17 November, 2009

take THAT, Spanish Armada

It's happened at last: "Drake: the Musical" has been staged not once, but twice in the small lives we all inhabit here in our little corner of London. And contrary to our rather churlish expectation, fed by our children's vile attitudes (which have changed remarkably since performing), the musical was FABULOUS.

Granted, I will go to my grave wondering why on earth anyone thought that Sir Francis Drake ("Frankie" to his many admirers onstage) was a compelling figure for a musical lead. He was a laddish rake of the first order, nothing more than a pirate! ("A privateer," his 11-year-old portrayer insists). Added to that skepticism may be put the questionable wisdom of 13-year-olds putting on a musical that deals with, let's see, rampant anti-Spanish propaganda (I'm not English, so I can frown at the laughter in the audience at all the slurs!), randy seafaring pirates, and much ado about members of the drunken aristocracy. Lines like, "If I'm Knight of the Garter, can I say whose garter it should be?" and "I'll show you to the ladies in waiting," followed by, "They don't have to wait no longer!" You get my drift.

Still and all, the production managed to be completely charming. The kids have worked unexpectedly hard, it's clear. I guess I fell into the old trap of believing a child's description of any ongoing experience, especially when you gather a whole bunch of them together and THEN try to get a grain of truth from their tales of woe. How terrible the songs/dance/speeches were going to be (they were marvelous and almost faultless), how horrendous the makeup (pretty much standard), how perilous the sets (nothing collapsed). In general, they warned us about how embarrassing the whole experience would be, and yet, all the performers seemed happy to have us turn up, fill the house, and clap wildly. They were WONDERFUL.

"Tarry a tick, old chap!" was typical of the banter, as was, "Her Majesty's a bit tetchy today, and who can blame her?" "Love a duck!" exclaimed one girl upon seeing a beautiful necklace, whereupon an eavesdropping Lord said, "Duck? Duck? Ah, Drake... a highly unsuitable expression, given the circumstances..." I chuckled even more at these Wodehouse-esque, outdated expressions. I do love living here.

The atmosphere of a boys' school itself strikes amazing feelings of inadequacy in me, the average son-less American who did not grow up surrounded by children in knee britches, matching jackets, neckties and beanies. With kneesocks and little briefcase-y satchels. And loads of matching stair-step brothers. These boys are called things like Horatio and Simon, and the huge blowups of them in the passages, playing rugger and the like with concentrated expressions of aristocratic competitiveness only underscore the huge cultural gap between people like us and people who take this sort of thing for granted. Large groups of boys who go to a boys' school are a breed apart: they really do say things like, "Jolly good!" and "I say..." They wrestle and push and shove and mock-bite like any boys in America, but they do it with perfect haircuts and gorgeous accents like David Cameron's, and I for one am besotted. Will Avery end up with someone like that, and I'll feel inferior for every family holiday for the rest of my life? She seems perfectly at home in the setting.

Tomorrow is an evening off. A break from the makeup removal at nearly 10 p.m., the rehashing of "Did you hear when Elizabeth's microphone stopped working during her duet with Drake?" and whose fluffing of lines caused tears (never let them see you sweat, I advise). Then another performance on Friday night, and another on Saturday, then never to be seen again.

I've learned several things from the whole process of "Drake: the Musical." One, boys at this age are nice. They're presentable and talented and cute, and I wish Avery had more of a chance to know them. Two, I should not pay too much attention to moaning and complaining and predictions of disaster, because these children work too hard at everything for any one thing not to be done well, and this was truly a thing for them to be proud of.

Most important, I've learned that I will greatly miss the late-afternoon strolls across the ornamental bridge to the boys' school as the sun sets, with one, two or three girls at my side, not quite ready to walk themselves across the Thames to rehearsal. There are so many landmark "last times" I never thought to notice: the last time I was asked to chaperone a school trip? Didn't make a note of it. The last time Avery reached out naturally to hold my hand crossing a street? The last time I read out loud to her before she went to sleep? What WAS I paying attention to that these things passed by without a whimper?

But I will miss these walks to rehearsal, because the next time she has to go across the river for something with her friends, she'll undoubtedly go on her own, and the delightful conversation about fashion, makeup, who likes who, even the dreaded moaning about homework, will all happen like that tree in the forest. Will any of it happen if I'm not there to listen?

The short answer is, yes. The cliche that children only get more wonderful as they get older is true, which is meant to make up for the fact that you spend more and more time without them, and the times you hold their hands are fewer and farther between. The fact is, the little versions of Avery from the past that she's left behind in my memory are just as powerful as her present self: they're sepia, fuzzy, little-girl versions of the bright blue, velvet Drake-costumed girl I see today. I treasure them all.

So onward and upward to final performances of "Drake." I hope I live to see "Joe Biden: the Musical." In the meantime, Avery has a call-back audition tomorrow afternoon for, get this, an anti-alcohol public advertisement. Talk about growing up quickly! It's odd when your child acts for a commercial discouraging her against doing something it had not, so far, occurred to her to do. The perfect antidote to all those mugs of ale aboard the Golden Hinde with Frankie! Now I can rest easy. And we can all come home to:

Homemade Tomato Soup
(serves 8)

2 tbsps olive oil
1 tbsp butter
6 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 white onion, roughly chopped
2 pounds fresh plum tomatoes, quartered
3 cups chicken stock
handful fresh rosemary stalks, leaves removed and roughly chopped
1/2 cup single (light) cream

zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup sour cream
fresh ground black pepper

Prep is simplicity itself. Heat olive oil and butter in a large saucepan and add garlic and onion to wilt slightly. Add tomatoes and stock and rosemary, simmer for 1/2 hour or until tomatoes soft. Puree with a hand blender and put through a sieve into another saucepan. Add light cream. When serving, sprinkle each bowl with a bit of lemon zest, a dollop of sour cream and a grind of pepper. Done, dusted, PERFECT.


There is nothing more perfect than this soup. Inexpensive beyond belief, almost effortless, elegant and comforting. With a grilled-cheese sandwich, this is the perfect after-Drake supper. With a mug of ale, of course. Hip, hip, hooray!


Fantastic Forrest said...

How fun! I can relate to part of what you're experiencing; my son will be playing Malvolio soon in his high school's production of Twelfth Night.

I'm wildly jealous of your English existence. Reading my Wodehouse stories is a poor second to living the dream. But at least I can enjoy your delicious sounding recipe. :)

A Work in Progress said...

Hiya - are you available on the 30th? I have a meeting @ 11-12 in the City so after? Do you still have my other e-mail address?

Kristen In London said...

Hey: can I get back to you, as it's either 1) Avery's day to get her braces put on, ouch, or 2) her day to act in a commercial if she gets the job from her audition tonight. When I know, I'll post a comment here, how's that? I don't have your email address, as far as I can find. I'd love to get together if at all possible!

Kristen In London said...

Fantastic Forrest, how nice to see you here, thanks for dropping in! Malvolio, ah, wonderful. We saw Derek Jacobi play the part last year at the Donmar, just to inflate your wild jealousy. Good luck to him! Chin up and all that, I'm sure he'll be keen as mustard (one of my favorite expressions from Drake!)...

Bee said...

I've been making a Barefoot Contessa tomato soup the past few months, but I will try this one -- and see how it compares!

Gorgeous description of the play -- and those posh English chaps.

Kristen In London said...

Nervous about a comparison with Barefoot Contessa soup! Woe is me!

You'd have LOVED the play, Bee.