While in London, the thing I’ve been most excited about but under-utilized the most is the theatre. As we’ve all realized, there are terrific opportunities in London to see world-class theatre for reasonable prices. With tickets at the Globe for 5 pounds and many West End plays discounted from 70 to around 20 pounds just for students, even those on a student’s budget can afford to see a play every week or two. The globe is one of the most important sites in the history of theatre. The West End is home of some of the best drama and musical theatre being produced anywhere in the world. I love to see shows back home in D.C. but the prices are often prohibitively expensive. It would have been nice to see more theatre in London but I guess that just means I’ll have to come back.
During the past four weeks I saw two plays at the globe: The Merry Wives of Windsor and the terrible, terrible play, Bedlam. I was so impressed by the Merry Wives cast and even the staging was an impressive feat in such an old-fashioned theatre. I felt that flow of drama which really brings you to suspend your disbelief and become totally lost in a production. I love that feeling. I spent the entirety of Bedlam, however, trying to figure out what anyone behind the play or on the stage was trying to do. At the end of the first act the actors almost got into enough a groove to be believable but at the start of the second act they had slipped out of the authenticity of their performance and the entire play felt forced.
In addition, Bedlam was so full of plot wholes that we thought it must be missing scenes. It was certainly missing those scenes and points in a production when the narrative is woven together into a cohesive whole. On top of all this, the female writer of the script (the first play written by a female to be performed in the Globe) was attempting to achieve a period piece in a theatre famous for Shakespearian productions. The very idea of attempting this is befuddling. As we left the theatre that night, the only thing we could say we’d gotten out of Bedlam was material for jokes. And even those weren’t that good: “It certainly was BEDLAM!”… ha… ha…
On the opposite end of the spectrum I saw Les Mis. I’ve seen it before, at the Signature theatre in Arlington, VA but there’s nothing quite like seeing the incredibly well-done production on a revolving stage. Through their use of what amounts to a giant turntable, the director of Les Mis. was able to expand the stage and create an illusion of passing space and time. I was really impressed and entertained by this production, the songs from which we’ve still not managed to get out of our heads.
I also really enjoyed The 39 Steps, the Monty Python-style physical comedy we saw. It didn’t have the depth of narrative I usually like but it was endlessly entertaining to watch. If there’s one thing I have to come back to London for, it’s to see great theatre for cheap. I plan to come back when I can from Norwich and visit London throughout my life for this purpose.