18 July 2006, Donkey's Years/Hay Fever

Tuesday, after breakfast at the hotel, we were off to the National Gallery in the morning, where we covered the whole "green section" (painting, 1700-1900; for anything more recent, you have to go to the Tate Gallery). I have to say that my favorite is still "Whistlejacket," a life-size portrait of a horse by a George Stubbs (1724-1806), who studied the anatomy of the horse so closely (complete with dissections, etc., so as to improve his artistic portrayal of horses) that he published a book on the subject. Whistlejacket was born in in 1749, and the portrait was painted in about 1762; nobody says when he died. The painting is said to have inaugurated a whole new school of art, because for the first time the horse was given the same sort of personality and "presence" that human subjects of portraits were. Lots of websites show reproductions of it; just Google "whistlejacket."

London tikka massala London kurmaWe had an excellent curry lunch at Grand Indian Restaurant on St. Martin's Lane: We ordered chicken tikka massala, tandoori butter lamb, poppadums, mango chutney, mango pickle, naan, and rice, though I'm pretty sure the "tandoori butter lamb" we were brought was actually chicken kurma. Not lamb, anyway, but delicious nonetheless.

We had time to go back to the National Gallery for a little of the "painting, 1500-1700" section before heading off to the Comedy Theatre on Panton St. for the 3 p.m. matinee Donkey's Years. It's a Michael Frayne farce about British men at their 25th college reunion, and it starred any number of people we know from movies and British television—e.g., Edward Petherbridge (Lord Peter Wimsey), David Haig (Four Weddings and a Funeral), Jonathan Coy (Rumpole of the Bailey and many others), Samantha Bond (also Rumpole of the Bailey as well as Miss Moneypenny in the last four James Bond movies). Not a lot of costumes or make-up were involved, so we actually rncountered some of the actors coming out the back of the theatre as we were leaving the front.

London pitaWe walked around a little to stretch our legs before having an early supper at Noura, an upscale middle-eastern place. There's one of the same name in Paris, but I don't know whether they're in any way connected. I had three mezzes (tabbouleh that was mostly parsley, a spherical falafel, and excellent hummous) with freshly-baked-before-our-eyes pita—the chef brought rolled out disks of dough from the kitchen, then picked each one up and flung it, naked, into the hot oven. Minutes later, he retrieved the puffy little pitas with a long-handled pell and spread them on the counter to cool. My second course was lamb kefte and chicken shawarma with an outstanding mayo-garlic type sauce and little roasted vegetables. David's stomach was still bothering him from the Cumberland sausages, so he just had lentil soup.

Then off to the Royal/Haymarket theatre for Noël Coward's Hay Fever with Dame Judi Dench and Peter Bowles. Excellent!

The theatre had the most Labyrinthine ladies' room I have ever encountered. It consisted of a web of strange, miniature corridors with a sink around this corner, a stall (or two or even three) in that nook, another off to the side here; strange.

The timing was such that, in leaving the theatre, we once again encountered the actors from Donkeys' Years leaving their theatre after the evening performance.

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