So quite a bit has happened since my last foray into blogging, the main event being that my beloved friend Michelle came to stay! She came to Europe for about three weeks and arrived in Edinburgh to visit us first. It was the best thing in the world to see her (and an excuse to revisit Edinburgh and Craigmillar Castles, as well as eat lots of cake and take a very jet-lagged guest to the final night of Harry Potter trivia)
She traipsed off to Austria and Slovenia to go paragliding(!) and other fun things and Sean and I got our tourist on again and went to several events that were fundamentally Scottish:
Neu! Reekie! Celts! – Neu! Reekie! Is a monthly showcase of music and poetry and film (all very avant-garde and interesting) and this one took place in the National Museum of Scotland to mark the end of the Celts exhibition. Highlights included Liz-freaking-Lochhead, fast becoming my favourite poet of all time; Charlotte Church – yes, that Charlotte Church – and her 10-piece electro-pop orchestra; free whisky tastings; and free entry into the exhibition, which we’ve seen before but did again because it’s amazing.
Doors Open Day – similar to Open Doors Day in Melbourne – we went to the Canongate Kirk and the John Knox House. I’d been to the John Knox House before but Sean had not, and it was interesting to see it again because I had the audio guide this time that told me a bit more. We had been to the Canongate Kirkyard before – it holds several people of note, including the poet Robert Fergusson and what is rumoured to be the body of Mary, Queen of Scots’ murdered secretary, David Rizzio. But the actual church I had not seen inside, and it is, surprisingly, strikingly modern inside. It actually felt a bit nautical with the colour scheme and the various insignia adorning the interior.
McGonagall nite – a night of bad poetry, music, and speeches celebrating the life of William McGonagall, fondly remembered as Scotland’s worst poet. It began in Greyfriars Kirkyard where he is buried (interestingly, it is his gravestone that J K Rowling was supposedly inspired by to name Hogwarts’ Transfiguration Professor and general all-round badass, Minerva McGonagall). The bagpipes played a lament, and then we followed the piper through the streets to the Captain’s Bar, a FANTASTIC little pub that sits below the flat he died in. There, we were treated to more bagpipes, many poetry readings of severely awful poetry, and speeches about his life. We were instructed to stand and toast everytime his name was mentioned, reciting the phrase ‘Sir William Topaz McGonagall, poet and tragedian, Knight of the White Elephant of Burma’ – the way he styled himself. What an unapologetic sweetheart. Loved every moment!
The Palace of Holyroodhouse – I finally went to see this palace with my friend Sophie. We wanted to catch the end of an exhibition of the Queen’s outfits, currently being shown around the UK to celebrate her 90th birthday. It was a smaller exhibition than I expected (the bulk of the collection being in Buckingham Palace), but the garments on display were incredible. They were accompanied with photos of Her Majesty wearing them, as well as information about the design and designers. The Holyrood Palace segment of the exhibition obviously included all the royal tartans and the robes she wears as head of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle – Scotland’s order of chivalry. But of course, we got to see the rest of the Palace itself. It is the Queen’s official residence in Scotland, so still a working palace, but you can go through the historic State Apartments when they are not in use and even see the apartments of Mary, Queen of Scots (including the rooms where her secretary was attacked and murdered in front of a heavily pregnant Mary). Intense and amazing experience. I have a yearly ticket now, so will go back another time and do it again. There was so much to take in at once, so, like Edinburgh Castle, if you can manage a second visit or multiple visits, it is worth it. There are also the ruins of Holyrood Abbey to see and the beautiful Palace grounds, overlooking Arthur’s Seat and the Salisbury Crags.
Other things I have done that warrant a mention:
- Bridget Jones’s Baby! Loved it! Was worried it would not live up to the first two, but I was happily reassured. Renee Zellweger is luminous. I laughed loudly. A perfect success!
- Went to a launch of a literary journal, edited by a friend of mine. The theme of this edition was poetry in translation, so the launch included some beautiful performances of multi-lingual music and spoken word.
- Went to Stockbridge with a friend and visited Golden Hare Books, potentially my new favourite bookstore in Edinburgh. A beautiful oasis of calm and quiet. Dangerous for the bank account.
- Had a corporate induction at work! Not particularly exciting, but important nonetheless.
However, the main purpose of this blog was to tell you about London. I’ve had this trip booked for months, but only found out when Michelle arrived a couple of weeks ago that she would be here too! So I’ve spent the last couple of days with Michelle again! We have continued our tourism-and-cake escapades, doing a walking tour of the Old City of London and finding the most charming little bakery (Primrose Bakery) to treat ourselves to some delicious cake-ventures. The walking tour included all kinds of historic information about the actual City of London (as opposed to Greater London) that boggle the mind, and finished by part of the Roman Wall. Definitely a solid recommendation from me! I also nerded out and went to get my one-year Reader Pass from the British Library – now I have no excuse! I have to return for study. I stayed at a hostel near to Kings Cross – six-bed dorm, free and simple breakfast, and GOOD SHOWERS for about 20 pounds a night. If you’re not afraid of roughing it in a hostel, I would recommend it (ask for a bottom bunk as the top bunks can’t reach the power points to charge your phone…)
But. But. The reason for my visit. A Facebook contact in Melbourne had mentioned months ago that she had a ticket to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child going begging. I had written off this experience, convinced when the tickets went on sale that I didn’t have the money or even the knowledge I would be in the UK when the play was on. I knew we were going to Edinburgh, but I didn’t know if it was going to work out, if I’d be in a position to get to London over six months after we had arranged to leave Australia. What if we had to come home and my money was wasted? But now, settled in Edinburgh, knowing this was happening for the long haul, I was able to seize the opportunity. I went to the launch of the play script earlier this year, got my copy, and DIDN’T TOUCH IT. I wanted the proper experience, seeing it onstage without knowing anything about the story and allowing myself to be surprised by the spectacle. I know this sounds smug – I’m sorry, I don’t mean to – and it frustrates me that this is such an exclusive experience. It’s a financial and geographical privilege that I don’t think should be associated with a story this popular. I appreciate that the script was released worldwide to allow readers everywhere to know what happens, but scripts are not written to be read, they are written to be performed. And that means that unless you have the means to get to London and pay for a ticket, you are excluded from seeing this story the way it was conceived to be seen. There are stage directions in the script that are just that – stage directions. They can’t possibly compare with the awesome and intense experience that actors, music, sets, costume, special effects, and the feeling of being part of an enraptured audience brings to the table. And enraptured we were. Spontaneous applause, laughter, audible gasping and (in some cases) swearing were all heard throughout the show from the spectators, and there was a standing ovation at the end.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a show like it. It is in two parts – you are supposed to see Part One as a matinee and Part Two in the evening, OR Part One and Part Two on consecutive evenings. Both parts are just over two and a half hours long including a twenty minute interval in each, which leaves us with a show more-or-less four and a half hours long. The actors must be absolutely knackered at the end of every day. I don’t want to spoil anything, so this review won’t, but I am more than happy to discuss in private with people that have read or seen it, or people that don’t mind being spoiled. All I will say is this: the storyline was 100% not what I expected. I don’t exactly know what I expected, but it wasn’t that. I am so glad I stayed away from the script! But it was 100% more wonderful than anything I expected as well. The magic onstage was an interesting mix – half of it seemed to be more stylized – you could see how the magic had been created and carried off, but it worked as part of the show. The other half was just baffling. We were sitting five rows from the front in the stalls with a perfect view, and I was completely stumped by how some of it was done and I was looking very carefully. The casting – utterly perfect. Ron, Harry, Hermione, Ginny, Draco and all the other characters we know were up there on stage and I might have even shed a tear or two watching them deal with the crazy shit J. K. Rowling and the two dudes she wrote the show with put them through. It probably took me about ten or fifteen minutes to get used to seeing the actors as the characters – they are all very different from the portrayals we are used to for obvious reasons – they’ve aged. But the characterisation was nearly perfect. I suppose if I had one criticism it would be that Ginny was too similar to movie-Ginny rather than book-Ginny…but it is a small criticism indeed.
The ‘new’ characters (ie the ones we didn’t meet properly in the book or film series) were wonderful, the sets were a masterpiece, and the music by Imogen Heap put it on another level entirely. Most of all, it was entertaining. It’s without a doubt the longest show I have seen and I didn’t want it to end. I didn’t want this journey to be finished again.
I know some people have been disappointed with parts of it and that is understandable – this series and this world means so much to so many people. It is impossible to please everyone and to take the story in a direction that all the billions of fans would agree with. I feel very lucky that I was one of the ones who loved it, who will treasure the memory of seeing it onstage forever. I’m sure it will tour, and I’m sure it will end up on screen in some sort of format at some stage. I hope everyone who wants to see it gets the chance. I would thoroughly, heartily recommend it.
So yeah, I didn’t really sleep after seeing it. Was too excited, with it all running through my head. I should also mention that the two girls I saw the show with were lovely. They were obviously friends of the girl back in Melbourne that I had bought the ticket from, so I didn’t meet them in person until I was at the theatre. But they were great, and took me to see the House of Minalima between shows, which is the shop set up by the graphic designers of the film series. It’s like a kooky little museum of all the different designs used in the Potter franchise, from the textbook covers, to the letters, the ‘Wanted’ posters, and the Marauders Map. It is insanely expensive so I didn’t buy anything, but you are permitted to take photos! We went for Spanish for dinner, briefly saw Michelle who brought me hazelnut and carrot cake because she is brilliant, and I stopped on my walk back home to help two tourists whose phones weren’t working and apartment wasn’t open. I should have slept really well! But I was too busy thinking of Harry.
I checked out after breakfast the next morning and met Michelle at Kings Cross where we stored our luggage and browsed the Harry Potter shop (of course). Then we had a cup of tea and visited the Treasures of the Collection exhibition at the British Library. This exhibition is one of the best in London (says me, a librarian, of course) and includes original books and documents that pretty much shaped society as we know it. I think the earliest item I saw was an 8th century Qu’ran, but there may have been something(s) older. Obviously the main attractions for myself were Jane Austen’s writing desk, a draft of Persuasion, letters from Mary, Queen of Scots, and Elizabeth I, and the Brontë material, which include a mini-exhibition on Jean Rhys and Wide Sargasso Sea.
There is so much else in there though – the Magna Carta! Gutenberg’s Bible! Handwritten documents from The Beatles! Beowulf! DaVinci’s notebooks! I would definitely see it if you have an interest in history. And it’s free! After we left the library, there was time for one final cake date at Kings Cross before I had to say goodbye to Michelle. I will miss her so much! But seeing her and spending the time with her that I did was good for my soul.
The train ride home went fairly quickly – I was devouring the Cursed Child script, finally, with the memories of the night before playing through my head as I read. Back to reality now, but a pleasant reality it is. I really doubt my next blog is going to be this exciting….