Helene Hanff, American author of 84 Charing Cross Road and lover of English literature, visited London and was taken to a pub called The George by a friend. As they walked through the door her friend said: “Shakespeare used to come here.”
She was, of course, thrilled and suitably reverent to have walked through a door that the great man once used but for a moment couldn’t understand why everyone else in the pub wasn’t as aware of Shakespeare as she was.
I said snappishly: “I could imagine Shakespeare walking in now, if it weren’t for the people.” The minute I said it I knew I was wrong. He said it before I could: “Oh no. The people are just the same.”
And of course they were. Look again, and there was a blond, bearded Justice Shallow talking to the bartender. Further along the bar, Bottom the Weaver was telling his ponderous troubles to a sharp faced Bardolph. And at a table right next to us, in a flowered dress and pot bellied white hat, Mistress Quickly was laughing fit to kill.
I mention this as it came to mind while I wandered round the Saturday Night, Sunday Morning exhibition at Djanogly Art Gallery on Sunday. The exhibition marries stills from the film (and many behind the scenes shots) with stills from Nottingham and similar cities of the time. The idea is partly to explore the problems that come with trying to depict realism in art – the pictures are themed but mixed up so that a picture of Albert Finney sits among someone’s mum clutching a pint or children playing in the street next to a shot of the impossibly luminous Shirley Anne Field.
The exhibition was full of Nottingham-ites peering closely at each shot, trying to spot themselves or reminiscing over buildings and houses that have been demolished and shops displaying goods no longer available. And yet, change the trinkets and the fashions and the people are exactly the same as they are today. The children playing in the streets are just around the corner from me as I type, their gossiping mums hanging out washing, our corner shop selling life’s essentials.
You walk round the gallery, noting the production lines that are no longer there, looking at the newly built social housing estates of the time, well laid out with generous gardens we can no longer afford to add to new builds, listening to other visitors discuss their childhoods and you think “that time’s passed.” And then you look again. At the pictures of the drinking culture, the women rubbing their feet that ache from dancing, at the streets and the people. At their faces. They’re the same ones I see every day. Nostalgia works in funny ways.
The exhibition’s running until the 10 February but this month sees a series of events running in conjunction that explore the themes in greater depth. For details of these visit Lakeside’s website.
Sue is one of our team of bloggers. She can be reached on sue AT creativenottingham.com and followed on Twitter @basfordian