January 25th, 2018

politics

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Hamilton

Hamilton in London

Anne and I went to see Hamilton in London on Tuesday night - tickets booked a year ago, which turned out to be absolutely lousy timing from the work point of view where things are exceptionally busy right now, but there you go.

The show really is fantastic. I was lucky enough to get to the Chicago run just over a year ago; I enjoyed that a lot, but I enjoyed London more (in fairness a couple of principals were absent the day I attended the Chicago show). I thought that London had dared to differ a bit more from the Broadway original, which is not a bad thing at all. My one complaint is that the sound mixing in London was not always good enough to hear all of the words properly; I had a similar complaint about Chicago but I think London was a bit worse in this regard. (There are three minor changes to the lyrics for the English audience.)

One bit of staging that I missed in Chicago - it may have been there but I wasn't alerted to it until Sarah Whitfield's lecture at Eastercon last year - is the strong suggestion that Hamilton and Laurens may be a bit more than best buddies. (As of this writing there are 66,587 Alexander Hamilton/John Laurens bookmarks in An Archive Of Our Own.) I think the London space is slightly bigger as well, though the ensemble filled it with whirling bodies.

There are a lot of strong performances, particularly:

Jamael Westman in the title role takes Hamilton on a very clear journey from awkward, hungry student to cocky right-hand-man to politician undone by his own hubris. He doesn’t dominate the stage as I imagine Lin-Manuel Miranda may have done; instead he is the leading character of a strong ensemble. He is the least experienced of the leads - only 25, in his first major role, more than a decade younger than Miranda - but we’ll hear more of him. Here he is, not throwing away his shot.



Giles Terera as Aaron Burr differed even more from the Chicago and Broadway performances. With his long face and lugubrious expression, he starts off as comic foil to Westman's Hamilton, only gradually darkening to become his nemesis. Anne got an extra bonus when Terera fixed her directly with his steely gaze when singing “Dear Theodosia”. (In the clip of the Schuyler sisters below, he is standing on the left at the start.)

Michael Jibson as King George carried off beautifully the nuance of portraying the character just a short walk from where the real George III lived, rather than in the country that broke away from his rule. He too used the performance space to interact electrifyingly with the audience. Jason Pennycooke is impressive as both Lafayette and Jefferson - not quite as show-stealing as Chris De'Sean Lee's Jefferson was in Chicago, but maybe a bit more thoughtful in implementation. Anne also thought that Obioma Ugoala was very good as Washington. It’s the one role where I felt the Chicago counterpart, Jonathan Kirkland, was better; which is not a complaint.



The three female leads, Rachelle Anne Go as Eliza, Christine Allado as Peggy/Maria and in particular Rachel John as Angelica were superb - I had forgotten how much of the narrative Angelica carries in the second half. There was a real feeling of character arc for her and even more for Eliza. And to single out one of the ensemble - Leah Miller is great as the bullet in the duel scenes. (In the two clips, she is the shortest of the dancers, with big hair, who comes into view immediately behind Burr at the start of the Schuyler sisters' song.)

I felt a real energy in the room - perhaps it all still seems new to the performers, barely a month into the run, and of course the audience all knew the sound track well but were excited by the live version. I was surprised (and pleased) by the fact that probably three quarters of the audience looked younger than us. (I think the last public performance I went to was a Mary Black concert in Brussels where I was perhaps a little below the average age...)

We stayed in an AirBNB just opposite Foyle's, over the Phoenix Theatre, and walked the two miles to the Victoria Palace Theatre and back - "Hamilton West End" is a bit of a misnomer; I booked the accommodation without checking where the show was actually taking place!

Anyway, in short, we loved it.
mimas

Lord John Stuart and his Brother, Lord Bernard Stuart

The morning after Hamilton, Anne and I had hoped to get down to the Dulwich Picture Gallery to see the Tove Jansson exhibition; but time was against us, so we settled for the National Gallery instead, just a short walk from the place we were staying opposite Foyle's.

I confess that I had never actually been to the National Gallery before, and we only had an hour and a half. So it was a quick zoom through to The Ambassadors, The Rokeby Venus, and The Sunflowers, and whatever else we could fit in.

In the Van Dyck room, one portrait jumped out at me: Lord John Stuart and his Brother.


These two kids are both wealthy, privileged teenagers, cousins of the king (and his wards since the early death of their father), about to set off on a three year tour of Europe. John, on the left, is 17 and Bernard, on the right, is 16. You can tell that they are brothers, and indeed you can tell that they are related to the king from their noses. Van Dyck never got around to finishing the background, but concentrated on the swagger and fine garments of his subjects, the two youngest of the many children of the Duke of Lennox. I don't think the effect is as flattering as they no doubt thought it was.

The portrait was painted in 1638. Soon after they returned from Europe, England was at war, and both boys were knighted in 1642 and soon were made generals, despite their total lack of any relevant experience. And both were killed in combat at the age of 22ish, John at the battle of Cheriton in 1644, and Bernard at the Battle of Rowton Heath in 1645, just before he would have been created the Earl of Lichfield. In 1066 And All That, W.C. Sellar memorably described the Cavaliers as "Wrong but Wromantic", and this portrait beautifully illustrates that. (He also described the Roundheads as "Right but Repulsive"; from the Irish perspective, I'd agree with half of that.)

Lots more to see in the National Gallery; but someone wise once advised me to look out for the one thing that jumps out at you when you are at an exhibition, and this was what jumped out at me this time.