Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Day Nine: Plymouth

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Charles Church, Plymouth
Saint Andrew’s Church, Plymouth
Plymouth Barbican
Cruise On Plymouth Harbor
Plymouth Hoe
The Royal Citadel, Plymouth
“A Disappearing Number” At Theatre Royal, Plymouth

We hope to set out this day around 9:00 a.m.

Our first stop will be Charles Church, which lies in the middle of a great traffic circle in downtown Plymouth.

Charles Church was erected during The Civil War. It was named after Charles I, the Sovereign who granted its charter but who was soon to lose his head.

The church was one of the last churches built in the English Gothic style, a style that was falling from fashion at the time. It served as one of Plymouth’s two principal churches for over three centuries until it was destroyed during World War II.

All that remains of Charles Church today is the tower and the striking English Gothic vaults and a few walls, but the ruins fully reveal the church’s original structure and are a most impressive and beautiful sight. The remains of Charles Church now serve as a memorial to those Plymouth residents who lost their lives as a result of German bombs (Plymouth, owing to its status as a major port, was one of the most heavily-bombed cities in all of Britain).

From Charles Church, we will walk over to Saint Andrew’s Church, the other historic principal church of Plymouth.

Saint Andrew’s Church, too, was destroyed during the war, but Saint Andrew’s Church was rebuilt at war’s end.

The original building was constructed over several centuries, from 1100 to 1500, but most of its present form dates from the 14th and 15th Centuries, when the building was substantially enlarged in the English Gothic style. It is the largest parish church in Devon. The post-war reconstruction duplicates the church, as it was, before the war.

Many famous persons are associated with Saint Andrew’s Church. It was the first church in England in which Catherine Of Aragon worshipped after arriving from Spain. Francis Drake was a member of the church, as was Captain Bligh of the Bounty. It was the church of Francis Chichester.

After exploring Saint Andrew’s Church, we will walk to the Plymouth Barbican, the area with which so much of Plymouth’s history is associated.

The Barbican is a maze of narrow streets and alleys just off the harbor that, miraculously, survived the bombs of World War II. A few of the buildings date to Elizabethan times.

We will walk around this area and examine the old buildings, and then we will walk to the harbor front and visit The Mayflower Steps, from which the Pilgrims embarked en route to The New World. We will walk the entirety of the harbor. Many, many epic voyages originated from the harbor in Plymouth, from the Pilgrims to Francis Drake to Walter Raleigh to Captain Cook to Scott Of The Antarctic.

Once we have seen everything on the harbor front, we plan to take a cruise from the harbor. The particular cruise we plan to take first circles the inner harbor—named Sutton Harbor—after which it sails out into Plymouth Sound, sailing below Plymouth Hoe, the high ground overlooking both Sutton Harbor and Plymouth Sound (and that formerly served as the town’s major fortification), and then into the Naval Dockyards, Europe’s largest port, which serves as home to British warships and nuclear submarines.

After we return to the harbor, we plan to buy a picnic lunch and take it up to Plymouth Hoe and eat upon the grounds. Plymouth Hoe is nothing so much as an enormous park overlooking Sutton Harbor on one side and Plymouth Sound on another. Plymouth Hoe is very beautiful, the finest feature of the city of Plymouth in my estimation.

After lunch, we plan to spend the afternoon exploring the Hoe. There are many things to see on the Hoe. One is a giant statue of Francis Drake. Another is the Boer War Monument. There are several other interesting memorials on the grounds, too. Most impressive of all the monuments, perhaps, is an elaborate and imposing memorial to The Royal Navy, commemorating those who lost their lives in both world wars while serving on the seas.

Plymouth Hoe is also home to Smeaton’s Tower, a lighthouse that used to be situated upon rock out in Plymouth Sound, only to be dismantled and re-erected at the top of Plymouth Hoe. We plan to tour Smeaton’s Tower, and climb to the top and enjoy the prime views over Plymouth, Sutton Harbor and Plymouth Sound.

The largest man-made attraction on Plymouth Hoe is The Royal Citadel, a fortress that was constructed shortly after The Civil War to protect Plymouth from foreign invasion. It was to become Britain’s most important fortification for over a century after its completion.

The Royal Citadel is enormous. Its walls are seventy feet high, and within those walls lie a large parade ground, storerooms for weapons and provisions, officer quarters, working quarters and barracks for 300 men. 113 guns are in place on its ramparts. Hundreds of military personnel—representing The Royal Navy, The Royal Marines and The Royal Artillery—currently work within the Citadel. Units operating out of The Royal Citadel served in Basra in Iraq.

The entrance to The Royal Citadel is a dramatic Baroque Arch at the end of a long moat (the moat never was filled with water).

The Royal Citadel is periodically but infrequently opened for guided tours, but there are no guided tours scheduled for August 9. The most we will be able to do is to circle the giant fortress and admire its exterior.

After we have completed our explorations of Plymouth Hoe, we will return to our hotel for an hour or two (and once again take advantage of the hotel's swimming pool).

In the evening, we will have dinner and attend a performance at Plymouth’s Theatre Royal, a modern and excellent theater facility. My brother and I attended a performance of “Hamlet” at Theatre Royal in 2004 (at that performance, Michael Maloney portrayed Hamlet, creditably).

This evening’s performance will be presented by an experimental British theater company known as Complicite. The play is titled “A Disappearing Number”. It was “conceived and directed” by Simon McBurney.

“A Disappearing Number” tells duo stories: the real-life story of the professional collaboration between two leading mathematicians of the early 20th Century, G. H. Hardy (1877-1947), a Cambridge Professor, and Srinivasa Ramanujan (1887-1920), a Brahmin from South India whose spiritual journey took him from India to Cambridge and back to India again to face an early death; and the fictional story of two present-day mathematicians, one Western and one Asian, whose spiritual journey begins in the West but ends in India—a journey that also ends in death.

“A Disappearing Number” received its world premiere at Plymouth’s Theatre Royal in 2007. It returns for one weekend of performances in 2008, after having toured the world, and we have decided to take advantage of the opportunity to attend one of the four Plymouth performances.

It is supposed to be a very experimental work—having nothing to do with the conventional narratives of the stage—but it is also supposed to be fascinating if not rewarding. The play is probably not too experimental, because it won the Evening Standard, Olivier and Critics’ Circle Awards for Best Play Of 2007. It combines text, music, sound, projections and dance to tell the story.

We shall probably all either love or hate “A Disappearing Number”. The play is only one hour and forty-five minutes in duration, so it is not too long—and we can always leave if we intensely dislike the play or performance. It is the only evening event we could find in Plymouth that attracted our interest in the least, so it seems sensible that we go.

I worry that no one will like the play, but Josh and I forwarded articles about the play to my brother and Josh’s sister, and they read the articles and they said they want to attend a performance. They are intrigued, and so are my parents.

I hope it works out.

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