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“London’s Coming”

London’s Coming

Cynthia’s Column April 2010

Wonderful things are afoot.  It is spring.  We’ve got a new little baby at our house.  Robinson is our Binny Baby and my sister Laura is a blissful new adoptive Mother.  I am about to embark on the second annual Writing the Waves trans-Atlantic writing adventure with 20 hearty souls.  (Or is it hardy souls?  Both, I guess.)  I’ll have a report in a future column.

Something fabulous is coming to Portland in May.  You may have heard about how the Metropolitan Opera has begun to broadcast performances to local movie theatres.  Now the National Theatre of London has begun to broadcast some of its plays.  I recently saw Nation from the Olivier Theatre on a big screen at Third Rail, in The World Trade Center downtown in the theater upstairs.  A gorgeous lavish production, with better than a front row seat.  And close ups of the actors.

If any of you saw the production of Oklahoma starring Hugh Jackman on PBS a few years ago, that was also from the National Theatre in London.  This has been so successful, making money for The National Theatre as well as local theatres across America, that they have already committed to broadcasting five plays next year.  This year they’re doing three.  I missed the first one.  The second, Nation, which I was lucky enough to catch, is an adaptation of a Terry Pratchett fantasy novel adapted by Mark Ravenhill.  It takes place in the 1880s in an alternate reality where a tsunami wipes out a South Pacific island population, leaving only a teenage native boy, Mau, who was on his manhood ceremony walkabout when the big wave hit.  A Victorian English teenage girl is also shipwrecked by the wave and washes up on the same beach.  The production was sort of like a happy child of The Lion King cross-bred with Oscar Wilde with a little Darwin in the mix.  It was fabulous!  And I don’t use exclamation points unless I mean them.

The next production (which you haven’t missed!) plays Saturday May 15 at 2 pm and again Sunday May 16 at 7 pm.  It will be Alan Bennett’s new play, The Habit of Art.  A sidebar here.  Those of you reading this column for a few years know that in 2007 I set out to re-educate myself as a playwright (having written screenplays for a few decades) by reading a play a day.  I am still reading plays avidly and am up to #572 and of all those plays there have only been I think 3 playwrights that I adored every single play they ever wrote, so far.  Herb Gardner (A Thousand Clowns), Martin McDonagh (The Beauty Queen of Leenane) and Alan Bennett who you may know from The History Boys.

Bennett has been around a long time.  If you are a boomer and an anglophile you may know Beyond the Fringe which Bennett co-wrote and performed with Peter Cook, Dudley Moore and Jonathan Miller around 1960.  Some of us can still quote whole passages from this classic.  There was a silly sequel called Behind the Fridge.  These guys were the comic and spiritual godfathers of Monty Python before the little pythons were even conceived.  Alan Bennett had a best selling book last year as well, a little novel called An Uncommon Reader about Queen Elizabeth II.  His short plays are stunning as well.  I’m a huge fan.

So this is a rare opportunity.  Do you know what it would cost you to fly to London to see the new Alan Bennett play?  $1,463.  I know you writers don’t like to do the math so I did it for you.  And that’s if you only stayed one night and sat in the balcony.  I have done exactly this sort of thing, though I do stay more than one night.  So $20 is an unbelievable steal.

The only thing bad about being in the audience last month for Nation, was all the empty seats.  And all the unfelt thrill and joy of people who didn’t realize what was happening so close by.  I’m talking about you guys.  If you love theatre, don’t miss this.  And since there are only a couple of hundred seats, you should call up and buys tickets ahead.  Again, the dates are Saturday May 15 at 2 pm and Sunday May 16 at 7 pm.  The World Trade Center is on Salmon between Naito Parkway and First Street.  Call (503)235-1101 or online at

When you come in, the big screen shows you the London audience as it enters and fills the Olivier Theatre and we are right there.  They show documentary footage beforehand, interviews with author, director, actors, and short subjects during intermission.

Do you remember how they filmed a series of plays in the 1970s.  Starring people like Katharine Hepburn and Jason Robards?  It was called American Film Theatre.  And if you missed them, they never played on Television or in regular movie theatres again.  By the way, they have now finally been released on DVD thirty years later and are fabulous.  You can get them from the library system.  Maximilian Schell as The Man in the Glass Booth and Topol as Galileo are two of the standouts.  Truly great theatre.  I wish more theatre had been filmed and preserved.  It’s a tragedy that some of our greatest work in theatre is lost to the world forever.

My wonderful free spirit of a daughter, Molly, has been wandering around Southeast Asia on her own for a couple of months.  From Bangkok through Thailand into Vietnam, Laos, and back through Thailand to the southern islands where they filmed Leo Di Caprio’s The Beach.  She has no cell service there, but they have free wifi everywhere and she can email me from her i-phone from hostels and cafes all across Southeast Asia.  When she goes into an internet café, she uses skype to call my home phone and chat for 2 cents per minute.  Seriously.  When I was her age I studied in France for a year and didn’t talk to my parents the whole time, not even on Christmas Day.  My budget for the year was $500.  A three minute phone call was $30.  It was the definition of the word prohibitive.  So as you might imagine, I am a huge fan of the new technologies, and short of hearing Molly’s voice from a village in Vietnam, this Live from the National Theatre of London is the absolute aces.

Okay, I may have ranted enough, but this is brilliant use of technology to personally make me happy.  I hope to see a bunch of you there in May.  You can thank me then.  Handshakes or hugs.

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