Tonight a big group from one of the halls (and a couple of us who happen to be "in" with their social secretary) went to see Patrick Stewart's one man Christmas Carol. Now, I will be the first to admit that I think its a rather dull story that only actually picks up when Scrooge decides to share the limelight a little and we get to meet the Crachett family. Anyway, not a huge fan of the story itself, but he did a really good job! Of course he did, you say, he was Jean Luc Picard of the USS Enterprise! I say, of course he did, they don't let complete idiots into the Royal Shakespeare Company (although, trying to "remake" the Lion in Winter? WTF! You're sooo not the awesome and amazing Peter O'Toole. Anyway). I think it might have been harder to settle into if you hadn't had previous experience watching people talk to themselves on a speech team. Woot!
The other thing that I noticed, and frankly, this throws me everytime I leave my little South Bank haven and venture to the proper West End, is the difference in style. There's gold. There are tons of ushers trying to sell you ice creams and candy. The auditoriums feel MINUTE and the stages even smaller. The lobbies are non-existant and the theatre basically spills you on to the streets outside. I know it sounds like I think these are all bad things, but I honestly don't. The West End has its own very special place in London's theatre world, I've just realized how different it is from the subsidized theatre at the NT and in some ways, the Donmar, which is also a fairly stark place.
On the other hand, tonight's gold and gilt made me realize something that might help explain why I spend so much of my time at the National Theatre. Those of you who have known me long enough know that for many years, Clowe's Hall, on the campus of Butler University in Indianapolis, was absolutely my favorite theatre in the entire world. It was probably my first theatre, when I begged my mother (at the age of 3) to be taken to see the Nutcracker at Christmas. Apparently I had to promise to behave (and did!), even though I wasn't even heavy enough to hold down the seat at the time. Later, I even danced there (heh), in my ballet school's production of the Wizard of Oz (I was a winkie, if you were keeping score). Sometime in middle school my mom couldn't get us tickets to something or other on ice and substituted tickets to see The Sound of Music, which was part of Indianapolis' Broadway touring company circut that year and that happened to be in town. For three or four years after that we were season ticket holders, and it was a really special thing (more so than I even realized at the time). It was our girl's night: giggles about the same lady with the big hair whose season tickets were right in front of us (ack!), me always making sure that I had enough money saved away to buy a program, and becoming absolute experts at getting in and out of that parking lot as quickly as possible! We sort of slacked off when the renovated Murat Theatre opened downtown and we didn't like going there nearly as much or the year that the series kinda sucked. But, the point is that I loved Clowes; it was my theatre home. (Incidentially, I'm pretty sure that the revival of Carousel that we saw originated at the NT.)
The thing about Clowes is that it is a supremely ugly building: angular and concrete both inside and out. It's sparse, but with big common spaces and a sense of community and excitement. I don't know why I never thought of it before, but the NT and Clowes have an awful lot in common. Maybe this is part of me connecting happy memories of my parents to my life in London, even when I do it subconciously? On the other hand, I already knew that my mother was the one who turned me into a theatre-goer/lover and that I honor that legacy that she passed on to me every time I decide to take advantage of an opportunity to see a show.
In less philosophical news, I'm moving tomorrow! Ack! Must pack!