Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Parliament, the National Gallery and that musical about Mormons

One of the things I wasn't sure I'd get a chance to see was the Palace of Westminster – what's also called the Houses of Parliament. At the moment it's only open on weekends, presumably because it's still in session; they can't really have people wandering around gawping at things while they're trying to debate the matters of the nation.

But I realised I could go if I changed my intended schedule around - I hadn't booked anything during the day, just penciled in things. So, I got online and booked myself a ticket for the tour. That also meant a bit of a dash to get there - made a bit more uncomfortable by the fact that we had to take a different route to get there than the standard one, for reasons I will explain later - but I arrived with enough time to line up and get inside (after going past a lot of security and the first armed policeman I'd seen - I was asked if I had a bomb; I sensibly answered "No.") to get my audio device and start wandering around.

Oh, here are a couple of shots from outside - you can't take any inside.

It was, as I've been saying about nearly everything I've here, fascinating and informative; a combination of wonderful old are and architecture plus an astonishing amount of history. In Westminster Hall I stood on the floor where William Wallace (the one portrayed with minimal historical accuracy by Mel Gibson in Braveheart) and Charles I were tried, and where Guy Fawkes and attempted to carry out the Gunpowder Plot. Winston Churchill lay in state here.

After that I walked back towards Trafalgar Square; on the way I realised there was a protest happening outside the gates to Downing Street (since a mortar attack by the IRA in 1991 you can't just walk down the street anymore to see Number 10), so this was as close as I got.

I wandered around for a while and came across this statue of James Cook in St James's Park; I couldn't, as a graduate of the university that bears his name, not take a picture:

Eventually I made my way to Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery - though not before I quietly stalked a man with an actual, live British Bulldog, the first one I'm 100% sure I've seen in real life (there's been one 'possible').

It's another place where you can't take pictures, but what I did do was take notes as to what I was impressed by (for different reasons) while I was there; here's a list, with links to the NG site (where possible):

JMW Turner - The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last berth to be broken up, 1838 - a stunning painting, and also a famous one outside of art circles because of its appearance in the James Bond film Skyfall; this scene was shot at the NG.

Lots of works by Renoir, Georges Seurat (less so because of the actual paintings, but more because he's the subject of the Sondheim musical Sunday in the Park with George), Gauguin, Cézanne, Degas, Manet, Goya, Contable, Joshua Reynolds, Gainsborough, Hogarth, Caravaggio, Van Dyck, Rubens, Botticelli, Vermeer, Rembrandt and Titian.

I was particularly excited by the version of Van Gogh's Sunflowers they have there - I'd seen other works of his years ago in Adelaide - and I very much liked Monet's Snow Scene at Argenteuil, Delaroche's The Execution of Lady Jane Grey and Joseph Wright's An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump - something I could look at for hours and a great example, if you're not already familiar with the concept, of what they call chiaroscuro: contrasting light and dark. It's also the inspiration for a play, Shelagh Stephenson's An Experiment with an Air Pump.

I can't say for sure I'd ever encountered the work of Carlo Crivelli before, but there's a heck of a lot of it around the museums here, and I really like it; much of it is done via tempera, the medium used before the development of oil paints, and it just gives off this amazing, golden glow. Crivelli's paintings are also amazingly detailed, and I could have spent much more time just going over them as I did.

There are a *lot* of paintings of the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian. Apparently they just loved to paint dudes getting shot full of arrows.

Once I was done there, I went back to the hotel for my usual pre-show lie-down, and then made my way to the Prince of Wales Theatre to see Book of Mormon. This was the most expensive ticket I'd bought, and after how good Matilda was, I had very high expectations - and I was not disappointed. It's hilarious, right the way through, and the performances were superb. It's also brilliantly staged. But of course I'll go into more detail in another post...

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