London, unlike anywhere else I’ve ever visited, seems to always be in some kind of state of flux. Last summer, I found Londoners had changed yet again; into somewhat dazed, snarly creatures who would walk right into you without an “excuse me”, seemingly about to enter the jaws of a recession we thought we were easing out of here in the USA. Remember that notion? Well, guess what? One year later, the city, and the people of London, are handling their recession with a lot more aplomb and good humour than anyone I’ve yet to encounter here in New York; and not only that-they seem to be having a grand time doing it.
The streets are traffic-free (not surprising, considering the congestion taxation Londoners are subject to if they dare try to drive into the city), the construction that was everywhere, on every street last year, looks like it’s actually completed in most areas-and here is the thing that impressed me the most-the streets are immaculate! Ok, sure, you’ll find empty coffee cups and food wrappers stashed in nooks and crannies outside the Underground stations, but the reason for that is simple-all the garbage bins have been removed to deter would-be bombers and their ilk from wreaking devastation unto mass transit. And the trash doesn’t last long because every few minutes there’s someone coming around to sweep it all up. Pedicabs, one of the worst ideas to ever clog a major city’s streets (Have you tried to maneuver around on Central Park west or Eighth Avenue lately?), which some years ago were even more plentiful and more annoying in London (before they arrived in NYC), are suddenly diminished to the point of near-invisibility. Perhaps they’ve been regulated to specific area s(Hey somebody-is that such a bad idea??), but I saw a total of maybe 10 pedis in 2 weeks.
And now comes the newest scheme in London, and you can be sure it will only a matter of time before it comes here. City-licensed bicycles, operated in a way similar to Zipcars-you register online, you pay your dough, you get a swipe card in the mail-and all over London, there are racks and racks of blue and white bicycles waiting to be swiped out and taken for the day-all under city supervision and the responsibility of the cardholders. Consequently, the pedicabs may be gone, but there are cyclists everywhere-solo, in tandem, in packs like stiff upper-lipped wolves they roam the city-but unlike our dear, special NYC bike messengers-they are courteous, conscientious and contained.
And there you have it. London, in its latest incarnation, is back to being civilized. Only in this incarnation, civility borders on robotic. There’s a feeling of friendly, but something’s just not right, something’s just a tad off-kilter. Perhaps Londoners are gearing up for all the hoo-hah that will accompany the Summer Olympics in 2 years time, and true to their nature, don’t want to be caught losing their cool too soon. But a Summer Olympics in a city that can, in August, be as wet and as cold as October in Vermont, is going to take a lot of aplomb. I don’t think I want to be around, but it should be interesting. Guaranteed, there are going to be a lot of blue and white bicycles out there. Not to mention the 10,000 CCTV cameras already in place.
In the summer of 2010, London’s biggest hits are by American playwrights. The other shoe has dropped. While it always feels as though Broadway’s best is dominated, year after year, by British plays, Londoners are reveling in American play revivals, and one new American play that’s poised to take the entire city by storm, even though this particular play, despite great notices in its NY premiere this past season, barely eked out a limited run with no mention of a move to a bigger space. That play, “ Clybourne Park” is enjoying a beautifully realized, skillfully wrought production at the Royal Court Theatre, the same space that gave London the brilliant “ Jerusalem” last summer, which moved to the West End last January, and comes to Broadway in April. If the British edition of “Clybourne Park” manages to eventually come back to NYC by this circuitous route, it would be an odd situation to say the least, but this “Clybourne Park” deserves to be seen by more Londoners than it was by New Yorkers,(and I don’t mean that pejoratively) and after seeing what was only the third preview in the middle of a very transfixed, very vocal, very appreciative audience, I’m convinced London’s West End has its next major breakout hit. Playwright Bruce Norris-I salute you. Congratulations.
Neil Simon’s “The Prisoner Of Second Avenue” has always been one of my favorite of his plays, having seen three sets of wonderful actors play in the original run, and having essayed the male lead in my college production, I always wondered why this funny, funny piece has never been revived on Broadway . After seeing the London revival, with Jeff Goldblum and Mercedes Ruehl, I finally have my answer. Even though it deals with recession, and downsizing, and instability and urban terror and emotional breakdowns, the answer is simple-it isn’t as funny as it once was and it hasn’t aged well. Mr. Goldblum and Ms. Ruehl give it their very best-but the play just seems old and creaky. And it made me feel the same way.
And yet, in one of the very best productions of the play I’ve ever seen, Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons”-written three decades before “Prisoner”, doesn’t feel old and creaky at all. It feels brand-spanking new and in the leads, David Suchet and Zoe Wanamaker are giving astonishing performances that defy description. This is a revival that creates a tension, a familial terror that starts in your belly early in the play and then spreads until the final gut-wrenching explosion of violence, accompanied by the the simplest and yet the most chilling sound effect one could imagine-a simple flapping of wings. Would that this British production of a great American play could come to Broadway and show us how “All My Sons” should be done-and erase the memory of the last Simon McBurney-directed debacle of 2 seasons ago.
I didn’t beat my old record of 21 shows in 12 days this year again, darn it-but to tell you the truth, there wasn’t a heckuva lot that made me want to beat my record. I don’t need to see “Sweet Charity” again-anywhere-, I refuse to see “Mama Mia” or “Les Miserables” after all these years-but, among the 18 shows I did see, there were two others that bear mention-one is a piece of utter tripe called “Ghost Stories”, an overhyped, manipulative phony-baloney spookshow that’s about as frightening as a 14 year old dachsund; the other is the sequel to “Phantom Of The Opera” called “Love Never Dies”, which I actuallly enjoyed more than I did it’s prequel, but I think “Phantom” is one of the sloppiest pieces of hokum I’ve ever sat through, so liking its follow-up is a given. Even though, it has just been announced the show will not be coming to Broadway after all, and will close in January. Maybe the West End’s not so different after all.