January 5, 2023

Dateline – Birmingham, Alabama

Sorry about the delayed update on the last piece of the UK trip but I was tired after a long double show day on Tuesday and Wednesday turned into an interminable travel day of some twenty-five hours between the London hotel and my Birmingham condo so I am only just surfacing now with enough energy and functioning neurons to be able to string a coherent sentence together. I’ll bring you all up to date today and then I’m likely to be dormant for a few days while I figure out which end is up, what time zone I’m in, and how to piece together all of the crazy pieces of my life.

On Tuesday morning, David Pohler and I got up, breakfasted and under way across town to The Tower of London. Our very smart guide suggested that we get there within a half hour or so of opening at 9 am and that we make a beeline for the jewel house. We followed his advice, tubed from the west suburbs to the east end, were on the Tower grounds about 9:15 and in to see the crown jewels by 9:20 as no queue had yet formed. By 10 am, the line was significant and was somewhere between 40 and 75 minutes the rest of the day so here’s your travel tip of the day. If you want to see the diamonds and the gold, go early. St. Edwards’ Crown, which is used to crown the monarch as it’s being prepared for Charles III’s coronation in a couple of months. These are working pieces after all. The rest of the sparkle was all very much there. I’ve been to the Tower several times before but I’ve always enjoyed letting my mind drift back over a thousand years of history and who was walking which halls when. They’ve redone a lot since my last trip fifteen years ago including opening up some new apartments from the 13th century in the Wakefield Tower which I found quite interesting.

Then we took one of the river ferries across the Thames to the south bank and the Globe Theater. Those who recall their theatrical history know that Shakespeare’s Globe burned in the early 17th century when one of the cannons being used in a performance of Henry VIII malfunctioned and set the place on fire. The current Globe is a loving recreation as close to the original site as they could put it. As the Globe was open air (no theatrical lighting…), it’s not very practical to stage shows in the winter months so there is a second theater, The Wanamaker (after Sam Wanamaker, the actor who spearheaded to recreation of The Globe project) which is indoors and uses the same sorts of proportions that an indoor court theater of the Elizabethan period would have had. Small, intimate, the audience seated on benches in three tiers, and best of all, lit by candlelight as would have been done back in the day.

The play was Henry V. A company of six men and four women in modern dress concentrating on delivering the language clearly. No major technical effects (although an upstage drape rises to reveal a silvered wall when we get to the battle scenes). Some very interesting interpretations – casting Orleans and Prince Louis with opposite gendered actors gives that relationship new meaning and depth; the princess’ translation scene played for fear and highlighting her lack of autonomy over the usual comedy. I quite liked it.

After the Shakespeare, the five of us who had attended wandered the south bank and stopped in at a temporary holiday bar devoted to curling. I had a cocktail. I did not play with the curling stones. David and I then bid adieu to the rest, crossed the Golden Jubilee footbridge to Charing Cross station and to The Kit Kat Club (The Playhouse Theater) and the most recent revival of Cabaret. We were a bit early so we ended up being the first in. You enter throgh a rear service door and down through maintenance corridors hung with beads as the staff welcomes you to the Kit Kat, hands you a shot of schnapps to chug, and the lighting is mood and haze hangs around. You emerge in a bar. The Kit Kat performers are starting to warm up, the band is playing jazz. And then it’s upstairs to a second bar with charcoal drawing murals a la Schiele or Grosz on the walls. The Kit Kats are dancing on the bar and hanging from the ceiling. Up to a third bar for champagne and charcuterie while waiting for the house to open. Then into the theater for more champagne and light supper before the show begins. The interior has been completely renovated for theater in the round. The stalls are now cabaret tables. A second set of stall sits with its lights and telephones where upstage and backstage would normally be and the dress circle continues fully around in the fly space. The drum rolls. black out. The lights are up on a blond MC in a silly little party hat who has appeared out of nowhere center stage and we’re off.

Most of you know that Cabaret has a certain significance in my life from playing Herr Schultz twice to my late life performing career beginning with the Politically Incorrect Cabaret Ansager who owes a good deal to Joel Grey. It’s a show I have seen over and over again. Sometimes done well, sometimes not. This version is the same script as the Studio 54 production with Alan Cumming. It’s inventively staged, hits the right political points and does some things with the finale which are new and different and which are scary in a completely different way than the usual Nazi tropes.

Back to the hotel for a few hours of sleep before having to be up at 5 AM London time to catch the car for Heathrow. Heathrow was packed. For some reason we were booked back to Atlanta via Amsterdam which meant a quick flight to Schipoul and sitting around for hours so we didn’t board the transatlantic flight until some nine hours after first hitting an airport and, as it was a smaller plane, about nine and a half hours to Atlanta. And then having to get through all the usual immigration and customs and on to a Birmingham flight. I hit my condo roughly twenty five hours after leaving the hotel in London. I have rarely been so happy to see my bed when that was all finally over.

Here endeth the London travel diary. I have no idea what’s going to come next in this space. The Plague Diaries are also pretty much finished and I haven’t figured out what I should be writing about going forward. My next big project is directing a play which I have not done for some years. I may discuss my process for approaching that. I may write some sample chapters for a couple of pieces of fiction swirling around my head. Something will make itself known and demand to be let out. It usually does. In the meantime, I’m going to bed early.

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