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Wednesday, October 10, 2012
We’d just about dried out after a week in the Lake District and decided to spend a day of our second week basking in the warmth of the British Museum’s Shakespeare exhibition which looks at the works of Shakespeare in the context of their times.
Much of it can be summed up in the phrase: “Whatever you do, don’t upset the queen/king”. Consequently, Will was careful not to put the Tudor noses out of joint by bigging up the Plantagenets (which may account for Richard III’s bad press and his winter of discontent). After the death of Elizabeth I, he then by embraced the Stuarts by dallying with a bit of Scottish stuff (witches, daggers and spots).
Among the many artefacts on show at the exhibition was a pack of playing cards which, in part, depicted the English counties.
We weren’t told what card game this might have been. Was it a form of Happy Families in which you tried to collect regions such as East Anglia, or the rebellious north or was it like Black Maria; whoever gets lumbered with Essex (only an example) gets eliminated?
Each card showed the outline of a county with the initials of towns marked and a little contemporary information. Suffolk was known for its butter and cheese, whereas Norfolk was said to be “populous”. This was more than 400 years ago, of course, but you can’t help wondering what happened to Suffolk’s butter and where all the Norfolk people went.
After the exhibition we had seven hours to kill and we wandered towards the West End and found that Jersey Boys, the musical about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, had a matinee and a few seats were available.
So, partial to a bit of Walk Like a Man and the prophetic The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore we took our places... in the midst of a large party of sixth formers from somewhere in northern Europe.
They were accompanied by a large cohort of teachers and minders but we were surrounded by teenagers and, hampered in the appreciation of the dialogue by not having English as a first language, they understandably got a bit restless from time to time. An hour in a foreign language must seem a lifetime when you’re 17. These days, I can shut my eyes for a minute and it turns out to be an hour. Time goes slowly when you’re young. Now, I can even tolerate a Sunday sermon without joining up the freckles on the back of my hand with a Biro.
The sixth formers were remarkably well-behaved, thanks in part to the boys wanting to impress a very attractive female teacher and the girls likewise with a very handsome male teacher and all variations of urges in between.
Meanwhile, the two older British women in the seats next to us had brought a large bag of pocket-money confectionery, including Love Hearts and chews, all wrapped in nice, noisy paper.
The four women to our right, meanwhile, were huge Franki Valli fans and were really into it. Clapping and swaying and whooping with joy. Yes, it was a lively performance in the rear stalls.
The three young, possibly Danish, women in front of us were enthralled by what was going on at the end of their row and craned their necks to see and then huddled together to discuss matters. A young man whose hair was pressed into a rock-hard sculpture of stalagmites kept rising from his seat. It looked as if a nest of surface-to-air missiles was about to launch. He must cost his parents dear in hair gel.
A lovely-looking girl with fabulously long hair, like a pre-Raphaelite, kept drawing it up over her head and throwing it back across the row behind.
Meanwhile, the two people with the pick-and-mix were on the toffees.
It was like trying to watch the telly in the same room as a swarm of bees.
But at least no-one was on their mobile phone. The point of theatre etiquette was observed by all and much appreciated by those of us who tend to become homicidal when they see the tell-tale glow of a 3.5in iPhone screen light up the auditorium.
When we later went for supper at Carluccio’s the two women at the next table were both on their phones. One was texting or e-mailing, the other was holding a conversation. You have to wonder whether the art of conversation is dying.
On the train back from London, a couple of teenage girls across the aisle were singing song lyrics to one another as they listened in on their iPods. It was like an X Factor audition... a failed one.