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Jewish Londoners on stage

By 6.30 p.m. yesterday, I’d had it with London. I set off to go back down to the West End, to walk around on a lovely evening and to eventually meet Penny at 6.30 at the theatre near the Thames. Just looking out of the top windows of the bus, I was floored by the crowds – Oxford Street, Regent Street, Piccadilly Circus, down to Westminster – insane, zillions, trillions of people. London makes Paris look like a dear, underpopulated town. The complications of running this place boggle the mind. And yet – it works, the transit system is phenomenal, tube, busses ploughing through, the shops and restaurants jammed everywhere – it works, but it’s insane. And by early last evening, I declared that this was my last visit to London, that I would not come here again. (Click to enlarge. Top two pix taken from the front window of a double-decker bus.)

Luckily, I found the beautiful Embankment park near the theatre and sat for awhile, admiring the swath of tulips. London is blessed with huge, magnificent parks everywhere, and they’re well used. Life savers.

Fell in love with this tree, and felt better about life.

And then Penny arrived and we saw a fabulous piece of theatre last night and again this afternoon, and I fell in love with London again.

David Baddiel is apparently a well-known British comedian and media star. I’d never heard of him, but was anxious to see his play “My Family: not a sitcom”, a one-man show about his crazy family. It was superb – hilarious and very moving, the true story of his selfish, crazy, funny mother and angry father who now has Alzheimer’s, skillfully told with enormous humour but also anger, sensitivity, and grief. He told us the truth, though I do think he could have said a bit more about how having such difficult parents affected him. People are shocked when I tell stories about my mother’s inappropriate sharing – but Mum had nothing on David’s mother. A very good show, inspiring me in my telling of family tales. Must try to be funnier.

And then out into a beautiful evening, hop onto the tube, home in no time. Penny brought a sleeping bag and stayed the night here. This morning, after our breakfast of Marks and Spencer hot cross buns, a big thrill – we were walking to Swiss Cottage to see our matinee, and I asked if we could go via Abbey Road, which is on the way. I’ve always wanted to make the pilgrimage to the legendary crosswalk, but never had anyone to take a photo. Well, I did today. I was one of many, lining up to have their photos taken. Poor drivers.

The fab four’s most faithful fan

 Sign on a wall nearby

 The Abbey Road studios themselves, and the wall covered with loving graffiti

When we arrived at Swiss Cottage, we found a busy farmer’s market right outside the theatre, so we had a picnic lunch bought from the vendors – I had a delicious curry, and Penny had pasta. We could have had Jamaican goat curry, confit de canard, sushi. I read today that something like 300 languages are spoken in London, and I believe it. That’s my curry, below, with the chef in the background.

We walked on Primrose Hill, the north end of Regent’s Park, a gorgeous green space. Space, air, sweet fresh air, just wonderful, with the city looming on the horizon.

The famous hill. There was a quote engraved in concrete at the top: “I have conversed with the spiritual sun. I saw him on Primrose Hill. William Blake. 1757.” What a culture, that not only produced such a man, but immortalized his words in a park.

We had dessert and cappuccino from the Italian coffee stall outside in the sun at the market, and went in to the Hampstead Theatre to see another terrific piece of theatre: “Filthy Business,” again about Jewish Londoners – interesting that’s what I ended up choosing. A massive family saga, very Eugene O’Neil, about a family driven by a powerful matriarch who climbed from nothing to owning a business that had both saved and destroyed her family. The power of family ties, the ruthless push of ambition, the incessant nagging and criticizing, all reminded me of my father’s Jewish family from New York. But more than that, the play is about refugees and immigrants generally, how desperately hard they work to find a place in the new land, how much we owe them.

 We had a drink afterwards with Penny’s boyfriend in the Hampstead Theatre’s cafe and bar – an open space more like a community centre than a theatre. I loved this place, which has produced important new work for years. And then my friends went off together on their own trip, and I took the short tube ride home.

Now having a quiet night in, recovering from all this showmanship and fresh air. London is manageable if you can regularly get away from the madness, find green space and quiet rooms, hear yourself breathe.

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4 Responses to “Jewish Londoners on stage”

  1. Anonymous says:

    London IS exhausting and of course it is the holidays adding more folks into the frenzy, however, the theatre is exceptional and worth braving the onslaught. So happy to hear you've discovered David Baddiel, a very funny, honest man.
    I did the Abbey Road thing a few years ago and had exactly the same thought about the poor motorists, it must be a 'no go area' if you're in a rush!! Have you been to the Globe theatre? It is worth a visit even if you can't fit a show in. Carole

  2. The last time I was in London visiting my friend David, he asked me one night, "Where do you want to eat? What kind of food do you want to eat?" And I said I wanted to eat somewhere where no one was touching me (everywhere was so crowded and jam packed) and/or where there are not strangers also eating at our table. What a stimulating and fabulous city; but I can't take the crowds either, Beth.

  3. Anonymous says:

    You'll have to come up north to Yorkshire on your next visit Beth, sample our wonderful Alan Ayckbourn Theatre, big skies, beautiful empty landscapes, peace and fresh air! Rarely visit London now exactly for the reasons you describe. Carole

  4. beth says:

    Thank you, Carole, I'd love to take you up on your offer. I will certainly come back, but only for a few days of theatre-going in London. It's just too insane. Chris, it's surely worse now than ever, you'd go mad.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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