Saturday, 7 March 2009

Not Shock, Just Awe

I found myself at the O2 with a couple of hours to kill, and on impulse I decided to be brave and head for the Body World Mirrors of Time exhibition. I have only seen occasional glimpses of Dr Gunther von Hagens’ work on tv and in the press, so although I knew roughly what I was going to see, it was with a fair bit of caution that I walked into the first gallery.

The first sight of the ‘exhibits’ certainly freaked me a little bit. I was interested, but couldn’t bring myself to get too close, so I sort of circled round it for a while in silence (I didn’t bother with the ubiquitous commentary headphones), then decided to move on. The exhibition is designed to take you through every stage of life from conception to decrepitude and death, so the very next room had foetuses of various stages of development. Alongside the flayed and preserved exhibits that provide the instantly recognisable imagery of the exhibition were display cabinets containing various dissected bits and pieces of the human body with explanations about development, growth, health and disease.

I was acclimatised by now, so was able to look much more closely at the main exhibits as I walked around the silent, almost deserted galleries. The corpses are so brightly coloured they could almost be plastic models, apart from the roughness of texture that can be seen on tendons or the ragged edge of a finger or toenail as a reminder that these are real people. The shapes of ears were particularly individual and striking. There was also humour, which rather than feeling grotesque somehow added humanity and warmth, so that far from being a freak show, it became a celebration of the wonders of the body and of being human.

I came out from the exhibition moved and exhilarated, and I am sure that if you are a believer in intelligent design it would have confirmed your views. For me, the experience meant ninety minutes of meditation on the amazing complexities that keep us alive and functioning, and left me with a sense of awe that still hasn’t quite faded.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Dirty Laugh?

Is this only funny if you have seen the movie?*

* Thanks to Anna for pointing this out..

Sunday, 1 March 2009

On Stalin, Dancing and Ice-cream.

I had one of my favourite seats at a preview of Burnt by the Sun at the National Theatre yesterday. The play is set in Russia in 1936 during the Stalinist purges, and CiarĂ n Hinds and Rory Kinnear play the two main protagonists, one as a gruff revolutionary soldier, the other as a golden prodigal boy. I have to tell you that there were no surprises in the casting, so I expect you can guess who played which character.

So, back to telling you about my favourite seats. This was a day booking, taking a chance by ringing the box office after the queue at the box office had subsided, but for a tenner I got a seat in the slips. Although the view is slightly restricted I get a individual seat, with tons of space and a balcony to lean over, sharing this little haven with only two other people. It means that I can wriggle, lay my head on my arms, even spread out a tiny picnic if I want to without disturbing a soul. The sense of being in a little haven also means that the others are always happy to chat, which is great for a single theatre goer like myself, and means I get to be nosy about other people’s lives, another of my favourite pastimes. This time it was two friends getting together for a catch-up day, but quite often it is people visiting London from any number of places around the world, telling me about their impressions of the play, London, politics or any number of other things that you just don’t get in conversation on the train or queue at Tescos.

Watching the play, I was slightly distracted as I had heard that there was some concern about the revolving set, due to its weight, and that meant I couldn’t help but watch the sometimes slow scene revolutions with a sense of anticipation that wasn’t quite intended. Also, they need to lose the music at the final blackout – it killed the impact of the final scene and it went on so long it had the whole audience wondering whether there was more to come. So the cast returned on stage to a slightly awkward pause before the applause.

As for the play itself, it was very good, a great evocation of a sort of golden summer before the Great Terror really got going, mixed with a bit of a political thriller and a classic triangle of sexual jealousy.

From the evening overall I can report that that Ciaran Hinds can dance, Rory Kinnear can play the piano, and that Kitkat fingers dipped into vanilla ice-cream are delicious.