I've Been To Staines, But I've Never Been To Me

Wednesday 11 March 1998 Back Next

<picture of a rail receipt> ... and here's the proof. Not a very glamourous name; not a very glamourous place. Met Skip at the station after work. We then drove into London for a lovely diner in Islington (Frederick's, Camden Passage). Had some lovely salmon.

The washroom deserves a few words. You pass through two tightly spaced swinging doors that let into the loo proper. Beside one of the urinals is a door, behind which is some sort of machinery that vibrates loudly enough to rattle the door. I have no idea what it was. Were this a Franz Kafka store (and who's to say it's not), the machine would be part of an apparatus used to prepare the food -- an enormous brass and iron contraption forged at the end of the last century, all worked from a single S-shaped hand crank, worked hour after hour by a corpulent immigrant worker in a stained white apron.

And then a quick walk down the street to one of my main reasons for making this trip to England:

<picture of a ticket to NAKED>

Starring the most beautiful woman in the world, Juliette Binoche in her English stage debut. "Naked" is a 3 act play about a woman to whom something has happened. We find out in bits and pieces, through newspaper articles, testimony, and gossip. She was a nanny. The child she was minding dies. Where was she? Where was she really? And why? An elderly writer offers her the use of his lodgings. The characters converge on his flat -- a young lieutenant who broke of his engagement to marry her, the newspaper reporter who made her story public, the consul (her former employer), the writer's landlady, and the cleaning woman (in a small role.) This is a play where you as an audience member have to keep alert and listening, for the story is in the details and nuances.

The Almeida theatre is very small. The stage takes up perhaps half the house. We were on the floor. There was also a small balcony. I've heard the theatre can see 200. The stage floor was curiously tilted up towards the audience so that the stage got lower the deeper you went. Being so small, there really wasn't a bad seat in the house. And as an added bonus, tonight only, a sign language interpreter was present off-stage, which was a bit like having subtitles. Subtitles I couldn't read, but that's neither here nor there.

I liked both Binoche and Oliver Ford Davies who plays the writer. Both knew how to listen to the other characters. And Juliette watches tem too. Or doesn't watch them it that's appropriate. That gives her performance an unusual verisimilitude. Another explanation could be that UI was simply close enough to see good actors work. Whatever. The dynamic range of the play was great, so there are both wrenching silences and spittle-laden vitriol.

Later, over tasty cakes and hot drinks in a west end café, Skip and I pondered her accent. It's a strange mixture of continental and British isles.

Me: She's been performing in English for about 13 years (since "Unbearable Lightness")

Skip: You can still tell it's a second language. It wasn't as even as "The English Patient" where you could take the time to make sure it's all the same. Making a movie isn't the same as getting up on stage every night.

But by then, I'm already gazing at our lovely French waitress. She has a bit of Arabic in her, perhaps. Fabulous nose, lovely smile. Coffee with ice cream, and a strawberry tart. This really is the best of all worlds.

Picked up a couple of books by English author Julian Barnes which are enigmatically labeled "Not for sale in Canada." This is the purchase clincher for me. It I don't like them, I'll definitely sell them, although you didn't read that here. It's probably fort something to do with boring distribution rights.

Also scored a copy of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" on CD and a "Colorbox" album that I fingered the last time I was here (but didn't get.) Two and a half years of regret were finally rectified to the tune of £14 which is not at all cheap.

Somehow it's gotten to be after 2 AM, so I'd better hit the feathers. My one concern: can I keep this cold in my nose at bay for at least a couple more days, or will I be sniffing and sneezing all over Devon this weekend? tune in tomorrow.


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