In Downton Abbey, they always used to talk about going ‘up’ to London, even when they lived in Yorkshire. I have read somewhere, and it may even have been true, that this was to do with the start of the railway lines. Even though the first trainline built in the UK was between Liverpool and Manchester, the original ‘main’ lines emanated from London. The ‘up’ trains travelled to London, while the ‘down’ trains travelled away.
I pondered all this while we sat stock still on the M6, last Friday, waiting for an accident, a few miles down the road, to be cleared out of the way, thinking, a train ride would have been a better idea. I was also wondering if I was going to miss my birthday present.
Anne had given me just a card on my actual birthday, but written inside, in her loopy letters, was a description of what I’d be getting. A night in the West End, with tickets to see a play and hotel nearby so we didn’t have to navigate the tubes or buses back to her son’s in Mill Hill. Excited much? I’ll say.
As we watched the cars on the other side of the barrier flow freely by, I attempted to reconcile myself to the possibility of missing the play: we would still have the hotel; we could still go out for a meal; I can’t really miss what I haven’t seen. I had almost got to a point of zen when the traffic finally started shifting and we did, just, get to town in time.
The Gielgud Theatre is a beautiful baroque style building, on Shaftesbury Avenue in the West End, and just a walk away from our hotel in Holburn. As we don’t get out much, the crowds on the street were a little overwhelming. But many of the Christmas lights were on, or maybe it’s this sparkly all year round, so we started to feel the spirit of a Friday night in London.
The play we came to see was The Mirror And The Light, adapted from the Hilary Mantel book, the last part of the Wolf Hall trilogy about Thomas Cromwell. We had seats in the stalls with excellent views of an excellent cast, including Ben Miles as Cromwell and Nathaniel Parker as Henry VIII.
I haven’t watched many adapted books on the stage and I find it intriguing to see how it’s done. Obviously, great swathes of the book, which is the longest of the three, were removed completely. Many of the characters were also dispensed with, or given a token appearance, to move the plot, or highlight the underlying politics. They gave more prominence to Cromwell’s ghosts and making his father the axe man in order to allow him to say the star line was clever. Plus they began the play near the end of the book which worked very well, starting in medias res (in the midst of things), a term I’ve just learnt on my course so I can bandy it about proficiently.
Walking back, after 11pm, the multitudes were still milling. But, whether it was the interval wine, or the absorption in the play, we felt ourselves in concert with them, rippling out into the convivial night.
It was a really wonderful evening, and definitely made me want to venture into the heart of the Big Smoke a little more than I have done. But maybe next time, we will take the train.