The Book of Mormon

Mitt Romney’s candidacy last year for the presidency of the United States made briefly topical (here) the belief system that is the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints.  Now (here!) we have the Broadway show which pokes a spear into the side of this – to UK eyes – slightly odd branch of Christianity, a cult based on the notion that there is a whole third testament  that somehow got left out of the Bible, thereby wilfully concealing the role that North America played in the Bible story.  The show opens here this week, and I was very pleased to get a ticket to the very first performance in front of a London audience – the first full dress rehearsal for the hottest musical of the year.

It is funny, sharp, amazingly energetically danced and sung and glitch-free – apart from one dancer’s hat falling off. It’s certainly not a show for sensitive souls, for anyone from a certain African country that might be feeling a bit sensitive, or those who think it’s wrong to take the mickey out of organised religion and its more gullible adherents, or to treat Christianity with none of the circumspection afforded to Islam. If you think female genital mutilation is no laughing matter, you too had better brace yourself.

I was uneasy at some of the big laughs at things that are, in the cold light of day,  just not funny. I’d rather one or two lines were rewritten to be clever or witty instead of shocking.  I know it’s harder to be witty!  But I laughed too, even if I sometimes wondered at myself for doing so. (Did they just say that, really?)   But it’s a good show, a wonderful send up of the musical genre and the USA. If you like The Producers you will overcome your doubts about some of the laughs and be swept along by the sheer energy and fun.  And those Mormon boy-elders sure look pretty…if you like that kind of thing!

50 years of London

I have lived continuously in London for exactly 50 years now, plus a year when I was a bit younger. Unlike my daughter, I am not a real Londoner; but I can say that I am an honorary Londoner, and on my mother’s side they all I think were Londoners, going back for perhaps 150 years, or more if I can find the energy and drive to research the family history to the back of beyond.

No other place feels more like home to me. In fact my real home town, Cardiff, feels a bit strange and I do not feel at all at home when I am there but instead slightly uncomfortable and distinctly foreign. My accent is wrong for Cardiff, my height, my colouring too;  and I do not entirely know my way around even the town centre, compact thought it is compared to London’s, which if one takes the Circle Line as a boundary is about 9 kilometres across – perhaps 6 miles.  I wouldn’t be surprised if central London alone was far bigger than the whole of greater Cardiff.

It may have been here long before the Romans arrived, but London is only 50 years old in one sense – which is that the present boundaries were established by the London Government Act of 1963. Strictly speaking though, the newly enlarged entity didn’t come into effect until a year or two later.

Greater London, like perhaps any great metropolis, consists largely of hundreds of small towns, villages and hamlets, engulfed by the spread of housing that filled in all the fields, orchards, claypits, piggeries, water meadows  and woods that once lay in between them. Many London suburbs still have at heart a central shopping street that is recognisably a village high street, and one may even sometimes find a few old cottages surviving intact from an earlier era in the outer areas,  though most were destroyed by the relentless demands of the original speculative development, and by all the development pressures since.  There are lanes and greens surviving in the road names and place names, even if no trace of those features exists now. Near me is a Verdant Lane, which is anything but. And yet it meanders slightly as it climbs a gentle rise, and with a bit of imagination the endless houses can be made to melt away and instead hedgerows and ditches, cows and neat rows of carrots line the road in place of the 4×4’s, wheelie bins, and anonymous white vans that nowadays fill our London gardens, having eliminated most of the vegetation that our parents would have carefully nurtured of a Sunday afternoon.

Man plays a woman pretending to be man

When not playing Richard III at the Apollo recently, Mark Rylance appeared in a parallel production by the same company on the same stage and using the same set.  I am not sure the company did both plays on the same day (extraordinary if they did, amazing even if they didn’t) but the two pieces were certainly done many times a week each for a whole season, now sadly just ended.

If you hadn’t guessed already, the second play was Twelfth Night. As this was a production in the Elizabethan style, the female roles were played by chaps. As there are rather a lot of restrictions on stage performances by school-aged actors, adult men played the female roles rather than the teenaged boys that the Elizabethans would expected to see on stage (acting was no job for a respectable woman until the mid-20th century). The plot calls for a girl to pretend to be her own lost brother in order to gain access to court, and a huge amount of misunderstandings and fun arise as a result, only compounded by the fact that the female parts are acted by males.  Mark Rylance once again plays a blinder, with a terrific performance as Milady who falls for the young man, who is of course the girl, played by a bloke.  If you are confused by this description, you should see the play.

So not only was Richard III ending on the West End stage just as the long lost remains of the real Richard hit the world’s headlines, Twelfth Night ended just after the House of Commons voted to allow those of the same sex to marry. So Milady could nowadays have married her boy lover, even though she was a chap and he was a chap too.  Shakespeare is nothing if not topical, 400 years on…

On the tube to the theatre, a man gave up his seat to me. Tonight a small child of two whom I had never met addressed me as ‘grandpa’!  Just what is going on? I thought I was more or less sixteen, as always…