Jan 23 – Night of the (Los) Iguana
Of all the days I was going to be in London, this was the only one Lin was actually working. In a practical sense, what this meant was that she was up and out of the house early, leaving me to fend for myself. So since I was on vacation, I lounged around for a bit, made myself some breakfast, and called Rasa and Monki. All of which took me to about 9:30am. When I relax I really relax, huh?
My agenda for the day was to meet up with my bon vivant friend Ian, truly a renaissance man, and then rejoin Lin for dinner before the first of my theatrical experiences, The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Ian and I had arranged to meet in Clapham at 2, and I had topped up my Oyster card the night before with Lin, so I was good to go whenever I wanted.
Now, Clapham and its neighboring town Brixton were familiar to me from my earliest days visiting London and while it’s a lovely neighborhood, there’s really not much there, tourist-wise. But there was one thing I’d never seen and did want to actually visit, which was the David Bowie memorial mural in Brixton. When I looked it up the night before, it actually showed two memorials – the painting which I knew about, and a 30 foot (10 meter) lightning bolt sculpture which I didn’t. Turns out there was a good reason I’d never heard of it – it had been cancelled due to lack of funds. Didn’t stop me from looking for it, though. I did, however, find the mural. And that was cool. It seems like it’s become a pilgrimage spot (I know, I realize that as I’m making a special trip to see it), with people leaving notes and flowers, writing on the acrylic sheet protecting the actual artwork, and generally paying their respects. Worth the side-trip for sure.
However, since you can’t spend too much time staring at a wall mural (even The Last Supper only took up about 15 minutes of gazing) so after paying my own respects, there wasn’t much else to see or do in Brixton – any tangential connection I had to the place had been severed decades ago so I figured I’d head towards Clapham before meeting Ian. If I’d been in a rush, I would have taken a bus, but since I wasn’t, I had plenty of time, I decided to walk the four or so kilometers, through the Clapham Commons park. It was a lovely walk, even if the weather was a bit damp, and by the time I made to the meeting spot, there was still a couple hours to go. So, trying my best to get into the whole “I’m on vacation” mindset, I found a Caffe Nero coffee shop (saw plenty of cool, neighborhood shops along my walk, but by the station, where we were meeting, nothing but corporate places) and read a book and thought about a new writing project while drinking a coffee and eating a pastry.
Eventually, it was getting towards meeting time so I packed up and went into The Falcon, where Ian and I were going to meet, even if, as he stated, we weren’t going to stay there. Silly me, I actually thought we were meeting inside, so when Ian texted that he had arrived, and I didn’t see him inside the pub, outside I went, literally (if inadvertently) sneaking up on him from behind. He was expecting me to come from the direction of the station.
Once we had connected, however, we did indeed move to another place, a little cafe inside a nearby Whole Foods. We both tried the turmeric lattes (interesting, but not something I’d ever want again) made by a delightful barista called Alexandra (let’s face it, if you can hold your own with Ian and I riffing away, you’re doing well!).
As always when I meet up with Ian, the couple of hours we were together passed all too quickly. Lots of banter and wordplay, trading stories and quips, which lead Ian to theorize we could probably have a marathon of chatting as if it were nothing.
After saying good-bye, I bussed back into the center of town to meet Lin for dinner. We ended up at a funky little Latin American joint on the riverfront called Las Iguanas. We had a great meal and split a dessert, which is when I knew I was truly on vacation. In normal life, ain’t no way I’m having the calorie bomb that was the Brownie and Ice Cream. Even if I did walk 4 kilometers earlier in the day.
After dinner and conversation, we headed over to the Dorfman Theatre (part of the National Theatre), where I was set to see the show. Beforehand, though, we made a quick run through the gift shop (which featured, I was to learn, copies of almost every play being performed in London at any given moment) and then a spin around the Wolfson Gallery, which currently has on the exhibition Costume at the National Theatre. One of the cool things about the National is the educational programs. Most productions and exhibits tack on other events, like creative talks, workshops, etc. If I lived in London I’m sure I would take advantage of these things – especially for Monki.
As it got close to showtime, Lin walked me to the lobby of the Dorfman, then left me to my own devices. Of my five scheduled shows, this was the first of two where she would not be joining me. And since she had had a long day, she went home and I’d make my own way back after the show.
Stepping inside the theatre, a flexible, black box style space, I was seated in the first row, next to one of the side access ways (on which I stupidly placed my program while getting situated and was admonished for quite quickly – turns out this was also a part of the performance space). The show, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, is based on the novel of the same name by Neil Gaiman.
The story is about lost youth and the search for connection and what makes us human. I’ve read the book a couple of times and while I enjoy it, I don’t find it to be one of Gaiman’s better efforts, even if it is his most autobiographical. The play, on the other hand, I loved. It was beautiful and scary and deep and funny. And while it may not have been exactly the book, the adaptation was faithful in tone and spirit, streamlining some of the plot in order to keep things family friendly as well as fit into the time and space provided.
The play also featured amazing puppets and some really remarkable staging, especially given the space limitations. But the most magical moment was when the unnamed boy (Samuel Blenkin) and his friend, Lettie Hempstock (Marli Siu) step into a water bucket and find themselves in the ocean. And the staging makes it work. You’ll believe they are underwater and swimming away, hopefully, to safety.
Since the run at the National ended a few days after I saw it, I only hope it moves to another venue, albeit one on par with the Dorfman. A larger, proscenium stage would hurt the magic, I think. Would even love to see this again if it had been filmed. In fact, I’m going to lobby here and now for more plays to be filmed and released on streaming platforms.
With the play over, I made my way back to the house. Took me a minute or two to figure out where to catch the bus, but that wasn’t the worst part of the journey. No, that came when I got out of the bus and realized I was nowhere I’d been before. Normally, we catch the bus on the other side of the house so in order to get home, I had to walk through a park, down some alleyways and yes, I saw a neighborhood fox.
When I got back to the house, Lin was up and waiting for me. We chatted a bit and thought about our plans for the next day. One friend, whom I thought I was going to meet with the following morning, had to cancel so it turned out I was free. We decided to book a tour of Highgate Cemetery. Plans made, we headed for bed.
All in all, a good end to a day of adventures.