Sunday, 1 August 2010

Earthquakes in London sometimes happen

Sometimes, just sometimes, London works like a village.

Spending a day off on Friday spinning around town using the new bike hire scheme was in itself a brilliant way to reconnect with the city.

The blue Boris Bikes (Ken sent out a press release to remind us they were his idea)are a real talking point for pedestrians and other cyclists. So long as they don't all end up in the river, the scheme is going to be a great addition to London.

Later, while walking along the South Bank, beneath the blue and white bulbed trees that they leave on all year outside the National Theatre, I thought I recognised a figure sitting on a bench. Occasionally, in a city with a population bigger than Scotland's, this happens and when it does it reminds you of something you miss about home.

It was Bill Paterson, the actor, who is a friend of friends, and I have so say I hardly recognised him because he looked so damn fresh and relaxed, as he doodled his Times crossword.

He was due on stage at the NT in a preview of Earthquakes in London in just over an hour. It's a powerful piece, he said, and when it opens there will be clamour for tickets.

We promised we would come and see him, in that kind of vague way you do, but we wandered over to the box office and, what do you know, they had a few seats left of that night's preview.

If not now, then when, so we went in and I'm glad we did. This play, by writer Mike Bartlett, really rocks. Often National Theatre productions end up being less than the sum of their very talented parts but Earthquakes in London packs an incredible punch in terms of acting, design and script.

Bill Paterson plays an environmental scientist, a kind of James Lovelock doomsayer, and the estranged father of three women who are the central characters in an epic story of our times.

It is quite a fantastic show - a musical, surreal, tragi-comic cabaret of our own environmental catastrophes. In fact, Bob Fosse's Cabaret resonates throughout and Paterson's character, in a very powerful speech, makes reference to us all dancing away as if we are in the last days of a new Wiemar Republic, willfully ignoring the planet beginning to combust beneath our feet.

In a lovely touch, when his Lovelock character is relaxing at home, he reads the West Highland Free Press. It's entirely in character though not many people will get the faint echo of Bill's own breakthrough in "The cheviot,the stag and the black, black oil" and that play's connection with the newspaper, but I appreciated it. Only Bill Paterson would do that.

Brian Ferguson, another great Scottish actor, who was the sleekit Malcolm in the Royal Shakespeare Company's Dunsinane earlier this year, plays the younger version of the Lovelock character. So there's another reason to run along and demand the Caledonian concessionary rate if you're idling on the South Bank this month.

I see the National Theatre of Scotland is touring Dunsinane next May, watch out for that too.

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