|Pub life, music and song||1||3||1||5||3|
|Toasts, dinners and feasts||2||1||1|
|Theatre and cinema audiences||2||1||1||1|
|Music and song in theatres||2||2||2|
|Public music and song outdoors||3||1||4|
|Education: Oratory and debate||1|
|Gambling and fairs||1||1||1||2||1|
|Families at leisure||1|
Period referred to: 1974
Sound category: Social > Dinners and feasts
Title of work: Soft City
Type of publication: Popular sociology
Author: Jonathan Raban
Year of publication: 1974
Page/volume number: Chapter 2
Conversation as performance in a 1970s Kensington restaurant
It is surely in recognition of this intrinsic theatricality of city life that public places in the city so often resemble lit stages awaiting a scenario. [. . .] In any restaurant, one can find people taking to self-expression with histrionic fervour, giving themselves over to monologues and dramatic scenes which, to judge by their volume, seem to be intended not for their immediate companions at all, but for the city at large – that uncountable audience of strangers.
I have in mind an expensive mock-up of an Italian trattoria in South Kensington: low-slung lighting, strings of empty Chianti bottles, bread-sticks in tumblers, and conically folded napkins of unearthly whiteness and rigidity. [. . .] Everyone is visible and within earshot of everybody else. To enter, one has to be checked in by a florid waiter at the desk, one's way barred by a sumptuously scrolled hatstand. Thus newcomers are subjected to a ritual which calls everyone's attention to the arrival of these new characters in the drama; and the cross-talk of the waiters – delivered in a style of gamey operatic recitatif – makes the waiting group an embarrassed centre of disturbance.
At one table, I am sitting with a girl; in the cubicle across the narrow aisle, a middle-aged couple are with a younger woman; they're in their trim early fifties, scented, polished and silvery grey, she is in her thirties, tangled, nervous, chain-smoking. At my side glance, her voice pauses, then intensifies in volume and expression.
'My thing was self-absorption. Eric couldn't take it.'