Yesterday Fran and i had a day out in London together, mainly to see War Horse at the National Theatre but also to do some London bits. We’ve both really looked forward to having a day together and she hasn’t been into London properly before either, mainly due to me being a bit pathetic about it, though i seem to have got over that now.
We arrived by about 10am and headed down to Covent Garden first where we indulged in some street theatre (not particularly good but mildly entertaining), watched a string quartet, went in the Pollocks Toy Shop (loved that, Fran was in heaven) and into the various odds and sods shops, plus the Games Workshop where she fell in love with the LOTR role play game and all the models. We also ignored the snooty assistant in the crystal ornaments shop and cooed at all the Disney crystal. Then we got the tube down to South Kensington and walked through the tunnel to The Science Museum. We had a bit of a false start here as she couldn’t decide what do do so we had lunch and then went into the basement for a while to look at gadgets and stuff.
She makes me laugh because in some ways she is still exactly like she was at 5 years old; she can hardly bear to stop and look at something for a milli-second, she is already on to the next thing. Half the time she still just hits buttons without looking to see what might happen or what it is about and then is off practically before it is half way through. I do wonder how she’ll get on in school because of this, just as i wondered when she was 4. She still seems to have the concentration span of a gnat 🙄 She is such a fidget still too, the idea of stopping and absorbing something is just an anathema to her. Everything has to be instant and visual and high impact or she is just away again. Funny girl.
We got on better upstairs where the Energy Room, the Materials display, the Plasticity exhibit, ERNIE and the maths stuff and various other things all appealed to her. She adored the huge ring that flashes your name up, spent ages trying (and failing) to get an electric shock from a pole, killed huge numbers of hospital patients by accident and got completely absorbed (tired feet necessitating a sit down) by a video of a car being taken apart.
As a bit of a bonus, the Science of Survival exhibit was free admission and so we went into that too and that made the afternoon really. It was a slightly Animal Crossing like set of games and videos, which remembered your scores by a swipe card and which encouraged you to think about pros and cons of future development of homes and energy etc. At the end you got a look at the city you had created. The games in themselves weren’t brilliant (does make you realise how clever Nintendo are!) but they were good enough and the end result was interesting and pleasing. We both had fun in there.
Came out and walked back, stopping off at The Natural History museum to pay homage to the Cromwell Road road sign and spend 20 minutes looking at dinosaur skeletons and then headed down to the Southbank in plenty of time so we wouldn’t be on the tube at rush hour. I do love how much cleaner and friendly London seems than a few years ago – and with the traffic so reduced you don’t get black snot any more either! Crossed the (Hungerford?) bridge at Embankment and spent a while sightseeing from there and then went to the Giraffe restaurant for tea. Liked it there too; always enjoy seeing drama school graduates waitressing 😉 but they were very nice and made a fuss of her. Then we just had time to go and get tickets, sweets, headache pills (i do always get a headache in London) and water before the show.
The show really was fabulous, though completely made by the puppets of the horses; i wouldn’t really have believed that it could be so possible to make them so utterly real when you can see the people operating them so obviously. They must have spent hundreds of hours studying horses and rehearsing to be so good because there really wasn’t a single moment when they didn’t seem real and alive. I think it was the second cast playing Joey, who wasn’t perhaps quite as polished as Topthorn but they were both great. Considering the book is told from the perspective of the horse but in the play the horse doesn’t speak, it was amazing how they managed to make the horse convey so much emotion and character. The musical theme, the other animal puppets, the general teamwork of the actors on stage and the fantastic projection of drawings and “scenery” on to the stage made it incredibly impressive. I loved the fact that even though it had been done with a very Brecht like simplicity (and that theatre lends itself well to that) it still had so much emotion to it. There were some great touches, especially using 3 languages simultaneously at times, which really conveyed the confusion and stupidity of all the nations converging in France, relatively aware of the pointlessness and waste of it all.
The bits that made me cry were the charges of the horses and riders against the machine guns of the Germans. It doesn’t matter how many terrible wars or atrocities i read or hear about, i think the trenches and the carnage of No Man’s Land is always the thing i find the hardest to accept in modern history. The sheer waste, the arrogance of continuing to just sacrifices the lives of people in utter, sheer folly for a war that should never have come to that at all and which ended more with stalemate than a victory of right over wrong, is something that i find utterly horrifying. Incredible that it is nearly 100 years ago now. The action was beautifully, heartbreakingly done and the comradeship of men and animals elegantly portrayed in nothing more than light and movement; in the second half, the flight of Joey from the tanks and the abject misery of an animal caught up in the sudden mechanisation of war was exceptionally moving.
I did think the stage play faltered a bit in the middle, though i could see why they wanted more of Albert’s story in it and i thought it was a shame that they missed out the auction and the end of Emilie’s story; it did seem to peter out a bit at the end and the “he found him… oh no, he’ll lose him again!” end of the book seems to me to be very important; a mirror for the end of the war and the people who lost their lives in the last seconds before the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. But it was a small gripe really, the rest was so excellent In a way it had almost more in common with a ballet or musical than a straight play – and both those styles of theatre can have flimsy plot moments at the best of times!
Fran’s reaction was lovely, she adored it and talked and talked and talked excitedly all the way back, so much so that other theatre leavers were turning and smiling at her. She and i ran for a train, listened to Big Ben strike as we crossed the bridge and managed to get to Kings Cross for 9.25 (35 minutes, not bad!) only to be told the website i had booked my tickets on had lied and we couldn’t use our ticket on any train until the 10.22pm one which was a stopping train that wouldn’t get us home till well after midnight. Fran was flagging by then so i ended up paying for another ticket to get us back earlier. Grrrr.
We had a lovely day though; so glad we did it.