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Wellcome Collection + The Habit of Art

Books + Ideas, , — July 2010

On Saturday our friends Val and Paul took us to see Alan Bennett's The Habit of Art, at the National Theatre in London.

We had some time before the performance, so we looked at the Wellcome Collection. This has a permanent display "Medicine Man" showcasing part of Henry Wellcome's collection, which has everything from images of death to chastity belts. Another permanent gallery "Medicine Now" showcases some art and science about current areas of medical research - obesity, malaria, genomics. And the current temporary exhibition is "Skin". It's not a huge museum - nothing like the British Museum - but it's definitely worth a visit if you're interested in medicine. A small bookshop and a cafe are attached.

We visited the John Lewis department store on Oxford St, as Camilla was keen to see what they had. Then we caught the tube to Embankment, walked across the bridge and along Southbank to the National Theatre, and had dinner in the BFI Riverfront (nice food, but more expensive than it looks, as the menu prices don't include the service charge or VAT). This being a Saturday evening in late July, there were hordes of people around.

Alan Bennett's The Habit of Art is set in Oxford, where a small theatre company is putting on a play about Auden, Britten and their biographer Carpenter, set in the last years of Auden's life, when he was in Christchurch. It is a sharp, snappy play, clever and funny. And it is informative too — a chapter in The Rest is Noise had given me a basic knowledge of Britten's life, but I knew almost nothing about Auden and had only encountered Carpenter through his biography of Tolkien.


  1. The theatre company wasn't in Oxford, it's set in the National Thetre itself.

    Comment by Gouldman — August 2010
  2. You're right, otherwise the final address to the audience about the National Theatre complex being jinxed wouldn't make any sense.

    But the theatre company had the feel of a small amateur group, not a professional ensemble.

    Comment by danny — August 2010
  3. The Rest is Noise is an extraordinarily good book on twentieth-century music. By the way, Guy Tranter has done work at the archives at Aldeburgh. We have not yet visited, but that is one place on our list. Not soon, though as the 'Ring' is on in San Francisco next June.

    Comment by Carole Cusack — September 2010

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