Friday, 16 September 2011

National Treasures.

A day on the Southbank. Patsy, Matt and I were at the National Theatre early to set the first year students off on an induction treasure hunt - designed to get them a little more acquainted with London as a theatre city. The route took them across the river, up through Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square and Piccadilly along Shaftesbury Avenue into Covent Garden, down Drury Lane and off along Fleet Street to St Paul's before crossing back to The Globe and a finish at Shakespeare's favourite watering place The Anchor in Southwark. We thought it would take them about three hours to get round, but by the time we'd set the last team off, browsed the bookshop and made our own leisurely way down river to the pub the pace setters were already waiting for us with their completed answer sheets. The single greatest resource our students have is London itself. It's important they get familiar with its museums, galleries and theatres as quickly as possible.

Stayed up in town and managed to get a £5 standing ticket to a preview of the new Mike Leigh play Grief, which doesn't open until next week. As ever with Leigh's work, the play is delicately textured and beautifully paced. The cast are growing into their work and trying to find the balance in time for first night.

The play is set in 1957, where war widow Dorothy is trying to bring up her rapidly changing teenage daughter Victoria, in line with the imagined wishes of her dead husband. Meanwhile her older brother Edwin faces up to retirement from the Yorkshire Insurance company after 45 years of uninterrupted service.

The suburban house they share is a still place, books line the shelves, small sherries are drunk at the end of the day and a card table is brought out for a treat. Meanwhile in the background the Soviets put a dog into space, early computers are developed at Manchester University. The sixties are beginning to gently tap on the windows.

All this is superbly acted by Lesley Manville and Sam Kelly in the lead roles, with admirable support from a sparkling ensemble. It has the feeling of a gorgeously constructed piece of chamber music.

Leigh, the conductor supreme, carefully controls the minutiae of these shifts and leaves us wondering which of the many small acts of resistance from the siblings leads to the play's ultimate tragedy. Progress here is evolutionary, growing from tiny changes to recognised routines. It's a small challenge to the pervasive, and perhaps arrogant notion, that the future is in our hands.

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