Monday, 6 December 2010

Capitalising on the city

Sometimes nothing beats sticking with tradition.

On Saturday, Danielle and I had a great day in London. We had lunch at the Mitsukoshi Department Store, one of Japan’s most prestigious, at its branch in Lower Regent Street. The restaurant is in the basement, giving it an atmosphere of restful calm which complements the excellent food and takes some of the painful edge off the prices. Nearly all the clients are Japanese and you hear the language all around, so it’s about as close to being abroad as you can get without the tedium of the flight.

Mitsukoshi - a fine ingredient in a great day out
From there we made for the King’s Head in Islington. The name ‘King’s Head’ might suggest that it celebrates that extraordinary moment when the English actually took radical action against bad government. That is, indeed, a moment to celebrate. Viscerally opposed to the death penalty as I am, I can’t help admiring Cromwell and his mates for having the chutzpah to tell that bloody awful King that they’d had just about enough of him and cutting off his head to prove the point. As an act, it certainly had the merit of being dramatically decisive. I wish the English today could recapture some of that spirit, at least to the extent of not voting ghastly people into government instead of chasing them from it.

In fact, however, the name ‘King’s Head’ has nothing to do with Charles I’s unlamented end. It is, in fact, a traditional pub name. So imagine a U-shaped bar serving every kind of drink, wooden floors, subdued lighting, a heterogeneous mixture of seats from armchairs to bar stools, generally everything that makes for one of the pleasanter pubs, an ideal setting for a long and enjoyable conversation with just enough lubrication to keep it going over any possible rough places.

The King’s Head is, however, unusual in having a theatre attached to the back. Now, if that conjures up an image of a sweeping hall, with banked rows of well-upholstered seats, think again. The King’s Head Theatre would probably fit inside the dining room of, say, your average bank executive. There are a few rows of benches and an open space in front of them that passes as a stage. One merit is that, since it’s attached to a pub, you can take a drink in with you.

King's Head Theatre: makes up in atmosphere for what it lacks in size
In this unprepossessing environment we saw an excellent production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore (perhaps The Mikado would have been more appropriate after that lunch, but it wasn't on). It was performed by nine singers, down on conventional productions by about forty, and the orchestra was a single piano, which is probably thirty instruments short (but it was a big piano).

Somehow the voices were so good that they filled the (admittedly restricted) space and were able to create the effect of a chorus as well as covering the main parts (even if some singers had to play more than one). There were a few minor amendments to the words – for instance, the original’s reference to ‘his sisters and his cousins, whom he reckons up by dozens, and his aunts’ was reduced to ‘his sister and his cousin, who make not even half a dozen, and his aunt’. We had one sister, one cousin and an urn representing the aunt.

It was brilliant. And of course full of wonderfully familiar tunes. I could have sung along most of the time, if only I could sing at all. In fact, I tried to join in what ought to be England’s (not Britain’s) national anthem, with the haunting words ‘for in spite of all temptations / to belong to other nations, / he remains an Englishman’. Danielle, however, urged me politely but firmly to stop, confirming my view of my singing talents.

Anyway, we had a great time. And it was of course a wonderful celebration of English tradition. This is what we do in this country when we travel all the way to our great capital: we eat foreign, we go to the pub and we take in a show.

1 comment:

Danielle said...

I'm still smiling:))