It is dark. Distant rumble echoes on the walls: a train is approaching in the tunnel. A boy crawls on all fours on the rails. Few people are leaning on the wall, waiting for the train. The rumble grows louder. The boy is trying to catch his pet rat. He almost gets it. Now a bystander notices him. “What are you doing? Get out of there!” A man, followed by a young woman, run to the edge of the platform reaching for the boy. The boy ignores them. “Get out now!” the man is panicking. The train is roaring. So close that you can see the headlights. They are lighting up the faces of the people on the platform. Terror. Fear.
The man gets a grip on the boy’s arm and tries to pull him up. The woman grabs the other arm and together they haul him to the platform. Lights flash as they whoosh by and enormous blast shakes the people. Just on time. They are all safe. Even the rat got out of the way.
Except, there is no rat. There is no train or a tunnel either. Just three actors in a square room. The audience has been immersed into the spectacle of lights, sounds and thoughts. This is Gielgud Theatre in London. And the play in question is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Friday night show is full even though the play has been running for over four years. After the play, I overhear an exchange of two members of the audience: “a fanTAStic show. AmMAzing set really” “Yes. Especially the second half was no falling-a-sleep-business at all”.
Is it worth travelling all the way to another city or even another country to see a play? Although there are great plays in every other city, London is famous for its musicals and plays. If you want to travel, why not pick a play and construct the holiday around it. It takes only one night, but it gives something to talk and think about, both before and after it.
Travelling to London just for one night sounds a little silly, though. A weekend in London sounds much better. How about arriving at Heathrow on Friday afternoon and cutting the neck of the terrible hunger in a cafe before heading to Kew gardens. Fresh air, big green grass fields and massive trees. Palm House is worth visiting. What does a black pepper plant look like? What about carambola tree? There is also a little aquarium presenting underwater plants underneath.
After the hot and humid greenhouse, it is nice to walk the treetop trail and let the breeze cool you down. Kew garden is a beautiful garden but it can not be called peaceful: the air-traffic overhead disturbs the atmosphere. A boat will take you from Kew gardens to Westminster Pier, the heart of London. Then it is time to have some dinner before the anticipated show begins and you dive into the fictive London.
Saturday is a new day with new plans. London is full of museums which are worth visiting more than once. V&A, Victoria and Albert museum, is free but some exhibitions, like the Undressed: A brief history of underwear, cost a little. Might still be worth checking out. Natural History Museum and Science Museum are wonderful as well. Spend as much time in the museums as you wish, but save some for window shopping and aimless walking. Harrods is a classic. You don’t have to buy anything; just look at the building itself. Liberty is another absolutely charming shopping centre and Foyles is a place to go if you are looking for new books. In the evening it is time to head to the Chinatown for dinner. It is busy on Saturday evenings and you might have to wait in a line, but its worth it. Then a visit to a pub is a must because you are in England. It will not be difficult to find one. Just step in and blend in.
There is still time to explore the city some more on Sunday. If the day is nice, take a walk. Or better even, take an underground to Camden Lock. That queer alternative to Westminster and Piccadilly circus is a popular place to spend a weekend. There are bars and restaurants, but most importantly there is an outdoor market. Old stables and alleys around them are filled with little stands and shops that sell everything. Cheap b-class clothing, hippy jewellery, used leather jackets, homemade ice-cream sandwiches… Old and new, cheap and expensive.
After you have had enough of the busy market place head to the canal. Regents Canal walk reveals yet another side of London. The Nice walking route that the locals, as well as the tourists, like to walk and cycle follows the canal past the London Zoo all the way to the Little Venice. That little hike is perfect to prepare you for the flight back home.