Saturday, July 17, 2010

Country Life and Train Stations

Today we took the train to Amberley Castle which is in West Sussex and another 90-minute train ride from London. The castle was built in the 14th century, it went through many phases of destruction and restoration, it was owned at one time by Queen Elizabeth I, and in 1989 it was fully restored and turned into a luxury hotel. Peter and I went there for lunch. The dining room is quite formal, the food is good (not necessarily better than the Sri Lankan meal I had last night which cost about $15 for two; this meal was a bit more), but the grounds are beautiful. Peter had a cold watercress soup with cucumber sorbet and goat cheese foam to start (the goat cheese wasn't really foamy, thank god, more whipped), I had a smoked chicken thingy with pea jelly... okay, I know I kind of went off on dishes made into foam and jelly and cotton candy, but I have to admit that my cubes of pea-jelly were damn good even though it sounds both vile and pretentious. We both had a pork cutlet (which was really a chop) for our main course, which was served with a layered square of sweet potato, a smear of spicy apple sauce, and star anise pan-sauce; it was good but not the best thing I've ever eaten. Oh, and there was a perfect square of something totally unidentifiable on the plate, I couldn't get my knife through it so I finally picked it up (daintily, with my pinky out) and took a bite - it was pork crackling, fried hard. The only thing missing from the plate was a side of Lipitor. My dessert was almost too sweet, a square of nougat which was kind of marshmallow-y (I'm not so fond of marshmallows) and a smear of salted caramel, covered with malted chocolate ice cream; it was okay. Peter's strawberry parfait with mint sorbet was fantastic. I really enjoy these excursions to the country-side to investigate nice restaurants. If the food turns out to be fantastic, that's a bonus, but if it's just okay, I don't mind if the trip is nice. In this case, the grounds of the castle which we wandered around after lunch were spectacular. There were a bunch of hidden gardens, flowers everywhere, an albino peacock lounging on a parapet (it didn't have its feathers displayed, and really just looked like a fat chicken so I didn't take a picture of it), sculptures, water features, a treehouse where you can arrange to have private dinners for two - the meal is really only half the fun, so even though I'd only give our meal a mere 6.5, it was well worth the trip, even though we had to arrive by train and not helicopter, like some of the guests did.

We got back to London in time to have a 45 minute rest before heading off to Waterloo Station for The Railway Children, a play based on a children's book about a family in post WWI England. The mother and three children go off to a home in the country when the father is hauled off to be tried for treason (which the children don't know at the time, and which is a farily sophisticated plot-point for a children's story, I think). Their adventures center around the village's train station, the station-master, and the people who come and go from the trains. Except for in two scenes, when an actual life-sized train-prop appears on the platform (the stage is a real train platform with the audience sitting on either side and the tracks in the middle), the train is represented very convincingly with sound and light effects. The three children are played, also convincingly, by adult actors, and the story is quite charming, although in addition to the treason plot-point, there is also a slightly watered down pro-Marxist element, also unusual for a children's story, but then again, children need to learn about Marxism from somewhere. There was one very intense scene in the play where the children see a landslide on the track, and we can all hear a train approaching, and the children know they have to get the engineer to stop the train or there is going to be a horrible accident. The two girls have red petticoats on under their dresses which they remove, ripping one into two pieces, and all three of them wave the red flags wildly as the train approaches, with the older girl standing in the middle of the track so she is sure to be seen. I have to admit, I was pretty stressed. The actors did a good job of conveying the emergency of the situation but the real star of that scene was the sound design - it truly sounded like a train was approaching and three kids were trying to stop it - ONE STANDING DIRECTLY IN ITS PATH. Even though I was fairly certain the scene wouldn't end in carnage, I was still pretty anxious... the power of theater man, the power of theater.

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