Inside the National Portrait Gallery, I went straight up to see Richard III (a favorite since I read Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time, lo, these many moons ago) and then worked my way down to the quite unappealing photograph of Benedict Cumberbatch hanging in the modern area (seriously, it's one of the least flattering pictures I've seen of him, turning his face into a collection of odd parts instead of the surprisingly harmonious whole those odd parts can be). Anyway.
And then I headed over to the National Theatre for a concert - South American jazz, mostly. And that whole day (except for the sandwich) was free. Go London!
I decided to queue for day tickets for Frankenstein, so Tuesday morning I got to the National Theatre at 4:30 (it would have been 4:15 if I could have found an unobstructed staircase down to theatre level!) and was the seventh person in line. I struck up a conversation with the man in front of me - let's call him JG - who lives in Sydney and visits London every few months to see every theatre production he can get tickets to - ten or eleven shows in seven days. What a nice life. The line grew to gargantuan, even epic, proportions, but he and I scored front-row seats to the matinée (the five in front of us wanted evening seats) for twelve pounds each (!). Ticket firmly in hand, I went off to explore and found myself in front of Shakespeare's Globe and then wandered over to the Tate Modern:
I loved this piece in particular - the women are a band of individuals, looking so fragile and attenuated but absolutely strong at the same time.
And on the way back to the NT from the Tate, I passed some construction work, which had been decorated with these commissioned pencil drawings:
Frankenstein was absolutely amazing to watch in the theatre - an absolute privilege. (Benedict Cumberbatch played the Creature in this performance.) I still think the play itself is wildly uneven, clumsy at translating ideas into setting and dialogue, but Benedict gave a whole-hearted performance that swept me up entirely, all of the Creature's emotions pulsing through the theatre. It was fascinating to see how the performances had evolved - in my review of the two filmed versions, I had mentioned that Benedict's Creature didn't react to the fire going out, but in this performance he did, making a noise like a curious cat as the fire died down. There are some theatre experiences that I know I'll always remember and this is one of them. Just masterful.
And it turned out to be very lucky that I'd opted for the matinée, because Benedict was too ill to perform in the evening show. Of course, I didn't find out about that until the next morning, when Kate and I queued to get into the Wednesday afternoon double-session recording of Cabin Pressure! I got to meet ginbitch and fengirl88 and for one brief shining moment, mariemjs, which was lovely. So we're waiting in line, along with many (younger, shriller) fans of Benedict, watching as the actors walked by us to get inside, and then John Finnemore and David Tyler (the director and producer) came out to let us know that Benedict had lost his voice and wouldn't be recording that day; they adorably offered mini-muffins to cushion the blow, and I am pleased to say that not one person left the queue in a huff. Thank you for being classy, Cabin Pressure fandom! We continued to wait, and while I was bummed because I wanted to witness Benedict exercising his considerable comedy chops in person, the actor (Tom Goodman-Hill) who played Martin during the recording (and will be heard when the episodes air) was very good.
I'd never been to a studio recording before, so I was interested to see how it would all happen. We took our seats (there was a bit of a mad scramble, which surely numbering the tickets by queue order would prevent) and then David Tyler came out to do a bit of audience prep and patter - he's very funny all on his own, by the way. Casting & episode title spoilers start here: Then the cast came out - John Finnemore, Stephanie Cole, Roger Allam, TGH - plus guest stars, the only two of whom I recognized were Mark Williams (Arthur Weasley in the Harry Potter movies) and Anthony Stewart Head (Giles in Buffy). They all looked loose and fit and happy to be there. The two eps we saw recorded were "Newcastle" and "Ottery-St.-Mary" and then ASH did some lines from Monday's episode ("Rotterdam"?). ASH was clearly having a lot of fun - there was one scene where he and Douglas have a battle of the velvet voices that turned almost obscene because of just how caressing ASH and RA can make their voices. Casting & episode title spoilers end
More generally, John Finnemore is absolutely adorable. I was surprised to realize he doesn't put on an Arthur voice - that really is his voice. He started off the session by saying he knew everyone was wondering the same thing: "where is Ben, really? Hollywood? Rehab? Thai prison?" He noted that the Drill Hall (where the recording session was) was quite close to Baker Street, and that he "fear[s] Ben may be striding up and down Baker Street shouting at passersby for a riding crop." Then he digressed from Ben to Martin, noting that the shirt he, JF, was wearing was very Arthurish (white with a light blue vaguely floral design), but with a touch of Martin (the shirt had epaulets), imagining Martin wearing such a shirt even on vacation). During the recording session, when TGH did anything that was clearly not how BC would do it (positioning around a microphone, flubbing a line, etc.), RA pulled out his phone and pretended to call Ben, saying they needed him back pronto. I don't want to spoil the eps, but we do learn the name of Martin's moving company and Carolyn's dog. We also see two of our lovely crew in romantic situations.
We stayed after the session was over and JF stopped by. He sorted out Easter plans with his family and then started signing things and taking pictures with the fans who'd lingered. When he finally got to us, he was still excited and happy. I told him I'd flown over from New York to attend the recording session and his eyes got VERY big and round and he immediately said, "oh, you shouldn't have done that!" So he signed my "playbill" with "You idiot!" After he did an otter impression (prompted by ginbitch), I asked if it was true this was the last series; he said no, what he'd said at the Monday evening recording was that it was the last episode of this series (PHEW!). He signed stuff for some other fans nearby, including drawings of planes - one girl pointed out he'd left out "the pointy end" so he added that in plus some other details. Then another girl asked for a fancy signature (and he looked at the Roger and Stephanie signatures already on the page and said they were clearly done by people used to signing their names) so he tried a fancy thing and started giggling at his own ineptitude and how it turned out - an illegible signature and a sad little sketch of a plane. Then he said, "Wait! I know how to fix it!" So he signed properly on the other side and wrote "Ben X" under the crappy sketch, thus neatly passing the blame to the man with no voice, who wasn't even there to defend himself. John Finnemore, you are awesome.
Dinner with ginbitch and fengirl88 and then Kate and I headed home and caught episode 2 of The Crimson Petal and the White (hello, bearded Mark Gatiss!). The next day we were magnificently lazy and stayed home to catch up on lj and quiet time. I headed into the city to see the reverse-casting matinée (JG had queued for both of us) of Frankenstein. Again, BC was stellar, and Jonny Lee Miller does far better with the role of the Creature than he had with the role of Frankenstein, though I prefer Benedict's take on each by far. And Ben looked at me! Twice! Once, when he had to locate where on the stage the knife had fallen (very close to my face, thank you very much, National Theatre) and again during the curtain call, when I was grinning like a loon and cheering madly.
I met up with Kate after that for a quick tour of the V&A, which I'd never seen before, and now I want another trip to London just to explore it at a more leisurely pace:
If anyone is wondering what to get me for my birthday, you have a few months to start saving up for these earrings:
Or I'd take these two, with their great comedic faces:
A nice dinner at a nearby Indian restaurant, and we went home to watch the first half of To the Ends of the Earth - I could not adore Edmund Talbot as played by Benedict Cumberbatch more.