To London, to London

Well, actually, I’m back now. I’ve still a bit of my post-Christmas break to enjoy before I properly get back to work on Thursday, but I’m back in Glasgow after three nights in London.

Want to know what I was up to?

Sure you do.

Well London has tended to be a kind city to me through the years and I tend to hit it hard when I’m there. Planning one of my trips is a bit of a military operation. This time I was lucky to be staying right in Westminster, which makes it much easier to buzz about.

The main reason I go to London is to go to the theatre. I do that here of course too but there is nothing quite like the choice in London and it is one of the things that I’ve always missed since I lived down there for a couple of years.

This time I managed to see five (count ’em) shows.

  1. The first night I was there I caught the Comedy of Errors at the National. It was good but not quite as good as I was hoping for. Lenny Henry was the headline actor but it was essentially an ensemble piece. I like the spectacle of a big National production and this certainly had that though somehow it just wasn’t quite enough for me.  I was surprised to see some members of the audience standing at the end. Good but not nearly that good was my verdict.
  2. Then the next thing I saw was another Royal National Theatre piece – The Pitmen Painters by Stewart (Billy Eliot) Lee. I loved this – wonderfully committed left wing theatre. Was worried that we might be treated to a noble savage kind of story but no – this was the real thing. I’d missed it when it was touring so really pleased to see it at the very bijou Duchess Theatre.
  3. Next up was a bit of a mistake. I saw the Gershwin confection Crazy for You. Lots of leggy dancing, complete absence of plot. It was all done very well indeed if that’s what you want, but it began to make me depressed. Something about the whole boy meets girl inevitability started to get me down somehow. Five star routines, one star satisfaction. I sat there thinking that perhaps I should have gone to see the English National Ballet Gershwin show starring our own, our very own Ross Sharkey. On reflection, I think that would have been a better idea.
  4. Then to the wonderfully underground Criterion Theatre for The 39 Steps. Now I can’t be bothered with Hitchcock  or Buchan as a rule, but this was Hitchcock as a farce with four actors playing over 200 parts. Wonderfully funny.
  5. Finally it was across the river (I know!) to Southwark to see something that was a bit of a punt. I’d heard of Pippin before and the basic show was recommended by Mother Kimberly. This was a Pippin on acid though. Of all the theatre that I’ve seen in recent years, this is the one show that has pushed the digital envelope further than anything else. The entire staging was projected and changing mesmerisingly throughout. The show had been updated so that each of the parts was a different actor in a cyberspace gaming landscape. It was completely bonkers, had received some very poor reviews and I loved it. I’ve not seen anything like it and it raised all kinds of issues about liturgy (regular and the online variety), reality and myth. Completely compelling, glorious theatre.

In addition to all that, I managed to get to services in Westminster Abbey, St Matthew’s Westminster and St Bartholomew the Great. St Bart’s has Benediction once a month and it is a simply extraordinary experience. The earth moves. No kidding. Well, the earth moved for me. It is also the church that I belonged to for a while when I lived in London quite a while ago.

Oh, and Tate Britain, Tate Modern and an exhibition on William Morris.

In three days.

As I said, I do get around.

I go to the theatre like that, by the way, because what I see and hear and feel there makes it possible to do what I do the rest of the time.

And yes, there is a place for glitter canons in the liturgy of the church.

¡No Pasaran!

I’ve not been very far in the last few days – I’m still under the weather with a bug I came down with last weekend. Hopefully I’ll start to get moving again in the next couple of days, but so far I’ve been trapped in Praepostorial Towers and unable to do much other than rest and watch nonsense on the television.

However, in my mind yesterday, I took myself for a walk down Cable Street in the East End of London. It is a street I know very well as it was my route to church when I lived in the East End of London. It was the 75th anniversary yesterday of the Battle of Cable Street – a hugely important event which still has resonances today in the way that our streets are policed.

The story is this – Oswald Moseley wanted to march his uniformed fascists (aka the Blackshirts) through the Jewish East End. The Battle of Cable Street was a moment when the local population stood up to the Metropolitan Police who were attempting to ensure that the march went ahead. The Spanish slogan ¡No Pasaran! was invoked – they shall not pass!

It led to significant changes in the way public events were policed and led to a ban on political uniforms being worn at public rallies.

I used to hear about the Battle of Cable Street from someone who was there – Professor Bill Fishman, who was connected to the college in whose chaplaincy I worked. Bill was the person who told me that he could never become a Christian because we had forgotten how to curse. He said he prefered yiddish curses to pious prayers and used to come into the chaplaincy muttering complex (and occasionally rather rude) such incantations against the then Tory government. Bill is one of the towering consciences of the East End and I remember him telling me about Cable Street first hand.

He is quoted on wikipedia as saying:

“I was moved to tears to see bearded Jews and Irish Catholic dockers standing up to stop Mosley. I shall never forget that as long as I live, how working-class people could get together to oppose the evil of racism.”

I remember him telling me all about it and I remember still seeing those tears.

More about Bill Fishman on the Museum of Childhood website.