Sunday, August 29, 2010

All the world's a stage

Yesterday was one of the more hedonistic days I've had in London since arriving here about 10 weeks ago. I woke up feeling a little dusty, and so very tempted to stay in bed all day. I am so glad that I ignored that little voice because as it turned out, today was amazing.

Actually the word that most accurately captures my day today is overstimulating. I cannot adequately describe to you the excitement I felt getting off the train at London Bridge, walking along the River Thames towards Shakespeare's Globe Theatre.

I had bought myself tickets to see both parts of "Henry IV" and it was weird going into the productions not knowing a thing about them (beyond what I read in the program). We hadn't studied these plays at school or Uni, so I was flying a little blind. I did know that the famous character of Falstaff appears in these works, so I was really looking forward to meeting him.

The Globe is such an unusual building. The first thing I noticed is that the chairs are mostly wooden benches and not at all comfortable. For 1GBP you can rent a cushion to sit on, and that's precisely what I did. Because I bought my ticket at relatively short notice, my seat for Part 1 was all the way at the very top of the theatre, in what they call the "restricted view" seats. I'm not sure what I missed out on though, because I felt like I could see everything.

The ground-level area is where "the groundlings" hang out - tickets in that area are only about 5GBP but you have to stand for the whole production. I'd probably find it quite uncomfortable after a while and yet, there is something to be said for being right up against the stage, with all the actors playing right to you. Trouble with being a groundling is that when the rain starts, as it did at intermission today, you get drenched. The Globe is a round theatre with an open roof you see, so everyone in the audience is really exposed to the elements. Plus it's a little distracting when the onstage drama reaches fever pitch and a QANTAS jet bound for Heathrow rumbles overhead.

"Henry IV - Part 1" was fantastic; full of boundless energy and lots of laughs. The audience profile was so random too. Lots of grandparents, a couple of couples (!), and quite a few teenagers which threw me a little. But everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and I think we all agreed that Falstaff totally stole the show, as I'm sure he does every time.

With a two-hour break between productions, I wandered down the street to Tas Pide, a nearby Turkish restaurant that was offering inexpensive 2-course meals. I am still not a fan of eating alone but I didn't really have a choice and in any case, I enjoyed sitting still for a while in the warmth of a restaurant and pre-reading about "Henry IV - Part 2" while stuffing myself with red lentil soup and a spinach and mushroom pide pizza.

Returning to The Globe, I had a different seat for the second show. This time I was in what they call The Gentleman's Quarters, which basically just means box seats - with padded chairs, do you mind?! I was so excited because my view was so much better than it had been for Part 1 and the sky had cleared so I knew there wasn't likely to be any more rain. That said, the cold wind off the Thames rolled in so I rented a blanket for 3GBP and it turned out to be an absolute winner. I snuggled in and wrapped myself up, leaning onto the balcony and in no time at all, I was utterly absorbed in the production.

The content of Part 2 is much darker than Part 1 - it's mostly about the evils of getting old and having to surrender your control over things. It talks about what kind of legacy you'll leave to your loved ones and how it becomes important how you've treated people during your lifetime. Falstaff again stole the show and it's little wonder really. The part is terribly physical and relies so much on physical comedy, wit and wordplay. The actor playing Falstaff had the audience in the palm of his hand and with a raised eyebrow here, and a sly wink there, we were all in fits of laughter. Not bad for a play that was first performed around 1586, eh?

At the end of Part 2, I was still marveling at how talented the actors were to have remembered all of those lines so flawlessly - and before I knew it, we were filing out into the streets to begin the journey home.

In total today I spent 6 hours absorbed in all things Shakespeare and while I am a bit Bard-ed out at the moment, I wouldn't have done things any other way.


Kate said...

See, Falstaff is a coward but you are with him. But there he still has a melancholy to him. Scooby and Shaggy now... :)

Gab In The City said...

I know, he's at THAT level!