7th of August – Porgy and Bess at the Regents Park Open Air Theatre
We caught the train to Baker’s Street station in the morning and found ourselves surrounded by a hundred million tourists milling around the street. The statue of the big man himself – Sherlock Holmes – was swarming with tourists and the lines for Madame Tussards stretched down the street as far as the eye could see. But we didn’t have to become caught up in any of that traffic of sweaty ‘I love London’ t-shirts, because just around the corner and through York Bridge is the wide, wide open spaces of trees and flowers and herons and grass that is Regents Park. We were early, with the show only starting at 2:15 so we wandered through the park, and watched the paddleboats on the lake, the ducks and the moorhens swimming through the algae, the people sunbathing and one woman practising for a musical in the corner of a grassy area.
We had a picnic 0n the grass and watched a large party of old people dither aroudn five different benches before deciding on which one to sit on. The sun was actually shining brightly, despite a forecast of rain and the raincoats we’d packed seemed suddenly quite unnecessary. I wished I’d packed a hat. Or that I owned a hat.
The open air theatre was absolutely beautiful. I was used to Maynardville Open Air back home, and when we went through the gates I was expecting the theatre space to be right in front of us. Instead, a cluster of small restaurants and a barbeque were spread around an area of grass and the space underneath the back of the raised seats was a little cafe. When the gates opened we made our way into what I would describe as an amphitheatre. In a stroke of pure luck we were in the row that was thankfully in the shade for the entire two act performance, instead of, like much of the audience who sat in the direct sun for the two and a bit hours.
The play, or really musical, was really good, and also really different. It is a George Gershwin musical, and the songs were varied and some of them are quite well known and much covered, espesially ‘Summertime’. It’s a very important play, as the first on Broadway to feature an almost completely black cast and to focus on the struggles faced by black American communities in the 1920’s. In short, it features the lives of a small fishing community in a fictitous place named ‘Catfish Row’ in Charleston, South Carolina. It’s main and title characters are Porgy, a cripple and beggar, and Bess, who is the woman of a terrifying abusive man named Crown. She spends most of her time drinking and high on drugs until a fight breaks out one night and Crown kills one of the townsfolk. After he leaves Porgy is the only one who will take the unsavoury Bess into his house. Bess has to prove that she can become ‘decent’ to the rest of the residents of Catfish Row, and has to resist the temptations of Sporting Life, the drug dealer from New York.
The story is told mainly through song, with small amounts of dialougue piecing it together. The voices of the cast that we saw were incredible in general, but Porgy’s blew me away. The story is a beautiful, sad and interesting one. You can find the whole synopsis here if you’d like to.
It was such a memorable day out, finishing with coffee at the Garden Cafe in Regents Park, and I hope to go back to that theatre again. It’s setting and layout and atmosphere stays with you even after you’ve left the confines of the park itself.