While I was in London I took a theatre class. Not like acting for theatre or anything because that would have terrified me, but a class where we learned to be critical analysts of theatre. Since I’m not very critical and not a good analyst I loved most of the plays just because. My professor, Sheila, was hilarious. Every week we would bet on what pants she’d be wearing. She only ever alternated between black and white striped, pink, and bright orange. Apparently it’s a British thing that they repeat clothes really often, but she was such a repeat offender. Over the two months though I grew to really like her, even though sometimes I fell asleep in class (It was on a Monday!). My favorite part though was that every week, we’d actually go see a new play in some different genre that she was teaching us that week. I liked that we saw things I normally wouldn’t have chosen. She made fun of us being American and always wanting a musical, which is exactly what I’d been planning on seeing while there: Wicked, Les Mis, maybe Matilda. But these were better, it was eye opening in a way I’d never have experienced without taking this class. And we learned a lot about British society and social class and everything through seeing them.
This is about a famous rock star, Paul, who’s tragically incapable of connecting with other people. Because of his fame, he’s become arrogant, selfish, demanding, and even regressed into a child at points.
The main character was played by Andrew Scott who is also Moriarty on Sherlock. He was fantastic. Creepily sadistic almost in his spoiled arrogant ways, but you also grow to care about him, like you want to protect him. It was weird but I seriously enjoyed it. I think I was the only one in my class that did. The set was really minimalistic and there were only 6 actors playing various roles so it was a bit difficult to keep up, but I thought it was amazing.
Of course, almost everyone knows this story of the dystopian mind control and repression that the main character feels until he is so sick of it he begins to rebel.
But this was different than just reading the book or seeing a movie. It focused heavily on the book’s annex and wrapped the play in a weird frame where there’s a book club, or maybe something more sinister, in the future discussing Winston’s diary and at the end, it gets scary with all the flashing lights and loud noises. Then it leaves you thinking, what if Big Brother still isn’t gone? What if he’s in our society today? Like in America or the UK? It was unnerving, but I think that was the point. It’s not just about Stalin’s Russia, it’s about every society and how easily that can happen. What scares me is that everyone is always on computers or phones and there’s a line taken directly form the book in the play that says “They won’t look up from their screens long enough to notice what’s happening.” And that’s what really freaks me out.
Antony and Cleopatra:
Shakespeare’s tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra is about the dual life of Antony as he goes back and forth between his duty to his Roman military hero self and the self that longs to live in peace in Egypt with his love Cleopatra.
We saw this play at the Globe Theatre which was just awesome. Unfortunately, we had the cheap seats meaning no seats at all and we had to stand the entire time. By the end my feet were so numb I didn’t even notice, and came to decide I enjoyed being so close to the action and everything. Sometimes the actors would come up out of the pit where we were standing which startled me because a girl I stood next to did that and I wasn’t expecting it. So once you got over the foot pains, being a groundling was actually pretty cool. And the play was great, they did a good job of engaging everyone in the audience. And they didn’t pretend like they were removed from us, at one point, Cleopatra bent down and kissed an audience member as part of the show. And her trolley stopped working too and she just got up, shrugged, and laughed as she helped pull it offstage. Then she went right back into the scene. It was really comical for a tragedy, but I think they have to do that since most people in the audience are tourists and come to see a happy show, not some sad, tragic death of these two people.
A Human Being Died That Night:
Speaking of death…this play is based off a book written by one of the characters Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, a psychologist who over time studied, interviewed, and developed a friendship with Eugene de Kock, a leader in the apartheid atrocity that happened in South Africa.
It started off in a very small, conference room like place where Pumla came on stage and addressed us as though she were speaking at a large convention. Then when she was finished, we moved into a room where we were all facing a jail cell, closed off on 3 sides, but open to us. Sitting there was a man in an orange jumpsuit, Eugene. It was a weird transition that we actually had to get up and move but I thought it was pretty inventive. It really took our minds into the place they needed to be to see this. I hadn’t known much about the apartheid before this, but I think that helped me understand and watch the play. I grew more and more horrified by the things revealed that Eugene had done. And at the end we were left wondering, was he a monster? And could we actually forgive monsters for what they’ve done?
Henry IV Part II:
This play is a continuation of Shakespeare’s history series including Richard II, then Henry IV: Part I, Henry IV: Part 2, and Henry V. We saw part two which follows Prince Hal as he must overcome his past self and take on the duties of King as his father, King Henry IV, is dying and needs a successor.
We saw this play in Stratford Upon Avon on one of our many weekend trips. The Royal Shakespeare Company there was just incredible. One of the main characters, Hal, played by Alex Hassell came to talk to us after the show and explained his process, how he got into acting, his favorite parts, etc. He was a really interesting guy (and SO cute!) but he said that it does get a bit boring playing the same role over and over repeatedly for months, so he tries to change it up a bit sometimes like play the character drunk at point and see how that goes and whatnot. It was really cool getting to talk to him, because Shakespeare can be a bit daunting since nobody really talks like that anymore, but he made it a lot more relatable to us which I found helpful.
The Silver Tassie:
Set in the First World War, this story follows Harry Heegan and his friends and family before, throughout, and after the war and all the effects that it has not only on the soldiers, but their loved ones as well.
This is probably the one play we saw that I didn’t love. It was dark and depressing, but also very confusing and hard to follow. They jumped scenes at random points and nothing seemed very connected. During the second act, they point a cannon and all these guns at the audience and the cannon goes off which was terrifying, but also seemed unnecessary. A lot of the things in this play seemed unnecessary. There were some really funny parts though with Harry’s dad and his best friend, but other than that it was cold and miserable. I even fell asleep at one point (don’t tell Sheila!) because I couldn’t keep up with all the rapid changes. Then at the end you’re left with the image of women dancing with mannequins representing the dead soldiers which was just so sad I didn’t like to think about it. Overall, I’m sure this is a wonderful play judging on how many stars is received, I just wasn’t a huge fan.
Shakespeare In Love:
If you’ve seen the film, you know it’s about Will Shakespeare as he lives his life and bounces between ladies trying to write his plays and get out from under the shadow of Kit Marlowe. Then he falls in love with this one girl, Viola, who ends up being a player in one of his plays.
I actually enjoyed this play way more than the movie, and I loved the movie. The main characters did a great job, so did the supporting, the set was great, the acting, the music. It was all awesome. This was a treat, Sheila said, for all the hard work we put in over the semester. So we were allowed to see a play where we didn’t have to critically analyze every little detail, we were able to just enjoy our last show. This is definitely one that I would see again, though, because it was happy and lovey and you leave feeling sad but hopeful and happy which is weirdly conflicting, but somehow it works.
Let It Be:
This musical was about the Beatles and their rise to stardom.
I didn’t see this as part of my London Theatre class, I just got tickets with my friend Molly last minute since we wanted to do something fun our last week and we needed a break from working on finals. I went in expecting something like a story line with the songs used as part of that showing how the Beatles became famous, but it was actually just like a concert of the Beatles by 4 very talented people who sounded incredibly similar. Between each “set” or “concert” they would play some video clips with actual footage of the Beatles that gave some background about their ride to stardom. I like that better though than seeing them act out being the Beatles because we got to hear more songs. And I was still able to get the gist of who the Beatles were and their attitudes toward each other by them being on stage. These guys were great. My parents and grandparents were never big fans of the Beatles so I didn’t grow up listening to them. My mom says she was Team Rolling Stones instead (apparently you were one or the other like ‘Nsync or Backstreet Boys). But after two months in London and seeing this play, I can definitely say I’m a huge fan.