I thought I was over the jet lag. I’ve been back at work since Saturday, and MasterB’s insistence on breakfast at seven in the morning has helped get at least that part of my routine re-established pretty quickly. I had one evening when I went to bed shortly before six. It was that or nod off on the sofa. The dark evenings haven’t helped me stay awake. By eight it feels like midnight. I tried having a second cup of coffee one day, but that was disastrous; I was jittery and jumpy, and speaking so fast my tongue felt seriously tired. However, day by day I was gradually staying awake longer and later.
But this week I had tickets to two events in the evening. The first, on Wednesday, was to a play at the National Theatre, the second to a poetry and science event at the Shaw Theatre. Both were with Celia and we have had the tickets for some weeks.
I love the National Theatre. It is quite simply one of the best theatres in the world in terms of the three auditoria it comprises, in terms of its creative vision and commitment, in terms of its productions. actually, it is probably the best theatre in the world. This is the home of War Horse, and the puppeteers who work their magic in that production say there is no other theatre in the world where this play would have been staged; the work that went on for months behind the scenes to make it possible would not have been contemplated anywhere else. You get spoiled in london. It is the the theatre capital of the world.
So you’ll understand I had high expectations of the evening. The play was by David Hare, a writer I respect. On the way there Celia told me the reviews had been mixed. We were surprised to see many of the seats were empty. My experience of the NT is almost uniquely of full houses and anticipatory audiences. The lights dimmed. The opening scene was great, snappy, clever, promising. bUt after that it was slow. A lot of polemic and not a lot to watch. My eyes began to close. I was still listening, but the voices were sounding more and more distant.
I made myself open my eyes. I’m a fidget at the theatre. some people stay in the same position throughout a play. I don’t. I move about in my seat, cross and uncross my legs and arms, reach for my water bottle, lean forward, lean back. This time a lot of my fidgeting was to keep awake. I thought I was doing quite well, but then my head dropped and woke me up. I didn’t last beyond the interval. I wasn’t sure if it was me or the play. Celia stayed. She texted me when it was over: thumbs down. Oh well, put that one down to experience.
My desire for sleep made me worried about about the next event the following day. Admittedly on Wednesday I had been working all day, on my feet, outside in damp, though not wet, weather. On Thursday, yesterday, I was only working in the morning, though I had a fair amount to do in the afternoon. Still, I had time for a brief nap. I took it. I’m so glad I did. Even so, and despite loving the poets and the scientists, I struggled at moments.
Simon Armitage read Aviators, a poem I love. Well, I love Armitage’s flights of fancy, his humour. Alice Roberts talked about the beauty of scientific language; poetry in its own right. A very enthusiastic Maggie Aderin-Pocock spoke as fast as she could to make the most of her six minutes and tell us why we should all be lunatics (moon worshippers) while her solemn faced daughter held the phone to time her.
But I think my favourite was Imtiaz Dharkar who opened the whole event with a wonderful poem called Speech Ballon. And considering the line up also included Carol Ann Duffy, Gillian Clarke and Daljit Nagra that is saying something.
I had never hear some of the contributors, including Professor Andrea Sella, UCL chemist, and winner of the Michael Faraday Prize. I loved his anger with the Daily Mail telling lies about climate change, and he chose to talk about Primo Levi, reminding me exactly why I read everything I could by him some thirty years ago. And why his writing is still relevant today. Sella read this poem in its original Italian. If you can read it and not be aware that this is the voice you need to listen to you are probably in need of help.