We said goodbye to the children early this morning, as they left for school. The three of them looked terrific in their smart school uniforms--though I'd have never thought to hear myself praise uniforms, having worn them for so long myself! They do remove one element of stressful choice for kids, even, perhaps, as they introduce another... Anyway, it was sad to have to say goodbye, knowing that it will be quite some time before we're able to see them again. My parents, living in Wales while three of their grandchildren were brought up in the U.S., must have felt something of the same; and back then, of course, distances seemed a good deal further than they do today.
We spent the better part of the morning lacking up our bags again, and left around noon with Matthew for the train trip to London. His help with those all-too-heavy bags (when will we learn to pack light?) was welcome as we crossed town via the tube from St. Pancras to Knightsbridge, on the west side, where we had booked our hotel. We'd been warned online against the place at which we'd stayed before, in Kensington, because of the construction there, and had found this "sister" hotel, the Knightsbridge, a stone's throw from Harrod's. We found a very comfortable accommodation, and a warm reception.
A light lunch at a French cafe on the Brompton Road before returning to the hotel to get unpacked. By now it was already two in the afternoon, and we had early dinner reservations at the National Theater, where we were booked to see George Bernard Shaw's "Man and Superman," with Ralph Fiennes in the leading role. Ambitiously, we decided on the long trek from our hotel to the theater on the South Bank, walking through Belgravia, with all wealthy residences and embassies from throughout the world; through Chelsea to the area around Victoria Station (familiar to me as the site of many partings from my parents on the way to boarding school--no tears, please! This was where I learned early never to cry!), on to Westminster, with views of the Abbey, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament; and across the Westminster Bridge and past the crowded tourist area around the "Eye of London", arriving at the Terrace Restaurant at the National Theatre precisely at five.
A very nice, very leisurely dinner at the Terrace, where they specialize in multiple small dishes and delicate flavors, with a view out over the River Thames. The theater crowds began to gather as we ate, and we found the lobby full when we walked down from the restaurant to find our seats--thanks to Diane, who had booked wonderful orchestra seats, quite central and just a few rows from the stage. I had read the play, of course, as a student, many years before, but had quite forgotten what it was about--a glorious comedy centering on a protagonist who resolutely rejects the whole idea of love and marriage as a hideous trap and ends up, naturally, in the trap himself.
It's a talky play, with a long, somewhat surrealistic act in the middle, set in Hell, where the hero, as Don Juan, indulges in lengthy philosophical discussion about heaven and hell. love and sex, and the purpose of it all. The whole thing was brilliantly staged, I thought--with the spectacular appearance, in the second act, of a truly beautiful vintage (XK 120? 140?) Jaguar, gleaming white, which threatened to steal the show--and stunned the audience, at the end of the act, when the protagonist jumps in, starts it up, and drives off triumphantly, stage right, and turns off into the wings. The difficult transitions from the social setting of the "real world" to Hell and back were skillfully managed, too, with the use of light and sound effects that were at once amusing and dramatic.
The show got a deserved standing ovation at the end, and it was a pleasure to see Ralph Fiennes beaming with the sheer pleasure of his performance. Matthew and I agreed, as we left the theater, that the Don Juan in Hell act, though well handled. was a rather cumbersome and not fully necessary philosophical excursion. Still, it was a great theater experience, and one that we will not soon forget. After three and a half hours, though, emerging into a cold and blustery London night, we were happy to be able to find a taxi with reasonable speed and ride in the roomy comfort of a London cab back to our comfortable hotel.