I’m a huge theatre fan (always have been, always will be), so pretty much every moment of spare time I’ve had here that hasn’t been taken up by projects or illness has been spent at the theatre. Many people have already written about individual shows, so I’m going to try and give a comprehensive look at what I’ve seen here in London and where:
–The Merry Wives of Windsor, The Globe Theatre (Southwark/Bankside)
-The 39 Steps, The Criterion Theatre (Piccadilly Circus)
–Bedlam, The Globe Theatre (Southwark/Bankside)
–Aspects of Love, The Menier Chocolate Factory (Southwark)
– Les Miserables (the 25th Anniversary production), The Barbican Centre (Southwark)- TWICE
–Henry IV: Parts One and Two, The Globe Theatre (Southwark/Bankside)
–Passion, The Donmar Warehouse (Covent Garden)
–Wicked, The Apollo Victoria (Westminster)
I’m only going to mention my experiences at the Globe briefly, as I’ve been going to bat constantly in defense of Bedlam and it’s sort of exhausting! I found Merry Wives to be entertaining – it’s not one of my favourite Shakespeare plays, but the cast was fantastic. I saw Bedlam on opening night – its world premiere performance – and I was blown away by it. I wanted to go back and see it again but that didn’t end up working out, though I did pick up a souvenir program and a script on my Henry IV Marathon Day.
Ah, and speaking of Henry! . . . As part of the educational Shakespeare company I interned with for two years, I assistant directed Part One of Henry IV twice, so I was very familiar with the show. I decided to go on a day where I could see both Part One and Part Two which equalled about 8 hours spent in or near the Globe- HEAVEN! I thought the cast of both Parts gave extremely strong performances, particularly Roger Allam as Falstaff and Jamie Parker as Prince Hal. It was also entertaining to see cast members from Bedlam playing different roles, sometimes bit parts really, which made me pay much more attention to them. It was so interesting to see Sam Crane (the foppish Laurence in Bedlam) as Hotspur in Henry or Phil Cheadle, who stole my heart as Doctor Maynard in Bedlam, playing a trio of small roles (Douglas/Davy/Lord Bardolph), or Jason Baughan, the mad doctor in Bedlam, as Westmoreland/Peto, or even seeing Barbara Marten, the neglected wife in Bedlam, as the hillarious Mistress Quickly in Henry. My only complaint about the Henry plays is that I would have liked to see them before Merry Wives, as Merry Wives is the sequel to both Henry IVs and Henry V. Still, knowing the characters and what becomes of Falstaff in Merry Wives made the Henrys all the more enjoyable!
I was pleasantly surprised by The 39 Steps. I didn’t know anything about the play or the cast but, being a film fan, knew that the title at least came from a Hitchcock-type, film noir-ey movie. Imagine my surprise when I discovered it was more spoof than thriller! The Criterion itself was BEAUTIFUL, a gorgeous venue and perfect for such an affectionately-nostalgic play. The UK tour will be hitting Norwich in April, so I’m going to try and go to see if I like it as much with a different cast.
Now. Les Miserables. Bear in mind that I’ve seen Les Miz more times than I would like to admit, have more cast recordings than I’d like to count and in more languages than I should probably tell. This musical was a huge part of my life for about 3 years in high school and had a huge shaping effect on my musical tastes. I didn’t want to see the production at the Queen’s Theatre because it was a bit of “been there, done that”- let me explain to the uninitiated: pretty much all of the musicals Cameron Mackintosh produces (Phantom of the Opera, Cats, Les Miz, Miss Saigon, etc) are brilliant shows but get boxed up and set to be mass produced globally. That basically means, the blocking, lighting, staging, set, costumes, all the onstage “business” will be the same from production to production. That cross Valjean makes downstage left in the middle of Act 2 will be made by every Valjean from Alaska to Hong Kong. That was why, when I heard there was a special, newly restaged version being presented at the Barbican (the original home of Les Miz’s first production) in honour of its 25th Anniversary, I jumped at the chance to go.
To try and express how incredible this production was is beyond me at this point, particularly as I’m tired, sick and sniffly. Suffice it to say, it was MAGICAL. The creative team took a show that I know inside and out, blast its stitches apart and made it something fresh and new, while keeping the same heart, the very core of the show which I fell in love with in the first place. They did away with the annoying rotating stage and used a much more intimate, less intimidating set. New costumes. New orchestrations. New musical cuts. New lighting. I had goosebumps from the sheer awesomeness of it.
Which is why, after getting out of the show Wednesday night (the 15th), I immediately called my partner in crime and fellow Les Miz fanatic, Stephenie, and told her she NEEDED to get tickets. Before I quite knew where I was, we had tickets for the very next night’s performance and were seeing the show together. Seeing the show by myself had been amazing enough but having someone with me who could understand my strange musical-fan language and decipher from just an elbow in the ribs my excitement at the inclusion of a moment from the original novel into the stage production was beyond awesome!
Oh, and we stood at the stage door to get our programs signed. Everyone but the two of us left after Gareth Gates (who played Marius and was, apparently, on the British version of American Idol, or something) had gone, so we were the only ones waiting for Valjean and the other leads- which is VERY STRANGE in the world of Stage Door. We had to call after John Owen Jones (who played Valjean, and is, in my mind, a demi-god) to get him to stop. So, we awkwardly stood at the stage door until 11:30pm (which, no doubt, led to my getting sick) until we decided to head back to the Arran House. We got on the tube at Barbican and decide to transfer to Moorgate so we can take the Northern line to Goodge. Still with me? So we’re walking through the station to get to the right platform and who should pass us? John Owen Jones (Valjean). Yep. And we were the only two at stage door, plus I was wearing my Les Miz shirt and Steph had her program out so we looked like complete stalkers. Did I mention he had left 20 minutes before we did? So how did he end up getting off at Moorgate at the same time? It astounds me . . . . And guess where he was headed? Yes, the Northern Line! He got into the same CAR as we did and Steph and I tried to remain calm and casually take some stealthy stalker photos of him (fail) but he got off at King’s Cross before we could succeed.
Going back a bit further, there is one theatrical experience which I must list as my favourite: Aspects of Love, at the Menier Chocolate Factory. This is one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s least-well known shows (it is my personal favourite, even above Phantom of the Opera) and it was a miserable failure on Broadway and only played 3 years in London. I knew about the upcoming production before I had even left the States and I was thrilled, as this is the first major production in London since the original. This show is LITERALLY never put on, especially not in the United States (I saw a truly abysmal concert version in Los Angeles my senior year of high school which I’ve tried to erase from my memory). My pet theory on this is that it’s just not a flashy, pretty spectacle-type musical: it’s a deeply moving exploration about the agony of love as told through an incredibly complex story and fantastically beautiful music. To find out more about the show, take a look at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aspects_of_love. The Menier is my favourite theatre I’ve visited so far- it is a huge success story, as it operates entirely without any government support and, thereby, is able to produce some truly incredible theatre. It has all the closeness and intimacy of a local community theatre with the talent of a full-scale West End production. Do check out their website: http://www.menierchocolatefactory.com/pages/about_us
The show itself was fantastic- I couldn’t have asked for a better production. To make things even better, I proved that Kate Fox is wrong about the English’s coldness and made friends with the girl working in the box office (whose name- Amanda- it only took me till the interval to find out!) as we mutually geeked out about how much we love the musical. I arrived home on a cloud of musical-induced bliss!
And, most recently, last night I saw Stephen Sondheim’s musical Passion at the Donmar Warehouse (http://www.donmarwarehouse.com/pl111.html) with Stephenie. As with Aspects of Love, this is a show whose music I know extremely well but which is not successful or oft performed because of its intensely emotional, cerebral nature. The Donmar is an incredible theatre – like the Menier, known for its intimate space- and it was the perfect setting for such an emotional complex and poignant piece of music as Passion.
[Passion logo from: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_1DZU-LyGw2Q/TFJkwODs5JI/AAAAAAAABLg/F-ss3TaKSSU/s1600/passion.jpg]
As for the last one on my list, Wicked, it’s a show I’ve seen often in Los Angeles. Stephenie and I (along with some others, I believe) are going Tuesday night before we head out of London. It’s by far the most commercial/touristy of the musicals I will have seen here, but I am looking forward to it nonetheless and am interested in seeing some changes that I believe were made to the show when it came here to London.
If I take away nothing else from this time in London, I’ll have gotten to see some damn good theatre!
Who could ask for anything more?