24 March 2006

London: sights, sounds, etc.

I had a holiday last weekend: my first visit to London since 1999. As always I found the place overwhelming. It’s a great place to vist for a few days, but I’m glad I live in Glasgow.

For me, the highlight of the weekend was our visit to the Victoria and Albert Museum, specifically the St John's Bible display. It is a modern illuminated Bible still in the process of being created for St John's Abbey, Minnesota. The images are stunning. For example, the folios displaying Ezekiel 37 show a dark and atmospheric valley of dry bones, such as might be left after some apocalyptic battle.

I also visited the Courtauld for the first time. In addition to a remarkable collection of important impressionist works, I was particularly struck by Cranach’s Temptation of Adam. The other unexpected highlight of the Courtauld was the basement cafĂ©: excellent French food at what for London was an incredibly low price.

Since we were in London, we could hardly avoid the theatre. On Friday night we went to see Glorious!, a play about Florence Foster Jenkins, the wealthy eccentric New York socialite whose notoriously bad singing earned her the title of the ‘diva of the sliding scale’. Maureen Lipman played Jenkins and I must admit to some disappointment in her performance (or more probably the part she was forced to play). In spite of that I found the play as a whole very funny. Some of the audience reactions were quite amusing too: the woman in front of us who maintained a stony face throughout and who (apparently) glared at me more than once when I laughed; the silence that met one of the characters' comment that ‘We’re all friends of Dorothy here' (one of the central characters is called Dorothy and another central character is gay).

Saturday night was Shakespeare: the RSC performing As You Like It. It was a first-class performance with some very clever scene changes. I was particularly struck by the acting of Lia Williams (Rosalind) and Joseph Mydell (Jaques). However, even very strong performances could not completely disguise the fact that this is not one of Shakespeare's better works.

On Sunday we went to a morning service at All Souls, Langham Place. As you would expect from one of Anglicanism's foremost preaching shops, the sermon was superb. But I was left wondering what has become of (evangelical) Anglican worship. It looks as if the Eucharist has been marginalized to 8.30 a.m. and the singing was monotonously hearty. Under the watchful eye of Noel Tredinnick everything had to be sung at double forte regardless of the text!