After having lived in the Allgäu for almost four years, one aspect of big city life I miss is access to the performing arts. I really enjoying playing trumpet for several years and there is something to be said about the emotional high of putting on a production. Even with regular trumpet practice over, I can still derive joy from a seat in an auditorium. Although there are local musical groups, witnessing the thundering ballads of Broadway is a dream in time gone by. Unless… we consider all of Europe a massive stage of its own.
I had visited London already, but with a massively condensed itinerary then I couldn’t add a break for a three hour show. A friend pointed out two years ago that a certain ultra-hyped musical was coming across the ocean to West End — he and his wife actually went twice, flying in on a Friday night and departing on a Sunday. Tickets of both performance and transport were either sold out or extremely expensive when I looked, so I initially shrugged. The show, however, had new showings in January, and when I looked at flight prices (99 € round trip), I pulled the trigger immediately. I arrived in a London free from precipitation late on a Friday night, spending most of Saturday sleeping in, swimming, and wandering around before my evening show.
Near the Tate Modern there is a delightful café, which until I looked up its website didn’t realize was a chain. The service is friendly, the food is fresh, and the atmosphere is somehow reminiscent of what I think a proper Seattle coffeehouse might be like. After brunch, I left to play tourist, but having Tetrised nearly all my top attractions into my previous trips, the only place still open was The Crystal, that building supposed to highlight and showcase energy measures buildings can take to reduce their overall environmental impact. Last time the tram wasn’t running and by the time I bussed over the building had closed; this time I jumped on a tram heading the wrong direction. But I eventually made it on an overcast and remarkably pleasant London afternoon.
Inside, there were more words than pictures or hands-on displays. I must admit some of the exhibits weren’t necessarily intuitive, and the interior is fairly crowded with all the screens and panels. It was interesting nevertheless to read about the details of the building and where building technology was moving environmental progressiveness forward. I spent about two hours inside, had a coffee at the gallery’s café, and left to take some photos of the building itself.
There’s a lot of sharp architecture in London, and this building is no exception. I didn’t bring a polarizer, however, so the angular faces made reflections a bit of a nuisance.
To keep my travel weight down, I only brought my (repaired!) 6D and a 35 mm prime, so I couldn’t get any intimate details of planes en route to or departing from Heathrow. That Emirates logo, however, on the broad canvas that is the underbelly of an A380 is pretty unmistakeable.
I returned to the hotel to change, then headed to dinner. A deliciously spicy bibimbap at the nearby Lime Orange was just the right amount of meal diversity, that in addition to the arts, is just the ticket for a weekend away from the Allgäu. We don’t have a Korean restaurant in Kempten, though we allegedly do have cuisine from eighteen countries represented. It had begun to rain, so I didn’t take many pictures from outside the theatre before the show. Afterwards, the rain stopped, and London’s energetic night scene started to come alive.
I must admit that my exposure to musicals has thus far been the typically subdued, not-melancholic-but-not-first-pumping-vibrant melodrama. I enjoy a remorseful lament and a thundering ballad, and deliberately avoiding reviews or any clips or songs from prior performances had only expected it to have its own share of thrills and tears. But Hamilton isn’t like that. Its experience seems to target maximum heart rate the whole duration, so the pulse never quite descends to anything subdued. It’s therefore impressive that the writers and actors were able to still communicate emotion, plot, and suspense in the midst of all the upbeat flash, but I can’t say it’s necessarily a style that makes me inherently comfortable. I can see how traditional musicals are more than a bit of a highbrow, upturned nose and that it’s numbers like those in Hamilton that are more appealing to the masses. Ironically, ticket prices of Hamilton haven’t necessarily turned out to be tenable for the masses, so cynically asked, the success of the show does beg the question: were the producers looking to exploit an audience not typically willing to go to musicals but that has the means to do so, or were they looking to increase exposure of musicals and stage performance to everyone, simply not having anticipated the financial success the show would become?
Although my second exposure to London was half the duration of my first, I was far less taxed with this one, given that I really only had two places I intended to visit. Curiously, although I took this trip to experience a cultural performance that likely would never make it to Germany, I didn’t slow down to look for serendipity in London either, aware that these moments sometimes become the highlight of a trip. And that was okay. In my childhood, I would spend an evening in Chicago — going to dinner, watching a show, and heading home. I figured a two-hour flight was comparable, albeit with that evening of my Chicago childhood turning into a weekend here. In both cases, the experience is worth it. It didn’t take long to pack my small suitcase and head back to Heathrow, this time the sun shining brightly. I already had a trip lined up for the following weekend, and as we soared south, I wondered to myself if the weather at my next destination would play out so fortuitously.