All the World’s a Stage

Before coming to London, unfortunately the list of live theatre performances I have seen was very small. I have never seen a Broadway show, and most plays I have attended were local to Massachusetts. As a result, I was rather excited to see that we had several plays lined up for this trip, and as our days flew by, I found myself comparing and contrasting everything we have seen thus far. For our most recent two, I have arrived at some fascinating conclusions that I think would be worth mentioning.

Last night, we saw Great Britain at the National Theatre, a recent satirical play centered around an issue the nation faced only a short time ago. The play mocks those involved in a scandal in which millions of British citizens’ phones were hacked, including one from a girl who was kidnapped and killed. For those who were around at the time of the scandal, it was obviously much easier to understand the context, but we as visitors managed, and still managed to pick up some of the references. Nevertheless, the play was hysterical to the point of tears. With its crude humor, foul language, and purposely making fun of others, there were only short periods of seriousness before the audience would be laughing again. The only real serious part of the play was the end, in which the true events of the scandal came to light. In addition to the easygoing dialogue, the play also had rather flashy set designs, but they were in fact quite remarkable. There were three large moving screens that acted as televisions, clear dividers of rooms, backdrop designs, and mirrors. I was impressed with how easily the scenes transitioned regardless of the many intricate details on the set, such as a casual “wet floor” sign in the main office scenes. Everything was carefully put into place, and I admired how real the play became.

On the other hand, today we were able to see Antony and Cleopatra at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, and my what a difference it was. I was a “groundling” for the three hours, instead of sitting in a plush chair like the night before. Yet it made for a more enthusiastic experience, as the actors often interacted with the audience and rushed back and forth next to me (I accidentally trampled the man beside me a few times). Rather than watching a play, it was like being a part of it. And contrary to the National Theatre, the set decorations in the Globe were sparse, but somehow was perfectly fitting. There was occasionally a tapestry behind the pillars, or one or two large pieces of furniture, but overall the actors took up the majority of the stage. Even though these two plays were vastly different in setup and execution – for a variety of reasons, including location and time period – they had the same effect on the audience as a whole. Our other two shows, Wonderland and The Crucible, were all set up in a variety of ways, but each pertained perfectly to their overall message.

Phew, what a long post! I guess it just shows how much I really am enjoying theatre life here. I will definitely make it a point to attend more plays when I return home, because I’ve taken a real liking to them. It’s an incredible form of literature that is entirely new to me, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what else I can discover on my ever-growing theatrical journey.