Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Radical Islam and Spice World


After my nightmarish schedule-tag last Friday, I was keen to begin the week and see what new bouts of Academia awaited me. My switch into "Alternative Theatre" found me in the middle of a great adventure Monday night, when I went to see the Arcola Theatre's production of "Elder Latimer in Love."

The Arcola Theatre is located in what I would call the Turkish part of town. There were lots of Turkish restaurants and everything seemed very Middle Eastern in the dresses and shoes being sold in the shops. It was far far away from anywhere in London I've been, so the "sense of adventure at twilight" abounded. There were also a lot of travel agencies advertising (brit spell) ISTANBUL!!! WHERE I'M GOING OVER FALL BREAK!! For those of you who haven't been in my shouting distance recently (large though it may be) my one goal for Europe is to get to Istanbul and see the Hagia Sophia. I have a thing for hte Byzantines. Pre-Schism. Whevs. SO, seeing all the Turkish beeznass made me very excited. And after wandering round the roads for a while, we turned down an alley and into the Theatre.

Now, Alternative Theatre is everything the name promises. We sat in the lobby with tables and drinks until the theatre was ready. Then they ushed us out of the front door and back behind the building, where we entered the actual space. (Explore the space!) And did we. There were about fifty of us in the audience sitting in two rows around three sides of the unbelievably small black box. We came in and three actors were already positioned on boxes in the space. I sat next to a very friendly Arab-looking fella. He keep smiling at me and looking around like he was excited. I was pleased to be sitting next to him, thinking he would be up for enjoying the show. By the time we were all squished in, he was one person away from me, and after the lights dimmed, he stood up and turned around to the guy behind him...and began the show.

Thus began the coolest straight-play experience I've ever had. The plot: a Mormon (with a TERRIBLE American accent) comes to London for his Mission. He meets a gay Muslim, falls in love with the guy's sister, spends time with their crazy aunt and her English boyfriend, gets high, etc. Meanwhile, the Muslim girl is making this "multi-media project" for some conference. She often stops and talks into a camcorder (projected onto the wall) about her beliefs, and being written out of history, and how angry she is, etc. She loves the Mormon but knows he'll never marry her, and he loves her for her commitment to her faith. He says goodbye to go back to America. She completes the project, which is being edited by her brother. Her brother then realizes that the film is an explanation and goodbye, because she's going to go blow up the theatre. The lights come up, the cell phone announcement comes on, and we are suddenly about to watch the play the girl was "working on a project" for. She comes in with a bulky jacket and sits in the audience (right behind me). For two seconds, my life flashes before my eyes and I think, "Dear God, they're going to kill us. They're going to blow us up. It was all a set up and I'm going to be the victim of a terrorist attack." Which is, of course, the point, because Mormon boy comes bursting in begging her to not blow us all up. The aunt comes in and talks her down, and the play ends before she lets the bomb off. WOW. I didn't look at my watch for an hour and a half.

That was Monday. Tuesday I managed to bum a ticket to a BBC "Prom," short for promenade. A Prom is one of a series of concerts that go all summer and here held at the Royal Albert Hall.

They're a whole slew of classical pieces, conducted and featuring multiple heavy-hitters of the classical world. It's called a promenade because for 5lbs you can buy a standing ticket and "walk around" during the concert. We had fanTASTic seats, right next to the bass section.

I walked in with my friend Lauren, and immediately gasped. "OH! MY! GOD! THIS IS WHERE THE SPICE GIRLS PERFORM AT THE END OF 'SPICE WORLD'!!!!" She stopped for a moment, looked around, and gasped, "YES YES YES IT IS!" London was then made perfect, and my deepest desires fulfilled.

The programme started with Mendelssohn's Overture. (Which one, I know not. That's what happens when you charge for programs. No one knows what's playing.) I've seen a great mother buttload of classical music in performance, and I have to say, this was tops. Something about the night and the people, from those five stories up to those in jeans standing in the "promming" area all in awed silence, gave the music an atmosphere I have seldom experienced. I'm generally not a fan of the genre (give me punk or give me death) but this night, something in the air smelled sweeter. I saw new life in the orchestra, a pulse in symphony I had previously given up searching for. Fair attempts to experience this can be taken at

The piece was conducted by...Peter Maxwell Davies. Yes, THAT one. The one I studied spring semester in "20th Century Music" who wrote "Eight Songs for a Mad King." He conducted the first piece and then conducted the U.K. premier of a new violin concerto. Very odd, very atonal, very cool. The middle section was beautiful (not atonal, very emotional) and moved me to tears. YES, I cried. He got oodles of encores, and eventually the violin soloist started playing "Happy Birthday" (it was his 75th birthday?!) and we all sang. (Well, I sang. Very loudly so he could hear me. "Hahpi BUTHday SirpetermaxwellDAVies....")

The second half had a different conductor, and it was fun to to watch him mouth encouragement throughout Sibelius's...once again, lack of programme. PEOPLE! Well, it was fun. And the piece was mind-blowing. Visions of sitting with Andy during an unexpected piece in Baroque going "that ROCKED!!" All around, an evening I won't soon forget. *Sigh contentedly*

WAIT! It was Symphony No. 5. Here:

So far, 2 for 2. An evening of in-your-face theatre that was jarring an endlessly entertaining, and an evening of music that changed my mind's classical landscape. Kudos.

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