as exciting as the Tower of London's: there were no shiny suits of armour that you could watch grow larger and larger over the years. Instead, there were a number of portraits of people from the time, like Anne Boleyn, and interesting artifacts like a diary with her handwriting.

Once we got through this, we toured the State and Semi-State Rooms. These were all naturally very impressive, as their main job is to impress visiting dignitaries. There were millions of decorative items from Britain's former days of Empire, with swords criss-crossing up the walls, and polished helmets and guns in display cases; there were splendid bedrooms with lovely artwork, and there were over the top entertaining rooms which had been rebuilt after the fire of 1992.

The highlight of the interior was St George's Hall, which is where State dinners are held. The room is covered with miniature shields of the Knights of the Garter -- including our own Edmund Hillary -- and features blanked out shields for naughty knights that were struck off. One interesting fact: when they set the table for dinner, they use a ruler to ensure everything lines up. Otherwise it just looks a mess, apparently.

Unfortunately, you can't take any photos of the inside. But, we do have some photos of the dark and damp day outside. If you are observant, you may see Brendan and Chris in some.

Windsor Castle

Very Green Grass

All photos are available here.