Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
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Most recent entries
- Trumping the Opera House
- A list of well-known currently performing classical pianists
- To Tottenham (7): Building the new Spurs stadium
- Up early – blogging early – elephant sculptures
- I Love You Will U Marry Me
- I’m back
- A snip at £7,499.99
- The most newsworthy thing so far done by a drone
- A vintage photo
- To Tottenham (6): The Spurs Shop
- Supporting England in the Big Bash League
- A new stadium for Chelsea
- You wait for years and then two come along at once
- Mosaic diversion
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6000 Miles from Civilisation
A Decent Muesli
Adventures in Capitalism
Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise
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Antoine Clarke's Election Watch
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Burning Our Money
Chase me ladies, I'm in the cavalry
China Law Blog
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Counting Cats in Zanzibar
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Category archive: Theatre
I’ve been photoing the Pavlova Statue outside Victoria Station for a long time. On the left here is how she was looking, on a particularly sunny day ten years ago:
But look at the state of her now, as shown on the right. I got quite a shock, I can tell you, when I came upon her about a fortnight ago, looking like this.
The Victoria Palace Theatre is being refurbished.
Or should that be smart batphone?:
He is also holding a weapon, a knifey thingy. somewhat like this.
Photoed by me in Trafalgar Square last Friday.
Keeping things nice and face-recognition-hostile.
I’ve spent all my blogging time today trying to write a couple of things for Samizdata, so once again it’s quota photo time, this time in the form of a photo of Tom Cruise that I photoed recently, just a few minutes before I took this footbridge photo. To be more exact, it is a photo of a photo, of Tom Cruise:
That photo that you see in my photo is to be seen outside the Duchess Theatre in the West End, where the play being shown Goes Wrong, every night, without, although this may not be quite the way to describe things, fail.
I assume that you can only exhibit a picture of Tom Cruise like that if Tom Cruise gives his permission. If that’s right, Tom Cruise proves himself to be a good sport. Or, perhaps, a greedy bastard. But for now, I’m going with good sport, if only because if he got greedy, they couldn’t afford it.
Is there another such in London?:
Well, probably yes, quite a few such. But, there is definitely that one. It’s the top of the restored guess version of the Globe Theatre.
As seen, of course, from the top of the Tate Modern Extension. It’s right next to Tate Modern (the thing on the left of the picture), and you need to get right to the back of the viewing gallery, or you don’t see it.
I reckon it’s already starting to look a bit threadbare.
The Park in question is Finsbury, the Park Theatre being near to Finsbury Park, and more to the point from my point of view, Finsbury Park tube station. I was there last night to see a friend perform at the Park Theatre, which she did very well.
That LIFE sign thing is just outside the smaller theatre space, where my friend was performing, at the top of the rest of the theatre. I do not know why it is there. Could it be that they hope that people will photo it, and then mention the Park Theatre on the internet?
I suppose the creator of this sign could also have been thinking of that old Blur tune. But that, I believe, concerns a different park.
So, daily-blog-read-for-me David Thompson linked to a posting at ArtBlog, about the rights and wrongs of arts subsidies. I read that posting, and read through the comments too, just as David Thompson did. I find myself wanting to comment. But, can I be bothered?
And then, in comment number 16, courtesy of the Maitre D of ArtBlog, Franklin Einspruch, I discover that I have commented, thus:
The greatest art seems to happen when high art and low art combine, in the form of something that is superficially entertaining and stirring and popular, and also as profound as profundity seekers might want it to be. Arts subsidies harm art by dividing it into less good entertainment art, paid for by punters, and less good high art, paid for with subsidies. Arts subsidies in Britain are now being cut somewhat. The result will be somewhat better art.
Which Franklin found in this Samizdata posting and copied into his comment thread. How about that?!
The two arts that best illustrate this opinion of mine are probably Elizabethan and post-Elizabethan theatre (i.e. Shakespeare and all that), and classical music in the days of its glory, from about the late 1700s until around 1900 (i.e. Mozart, Beethoven and all that).
Shakespeare’s plays are now considered just about as profound as Art with a capital A can ever get, but at the time, his stuff was considered rather middle-brow. Too commercial, too appealing to the rabble. About half of Shakespeare’s mere plays - the very word suggests something not to be taken truly seriously, doesn’t it? - were nearly lost to us:
Of the 36 plays in the First Folio, 17 were printed in Shakespeare’s lifetime in various good and bad quarto editions, one was printed after his death and 18 had not yet been printed at all. It is this fact that makes the First Folio so important; without it, 18 of Shakespeare’s plays, including Twelfth Night, Measure for Measure, Macbeth, Julius Caesar and The Tempest, might never have survived.
What will posterity, in its various and many successive iterations, consider to be the Great Art of our time? And how much of it will be lost, on account of it not now being considered artistic enough?
It’s been a long day. It’s been a long day partly because I spent a lot of it out and about, taking photos, of which the above is just one. But it was still a long day.
I hear a lot of complaints from my fellow Londoners, to the effect that the Shard is all very nice and tall and pointy and everything, but that it doesn’t look finished. That weird top. It ought to be a smooth, single point. Instead, well, look at it. It looks like someone shot the original top off of it with a giant catapult.
But although this strange and “unfinished” top may make the Shard look less conventionally pretty, it does make that top very recognisable. You only need to see the very top of that weird top peaking out above something else nearer, and you know at once what you are looking at. And I more and more find myself believing, about architecture in London, recognisable trumps pretty. (I more and more feel this way about the entirety of the Walkie-Talkie.)
I am in the habit of denouncing the notion that science is a precondition for technology (and therefore needs to be paid for by the government). The tendency is for technological gadgetry to lead science, and often to correct science, by defying it and proving with its success that the relevant science needs to be redone.
But there is another even more direct way in which technology leads science. Here is yet another excerpt from Steven Johnson’s The Invention of Air (pp. 73-77). Click on the illustration, which I found here and which is the illustration in the book at that point in the text, to get it properly visible:
The study of air itself had only begun to blossom as a science in the past century, with Robert Boyle’s work on the compression and expansion of air in the late 1600s, and Black’s more recent work on carbon dioxide. Before Boyle and Black, there was little reason to think there was anything to investigate: the world was filled with stuff – people, animals, planets, sprigs of mint – and then there was the nothingness between all the stuff. Why would you study nothingness when there was such a vast supply of stuff to explain? There wasn’t a problem in the nothingness that needed explaining. A cycle of negative reinforcement arose: the lack of a clear problem kept the questions at bay, and the lack of questions left the problems as invisible as the air itself. As Priestley once wrote of Newton, “[he] had very little knowledge of air, so he had few doubts concerning it.”
So the question is: Where did the doubts come from? Why did the problem of air become visible at that specific point in time? Why were Priestley, Boyle, and Black able to see the question clearly enough to begin trying to answer it? There were 800 million human beings on the planet in 1770, every single one of them utterly dependent on air. Why Priestley, Boyle, and Black over everyone else?
One way to answer that question is through the lens of technological history. They were able to explore the problem because they had new tools. The air pumps designed by Otto von Guericke and Boyle (the latter in collaboration with his assistant, Robert Hooke, in the mid-1600s) were as essential to Priestley’s lab in Leeds as the electrical machines had been to his Warrington investigations. It was almost impossible to do experiments without being able to move air around in a controlled manner, just as it was impossible to explore electricity without a reliable means of generating it.
In a way, the air pump had enabled the entire field of pneumatic chemistry in the seventeenth century by showing, indirectly, that there was something to study in the first place. If air was simply the empty space between things, what was there to investigate? But the air pump allowed you to remove all the air from a confined space, and thus create a vacuum, which behaved markedly differently from common air, even though air and absence of air were visually indistinguishable. Bells wouldn’t ring in a vacuum, and candles were extinguished. Von Guericke discovered that a metal sphere composed of two parts would seal tightly shut if you evacuated the air between them. Thus the air pump not only helped justify the study of air itself, but also enabled one of the great spectacles of early Enlightenment science.
The following engraving shows the legendary demonstration of the Magdeburg Sphere, which von Guericke presented before Ferdinand III to much amazement: two eight-horse teams attempt – and, spectacularly, fail – to separate the two hemispheres that have been sealed together by the force of a vacuum.
When we think of technological advances powering scientific discovery, the image that conventionally comes to mind is a specifically visual one: tools that expand the range of our vision, that let us literally see the object of study with new clarity, or peer into new levels of the very distant, the very small. Think of the impact that the telescope had on early physics, or the microscope on bacteriology. But new ways of seeing are not always crucial to discovery. The air pump didn’t allow you to see the vacuum, because of course there was nothing to see; but it did allow you to see it indirectly in the force that held the Magdeburg Sphere together despite all that horsepower. Priestley was two centuries too early to see the molecules bouncing off one another in his beer glasses. But he had another, equally important, technological breakthrough at his disposal: he could measure those molecules, or at least the gas they collectively formed. He had thermometers that could register changes in temperature (plus, crucially, a standard unit for describing those changes). And he had scales for measuring changes in weight that were a thousand times more accurate than the scales da Vinci built three centuries earlier.
This is a standard pattern in the history of science: when tools for measuring increase their precision by orders of magnitude, new paradigms often emerge, because the newfound accuracy reveals anomalies that had gone undetected. One of the crucial benefits of increasing the accuracy of scales is that it suddenly became possible to measure things that had almost no weight. Black’s discovery of fixed air, and its perplexing mixture with common air, would have been impossible without the state-of-the-art scales he employed in his experiments. The whole inquiry had begun when Black heated a quantity of “magnesia alba,” and discovered that it lost a minuscule amount of weight in the process - a difference that would have been imperceptible using older scales. The shift in weight suggested that something was escaping from the magnesia into the air. By then running comparable experiments, heating a wide array of substances, Black was able to accurately determine the weight of carbon dioxide, and consequently prove the existence of the gas. It weighs, therefore it is.
Quota caption competition
Ronald Harwood on Karajan
Some quota reflected cranes and a quota white van
The light outside the Proud Archivist on the evening of July 22nd
Digital photography ballet
Tomorrow I will get out less
Lots of photos of the camera man
Paul Johnson on Mozart and Da Ponte
Ruddigore in Blackfriars
A photographer and an advert
True hearts and warm hands
The Magic Flute at the RCM
Waiting for …
The ballerina and her support act
Ballerina with cranes again - this time with added spy cameras
Cat photo and cat news
Pavlova with cranes
Ballerina with crane
A photo of a photograph
Big London Things with clutter in the foreground
Monkey Toast at the Leicester Square Theatre
That Clive Woodward gets around
More signs of the times
The bike behind the theatre
Everybody draw Mohammed every day!
Andrew Hughes on making heroes of cricketers
London Bites @ Sway
What next for Guido Fawkes?
Dream magic that spoilt the magic
“Dying is a fulltime business. You haven’t time to do a lap of honour.”
The impossibility of God but the possibility of Michael Flatley’s cure and of super-super-flees
And here is a real quotation
On autobiographical ruthlessness
John Carey on Shakespeare and the high-art/ popular-art distinction
Avoiding barbarism in the street
Pictures with words
Hear ye hear ye
A picture of a Wheel seen through a field of corn
The Emperor Jones
A dreadful age
Struggling Actress quote of the day
Cats can be taught!
Me and Alex talking Gilbert and Sullivan
The Pirates opens in New York
Hellcab at the Old Red Lion
Another quota photo of the Docklands towers
Oscar Wilde defends society
Jeffrey Archer - blogger
Jeffrey Bernard is unwell but very entertaining
Debussy denounces Massenet but Puccini follows him
Midsummer Night’s Dream now downloadable for free
Rylance’s Richard II – and how Richard II pre-echoes Lear
Rylance’s Richard again