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Shakespeare - in London!

I am having a WONDERFUL time in London with CSDC students Grace and Chris! Grace was accepted into the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts for a five week workshop. I got the opportunity to go to London for the first two weeks of the workshop as her chaperone! My son, Chris, was able to come, as well. We have been searching out all things Shakespeare and Theatre, as well as doing the normal touristy things!

Our first day in town we took a boat tour down the Thames River. The tour guide pointed out the Globe Theatre, the Anchor Pub where Shakespeare and his contemporaries would have gone, and the building that is where the original Globe Theatre stood.

After the boat tour, we ambled along the Southbank walkway (think the River Walk next to a much bigger, dirtier river), passing the National Theatre, with its statue of Laurence Olivier in front. The National Theatre is pretty at night when it’s lit with all different colors of light on it, but during the day it’s sort of squat and ugly. We had planned on doing a backstage tour, but we were so tired from walking that we put it off until another day.

Farther down we came to the Globe! We had front and center seats to watch a production of Hamlet. Just BEING in the Globe was breathtaking! It’s beautiful! I was extremely grateful that I had NOT bought Groundling tickets. They are very inexpensive - five pounds is all - but you stand for all three hours plus!

This version of the play was interesting. The director chose the actors that he wanted in the show. Then for the first few rehearsals, they played around with various scenes. Everyone took turns playing all the parts - guys played girls’ parts and vice-versa. At the end of that section of rehearsals, the director assigned roles. Hamlet was played by a woman, as was Horatio and a number of the other parts. Ophelia was played by a man, without any attempt to make the man look like a woman or the woman look like a man. It was a very different take of the show!

One of the new trends in theatre that drives me crazy is making the show “timeless” by having a mix of period appropriate and modern costumes and props. For example, in this production, a guard, dressed in full renaissance armor, came onstage pre-show to do his watch, referred to in the first lines of the play. Part-way through this pre-show “watch,” he pulled out his absolutely modern water bottle and took a drink. Half the costumes were period renaissance, and half were a weird mix of modern and renaissance. The theory behind this current trend is that the audience shouldn’t see the show as being stuck in any one time period - it’s “timeless.” Supposedly, it will help you not focus on the costumes or the props, but to focus on the story line. That backfires for me. I spend my time wondering why on earth they are mixing eras.

Some really cool things about the production: There was a deaf actress in the show. Whenever she was on stage, the lines were signed as well as spoken. One of the other characters would either say the line she signed or, if the answer would make her lines obvious, would just continue the conversation. Hamlet did the “What a piece of work is man” while signing. She did an excellent job, and it was a beautiful addition to the speech. They also had period drums and a brass quartet that provided the “speech” for the Player King and Queen. When the Player Queen discovered that the Player King was dead, she threw open her arms and opened her mouth and the quartet wailed out her scream. It was perfectly timed and incredibly effective.

During intermission, I mentioned to the audience member next to me that I taught Shakespeare. A lady behind me said she also taught Shakespeare. Soon the two of us and other audience members from three different rows and multiple countries were discussing the choices made in the show. It was a really cool moment! The show ended with a sign language dance. While I thought it was a cool dance, I didn’t really see what it had to do with the ending. Grace said that she thinks there is a tradition that at the end of each show they do a dance, so I suppose that must have been what it was for. It just seemed odd that everyone “rose from the dead” and started dancing!

More about our London adventures coming soon!

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