24 June 2016

England Day Sixteen: Joni Newman and the Practically Perfect Play

Note: As with last night, I'll talk about Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in general, non-spoilery ways. You can message me if you want more detail.

We were all so excited by Harry Potter last night that we got to bed much later than normal. That, and the discovery of fans to cool down our stuffy room and we were all asleep until a crazy hour of the almost afternoon. (Sidebar: London had more rain two nights ago than it generally does all the month of June, which meant flooding and crazy closures on the Underground and humidity. Hot sticky days are no fun.) It's alright though - a late morning still gave us plenty of time to do what we wanted to. First, though, we turned on the news. The British voted last night on whether or not to leave the EU and since polls closed at 10:00 PM, results weren't finalized until this morning. Much to everyone's surprise, the leave vote carried and Britain is about to start the process to leave the EU. The media is all over this, of course. What I found most interesting was the press conference held by the Scottish PM. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to stay in the EU. Scotland in particular is frustrated - they voted just two years ago to stay in the UK, largely because they wanted to be a part of the EU, so it seems likely that they could vote in the next year or so on the same topic again. What a strange world that would be - a United Kingdom with no Scotland. What would they do to all the regalia that has the Scottish thistle on it? (And can I have it?!) It's a crazy world.

Our first stop today was St. Paul's Cathedral. I think I could say with a certain degree of honesty that St. Paul's is my favorite cathedral. It's so different from the Gothic cathedrals you generally see in Europe. It's white and bright and so very Romanesque. They've changed their photo policy (you can't take pictures inside now) but you do get a very good audio guide for free. The audio guide was a good tool for understanding the history of the building, but also for promoting a spiritual focus that I haven't seen (oddly enough) when being a tourist in other churches. Two of these stand out to me. The first was information about the men who stood as guards of the cathedral during World War II. There was a brigade of men in charge of keeping watch over the cathedral each night during the war. They would sleep in the crypt and patrol the building. What I thought was most interesting was that the night when the cathedral did get bombed, the only note that was made in their logbook was a brief explanation about putting out a fire. I suppose that can be a simple reflection of how busy they were, but it also seemed like a reflection of how normal such a life was for them. I'm so glad bombing isn't a normal part of my life.

There was another interesting discussion on a painting based on the scripture in Revelation about Christ knocking at the door. Similar to the one my LDS friends would recognize, the door in the painting cannot be opened from the outside. The painter describes this door as representing the "obstinate mind", closed willingly to the knocker. Not just closed because they cannot hear, but closed stubbornly. Such things make me reflect on my own mind and the culture around me. They remind me of students I work with who look at a piece of literature or art that I find particularly spiritual or powerful but that they find trivial or annoying or even bad. I don't fault them for this - I could be wrong, after all. And they are young - there are many things I didn't like as a teenager that I have since matured enough to appreciate. But it does remind me of my resolution to actively seek for find things that are virtuous, lovely, or of good report - no matter their source - and do what I can to let those become part of who I am.

After St. Paul's we went to the British Museum. I haven't been in ages and last time I went I wandered very little. This time we stayed for a lot longer and I saw about half the exhibits. I always love the Egyptian exhibit - there's something really fascinating to me about Ancient Egyptian culture, particularly their religious rites (which are remarkably similar to my own). Remember - when Herod started to kill the infant boys, Jesus and his family were sent to Egypt.  Moses and Joseph were both sent to Egypt as well. For hundreds (maybe even thousands) of years, Egypt has been a hub of education for intellectuals and prophets alike. Wandering through the different sarcophagi reminds me of how much bigger this world is than my own existence. (I suppose that's a natural reaction to being surrounded by things that are 4,000-7,000 years old.)

My favorite things to look at this time were in the Greek and Roman exhibits. After looking at the Egyptians and the Abyssinians, there was a marked difference in the art. The other two civilizations have art that is remarkably similar and awkwardly proportioned (especially where the people are concerned) - seeing the sculpture of the Romans and the Greeks are remarkable comparatively.  Less symbolic, more realistic.  The contrast between the two was striking when they were placed so close to each other.

Regardless of the difference, walking through art from civilizations all over the world is impressive and humbling.  It's particularly impressive to see how people have discovered ways of making, say, pottery.  Take the Chinese - their pottery is pristine.  How does a person (or a civilization) gain that kind of knowledge?  I suppose you could say the same thing about things like the iPhone these days.  I guess I'm just impressed by anyone who is able to see the possibility in things and create.  I'm good when I have a script in front of me.  I'm good with organization and detail.  I'm less good at thinking in the abstract.  I admire people who can.

The highlight of today was, again, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I was impressed with how the second part of the show was less focused on the magic and more focused on the relationships of the people involved.  The show felt more intimate in Part Two.  I really enjoyed it.  (So did the girls behind me, who basically spent the entire second act sobbing.  I passed them some tissues.  Potter fans stick together and provide emotional support!). Truthfully, there were some scenes that got to me as well.  The acting was truly on point.  Jamie Parker's Harry is magnificent.  (They're all good, but I was really taken by him tonight.)

My fear with this show is that people will see it (or read it) and want for it to be something it isn't.  Books can give incredible amounts of detail.  They can go into a dozen different plot lines and be extremely long but still maintain interest if they are well written because people leave the book and come back to it later if they need to.  Plays (and movies) are much more limited.  Storylines must be focused and streamlined and paced in ways that are very different than books.  Those used to experiencing the Potterverse through books and love to pick apart every minute detail may find that some points in the play have been rushed or not explained to their satisfaction.  There are some elements that I think could still be strengthened in small ways (and they could be - the show is still in previews for another month, which means changes will still be coming). All the same, I think this is a truly excellent play and a powerful story.  It touched me personally and fits in almost flawlessly with the Potter universe.  I loved it.

No comments: