“londontheatreadventures” Has a New Look!

Some of you may have noticed my blog has had a little bit of a make over. I finally got the hang of this blogging business! I’m very excited about this update. Also, I figured I’d give you a little sneak peek about what you can expect me to be blogging about this April…

– Hit New musical “Once” 

– Mega-Hit musical “The Book of Mormon” 

– A mystery location/theatre outside of London

– Interviews with Londoners about theatre and film!!

It’s going to be a busy month! Happy Reading!

~A

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The Woman in Black

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   Hello Everyone! Hope you all had an enjoyable St. Patrick’s Day! I know I did! I just got back from a trip to Dublin, Ireland to visit a friend and fellow WS Alumnae Kaylyn O’Brien. Kaylyn took me to see all the sights in Dublin, including the book of  Kells and Trinity College. We also got the chance to take in a show at Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre. The show was called, “The Woman in Black.” You may have heard of it recently because British actor Daniel Radcliffe finished a feature film with the same title that follows the same general story-line of the play. The play itself promises to be a haunting and chilling experience for its viewers. I was intrigued, never having seen a “scary” play before in my life, and so Kaylyn and myself decided to check it out.

I might add that I am usually not one for scary movies. I don’t usually take pleasure in watching things that give me goose bumps, or shivers, or make my heart start to race with fear. Nevertheless, “The Woman in Black” was an enjoyable experience for me. It wasn’t too scary, but I will admit to some points in the play where I slinked down in my seat to escape the ‘woman’s’ blood-curdling screech.

If you don’t know much of the story line, it follows an old man who has sought after the help of a young actor in order to learn a way to better communicate his real-life ghost story memoir to the members of his family. The play starts off slightly choppy with the different levels involved (actors pretending to be actors telling a story, and then them actually acting out the story, but slowly and beautifully edges away from the “actors” and envelopes the audience almost completely in the ghost story itself. The two actors playing the old man and the young actor were also marvelous to watch. The young one had a great energy and intensity, but it was the older one that was spectacular to watch. The old man played multiple roles in the telling of his ghost story, and to see him transition into character was amazing. In the beginning, you literally get to see him change his posture, voice, demeanor, and general disposition from one character to another. All the characters he played were vastly different, and he did a great job attributing different, yet believable, characteristics for each one of them.

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            I was also really impressed with the set of the play. They had a very simple set in front of the curtain. A box here, a coat rack there. The box they used to pull props out of, and sometimes to act as a horse buggy (particularly amusing when used for the latter, as the actors would jumps up and down to show buggy movements). There was also a strip of walkway jutting out in the front of the stage that actors used to symbolize walking from one place to another. Behind the curtain, was a set that doubled as a graveyard and as a child’s play room. This production used lighting to dim the front of the stage and light up the second room. I liked how the lighting technique gave the second level of the stage a very creepy feel. Behind that was a third level where there was a set of stairs. At points in the story where the young actor hears a strange noise in the attic, he would climb the stairs (lit only a little so the picture the audience saw was mostly shadow) then come out to a side of the front-most stage where a door was then lit up to symbolize the attic playroom. This use of stage was a really interesting way to create a set without having to have a lot of stage hands moving around props and setting up multiple sets. It also made sense since the story line itself involved a theatre stage and kept coming back to important sets (i.e. The stage, the playroom, and the graveyard). The use of sound was also a really great addition to this play. Instead of adding background characters and using live animals, sound bites were used to imitate sounds of a busy street, a ticking clock in a study, and the clatter of a buggy. Sounds were also important in creating the “scary” parts of the play, with loud piercing screams, a crash of a buggy, etc. The sound, like in most horror films, paired with the stereotypical apprehension of the protagonist going towards the creepy door instead of running away from it, made for some very scary, but not un-enjoyable moments.

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            Another quirky tid-bit about the Gaiety Theatre itself is its wonderful tradition of selling popcorn for audience members to snack on during the performance. The small buttery kernels, usually limited to movie theaters, were a welcome treat to nervously munch on during the show. Even though the story wasn’t what I typically enjoy, the high caliber of the acting, the creativity of the sets, and the novelty of the genre made for an amazing time at the theatre.

~A

A Chorus Line

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About time I went to see a musical! This show reminded me why I started acting in the first place. A good musical is supposed to leave you with a smile on your face, a skip in your step, and a tune in your head. Something fun to note was when I arrived at the theatre to pick up my ticket, I received a notification saying that my seat had been upgraded. Considering I had booked a really cheap ticket in the absolute back of the theatre, I was really excited. I then come to discover that I’ve been upgraded to the second row! Not to bad! I could actually reach out and touch the stage if I wanted to. Maybe this was a key factor in why I felt so immersed in the play. 

This performance was certainly successful in getting me to tap my toes and smile, but I wouldn’t go so far as to put it up there with the ultimate heavy-hitters like Wicked and Lion King. Like Kopenick, I had a lot of trouble hearing the individual actors. They kept getting mixed in over each other, which would have been a nice harmony but sounded sort of like a jumbled mess at times. Some of the actors also had a characterization to them that made their singing voices, um.. hard to take. If anyone has heard the song “Sing,” you’ll know what I’m talking about.

(If you don’t, check out the link below)

Also, some actors fell flat with their characters. One man, in particular tried to do a New Jersey accent while wearing a lacoste polo that made him seem more like a northeastern private school prepster. Not a great combination.. Also, one of the leads “Cassie” had an absolutely awful, thin voice, which, although was on tune, had a horrible sound to it. She was however, an amazing dancer and almost made up for her lack of vocal talent with her solo performance towards the end of the play. 

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I also didn’t really know how to take the parts in the play where the characters talked about some pretty dramatic and heavy stuff. I’m not really used to emotional baggage beyond lovesickness to be spilled out on stage during a musical. But here characters talk about being drag queens, having cheater fathers, and mothers who call them ugly. I do know that even though I wasn’t expecting the stories, I felt myself pulled in by the individualization that the stories gave each character. When normally I might remember a couple characters, I found myself remembering each and every individual in the chorus line. Which, I think, is the point. They are all striving to be part of one synchronized thing, but they are all different individuals with their own stories and backgrounds. 

My favorite part was definitely the last 20 minutes of the play when they sang “What I Did For Love.” This is a beautiful, haunting song and probably the one that was stuck in my head the longest after the show ended. After that was the finale with the song, “One Singular Sensation” which of course was a fantastic spectacle. Lots of gold, like the original production, with rhinestones even on the tops of the top hats. I also loved the effect the mirror in the back of the stage that reflected the dancers throughout most of the dance scenes. In the finale, it was even better because suddenly the whole stage was lit up with a ton of tiny light bulbs. The sparkle alone was enough to dazzle, but the song and the costumes really left a great lasting effect on me. 

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Oh and to all those HWS readers… Upstate New York got a shout out. I believe the best way to describe it is that one character, admitted he was from Buffalo and then proceeded to say he, “blocked it out” of his memory. Think he’s probably talking mostly about the weather, which thankfully I’m missing this semester! Till next time!

~A

The Captain of Kopenick

Let me first start this post by saying that a couple of weeks ago, I went on a tour of London’s National Theatre. It was a very enjoyable tour and I got to see all three of the theaters that the “National” has to offer; the quaint Cottesloe, the medium-sized Lyttelton, and the massive Olivier. Compared to a lot of London’s buildings, the National Theatre is relatively new. It was officially named the Royal National Theatre in 1988 and allows for very cheap entry-pass memberships (free for people between age 16-25) which include cheap tickets and emails updating on workshops and theatre platforms. Anyways, On my visit to the Olivier Theatre I was fortunate enough to sit in the audience and view the stage while one of the sets was being worked on. This set happened to be “The Captain of Kopenick.” The set looked pretty cool, so I decided I would have to see the show itself. It did not disappoint. 

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The premise of the show is a down-on-his-luck German prisoner who gets out of prison but, because of some error in the judicial system, he lacks any sort of identification papers. This sets the protagonist on a journey to get identification papers and prove that he officially exists. Hilarity ensues when said protagonist finds a second-hand Captain’s uniform and proceeds to act the part as he troops around town hall declaring all sort of nonsense in his quest for the passport and records office. Along with the journey to “find one’s self,” there is also the side-note theme that the Germans will do anything that someone in uniform says. Going so far as to have the Kaiser laugh at the mix up and, instead of berating his people, praises them. Which, although perhaps not politically correct, certainly was entertaining in the show. 

The acting in this show was stupendous. The main character, Wilhelm Voight, had spectacular depth to him, being a screw up who never owns up to anything at one point, a tender father figure the next, a lewd sailor, a pompous Captain, and then finds his purpose and takes his rightful place in society: prison. There are many ups and downs in this comedy, but the ups outweigh the down and I found myself laughing out loud at some points (which doesn’t often happen). The supporting cast was also great. I fell in love with all of the characters, even the nameless ones (or one’s whose names got lost in the action). Wilhelm’s sister and brother-in-law were fabulous and convincing to boot. Also, the petite and portly mayor (shown below in his skivvies) was very funny.

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The sets and scenery were amazing. Somehow, I got a fantastic seat and was dead center in the upper circle of the theatre. This allowed me to see everything onstage. The complexities of this set must have been enormous. There was a revolving circle that made up most of the stage  and as it would revolve, sometimes things like a door would pop up from a slot in the ground, or half of the circle would sink down and its replacement would have a new scene atop of it. One of my favorite scenes was towards the beginning when Wilhelm is at a halfway house. The men all went down into the floor of the stage and slowly the stage crept up so the audience saw what the house was like underground. The rotation of the stage was also used for comic effects, like when one character had too much to drink and almost did a full split with one foot on the rotating part and one on solid ground, all while carrying on a casual drunken conversation. 

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The one and only bad thing I will say about this play is that at times it was hard to hear what the characters were saying. I don’t know if it was the German accents, or just a volume issue, but things were definitely lost and I had many moments where it took a while for me to piece together what was happening. 

Overall, any show with a dancing floating Captain’s uniform at the end has certainly grabbed my attention. Captain of Kopenick grabbed my attention from the very beginning and held it to the not-so-bitter end. 

More posts to come shortly! 

~A

Malaga Trip

So the reason I haven’t written in a while is that I have been on vacation in Malaga, Spain for a week! And let me tell you, it was absolutely fantastic. London is great but there is one thing that I rarely see here and it is called the SUN! Spain, having extremely sunny and pleasant weather, was a great change of pace. Something I came across in Spain that I thought you all might like is an old roman theatre named, “Centro De Interpretation Theatro Romano de Malaga.” It was beautiful and extremely old (older than the Globe for sure). The theatre was originally built in the time of the Roman emperor Augustus in the period of Roman Hispania. Over time it became buried under dirt and rubble, and remained hidden there for almost five centuries! It was then rediscovered in 1951, when a project to build gardens for the neighboring Centro de las Artes Ciudadanas (Citizens Arts Centre) uncovered the first archaeological clues. The construction of the gardens was abandoned, and instead excavations began. On September 15th 2011, 27 years after reconstruction began, El Teatro Romano reopened to the public. The amphitheatre is now open throughout the year for visitors and will hold summer performances. This theatre was beautiful and majestic. But don’t take my word for it, see for yourself. Till next time!

~A

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Information from http://www.andalucia.com/cities/malaga/teatro-romano.htm article by Rebekah Thompson

Shakespeare’s Globe

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I recently traveled across the bridge to Shakespeare’s Globe. It was very exciting for me to see such a famous theatre. I was lucky enough to attend a tour of the theatre and learn some interesting information about the original theatre and the one that stands currently. Here’s what I discovered. Enjoy!

Looking at websites, pamphlets, and travel guides, they all say that “Shakespeare’s Globe” is a must see London historical site. But this “Globe” is actually the third constructed theatre of this name. The original was created in 1599 and the latest version was finished, in comparison, fairly recently in 1997. With all this time between the constructions of the two Globes, there must be more differences between them than similarities. This begs the question, would Shakespeare even recognize the Globe as it stands today? Looking at specific details like location, construction, and theatre practices one can conclude that Shakespeare himself would not recognize the theatre we all lovingly call “Shakespeare’s Globe.”

            The first “proper” British theatre was constructed in Shoreditch, London in 1576 and was owned by James Burbage who creatively named it ”The Theatre.” This led to a rise in the construction of buildings strictly devoted to housing theatrical performances (before this a play would be performed in an inn, a nobleman’s household, or sometimes an open yard.) William Shakespeare joined the resident troupe at the Theatre in the 1580s and the company thrived for years. Eventually, the lease of “The Theatre” ran out and the landlord, Gilles Allen tried to hike up the price of the lease to hinder the players from being able to cover the charge.  Burbage’s sons decided then, instead of struggling with Allen, they would dismantle their theatre from Allen’s land and set it up at a new site on Bankside in Southwark. This new theatre was christened “The Globe” and with its new name, the theatre found a group of willing investors, not the least of them being one actor/writer named William Shakespeare.  

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            The original Globe could hold several thousand people and was said to be, not just a theatre, but also a brothel and a gambling house. It was in the style of a huge amphitheatre and there is a record of what it looks like from the outside, though the inside is somewhat a mystery. Another theatre thought to be similar in design to the Globe, the “Swan Theatre,” can be used as a good guide to it’s inside structure. The Globe also had a tower with a flagpole looming over its surroundings. A flag was erected on the day of a performance and sometimes displayed a picture indicating what play would be shown. Colors symbolized the nature of the play; black meant tragedy, white meant comedy, and red meant history.

            Nowadays, there is no flag depicting what play is taking place. Modern marketing techniques have kicked in and now there are brightly colored posters lining the walls outside the Globe to show onlookers what plays will be performed and when. Also, the new theatre by no means doubles for a brothel, and the biggest gamble to be had is whether the play being performed will be a success with the audience or a flop. The theatre is in the style of an amphitheatre and its exterior is probably identical to it’s original.

The American actor/producer Sam Wanamaker decided in 1970 to construct a new Globe theatre and plans went underway to discover what the original theatre actually looked like. In 1989, a small portion of the Globe itself was excavated. With this excavation it was discovered that the original theatre was a 20-sided building with a diameter of 100 feet. Green oak was cut and fashioned according to 16th-century practice and used in the construction. The roof was (and is) made of water reed thatch, based on samples found during the excavation. In this sense, one could see Shakespeare stumbling on the Globe and, from a distance, thinking his beloved theatre reincarnated. However, he would have to find it first, for his original Globe was constructed in a different place. The modern Globe does stand near to its forefather’s plot of land, but does it stand near enough that Shakespeare could find it?

            An important point to note about theatre culture that would have been different in the Elizabethan era is that theatre performances were typically held in the afternoon instead of in the evenings. This is because there was no electricity and therefore theatres were lit up by natural sunlight beaming in from the “heavens.” One aspect of theatre culture that slightly differs between the two time periods is the atmosphere around the actual theatre itself. There were constantly people on the outskirts of the theatre bustling with energy. There were stalls and market-like stands selling refreshments and goods. A trumpet was sounded to announce people that the play was about to begin. Today there is definitely energy around the theatre. People walking by strain to get a view of the happy theatre-goers or the site-seers lining up for a tour. There is also a food stand or two within the gates of the property, reminiscent of a past life. While the circumstances may be different, the energy and excitement surrounding the theatre is one thing Shakespeare could not fail to recognize.

            If, hypothetically, Shakespeare did travel through time to the modern-day Globe, and if he did manage to make his way inside the theatre, he would be met with a surprising sight. His eyes would be met with blank walls and unpainted wood beams making up the majority of the theatre. Paintings of Greek Gods and Goddesses meeting and fornicating with mortals decorate the noblemen’s boxes. The stage would either be the most surprising of all or the most familiar. The stage is based on a painting of the original “Swan” theatre and is the most ornate part of the Globe. No one knows how close, if at all, this structure is to the one in Shakespeare’s time.

             If Shakespeare were to happen upon the new Globe during a performance, he would be shocked at the asking prices. Back in Elizabethan times, commoners would pay one penny to stand in the pit of the Globe. For every level “up” there was an added charge. For the extremely wealthy there were seats on the upper level of the stage itself looking out towards the audience. This would showcase their extremely high status and show off their rich adornments. Nowadays “the pit” and its purpose remain but the price is considerably more. Tickets to stand in the best “seats” in the house cost 5 pounds each. The most expensive seats are now the seats with the best view of the stage, not necessarily the highest seats and even nobles are not allowed to sit onstage during a performance. Also, there is now a much higher percentage of women audience members than there would have been in Shakespeare’s time. Back then only a select few women “of respectability” (meaning noble) would attend performances and even then they would arrive wearing masks. Now there is no need for masks as attending the theatre implies a certain level of culture and sophistication instead of the debauchery and sin it was attached to in Elizabethan times.

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            The productions themselves, even back in Elizabethan times, included many innovative techniques. The Globe was set up to accommodate special effects like working canons, smoke effects, and “flying” entrances using a series of rope rigging. The stage floor had trap doors allowing for additional surprises and entrances/exits. Musicians were also used to add extra entertainment. Special effects today, while perhaps smoother in implementation then in the Elizabethan era, are almost identical to those in Shakespeare’s time. Directors at the Globe like to embody the spirit of Shakespeare’s original performances. The sets are purposefully simplistic so that audiences can paint a picture with almost nothing but their minds and Shakespeare’s verse. Also, transitions are meant to be quick with one set up characters finishing a scene on one side of the stage and another troupe of characters entering from the other side of the stage. The stage in Shakespeare’s time couldn’t be so elaborate because of the extremely quick turnover of plays. Actors used the space they had to captivate the minds of the audience without all the distractions of modern-day special effects.

            The Globe, like many typical Elizabethan theatres, had a hectic theatrical schedule. In a span of two weeks, the theatre could have a number of performances of up to 20 different plays. There was a constant demand for new material. As soon as a play had been written it was immediately produced. Printing followed productions so the actors did not have proper scripts. Actors generally received their lines as the play was in progress. Sometimes actor’s lines were whispered to them right as they were about to go on, and sometimes an actor just got a list of his lines and had no lines or cues of any other characters. These techniques, along with many other techniques, allowed for zero rehearsal time and a fast turnover of productions. Because of Elizabethan laws, females were not allowed to be actors. Women characters were played by young boys or sometimes (if females were supposed to be old or silly) by older men. These types of acting conditions are almost unheard of today. Shakespeare would be surprised to see women taking to the stage to play Juliet and how this leads to more physicality in the love between her and her Romeo. Also, actors are given their lines to them way in advance, both because the plays have already been written for hundreds of years, and because it helps them memorize their lines and use crafted acting techniques. Shakespeare would not see a whole lot of improvisation in his modernized Globe, unless by chance, a pigeon decided to land on-stage for a go at an acting career.  

            The original Globe was only in use until 1613 when a fire created by a cannon broke out on the thatched roof and destroyed the theatre. The Globe was rebuilt the following year in 1614, this time, with a tiled roof. Today’s Globe sports a thatched roof like the original. Unfortunately for Globe number two, in 1644 the second Globe was demolished by the Puritans (a religious faction that deplored such flippant behaviors as acting onstage for an audience). In 1648 all playhouses were pulled down and all players whipped and fined. Once Oliver Cromwell (the leader of the Puritans) died, the power of the Puritans started to decline. In 1660, King Charles restored the English monarchy and theatres opened again. As mentioned previously, the third version of the Globe wasn’t erected until much later in the 20th century.

            Because of its youth, the new Globe was designed with the 21st century in mind. Additional exits have been added and more safety measures exist such as fire retardant materials etc. (to avoid occurrences similar to the canon fire of 1613). There is also the modern convenience of electricity to aid in nighttime performances. Fortunately for the modern man, there are also more conveniences to be discovered at the Globe. There is a gift shop holding Shakespeare memorabilia and people lining up for tours around the theatre. Groups and groups of people gather to hear the stories and historic details of the Globe and its famous wordsmith. Back in Shakespeare’s world, the theatre was looked at as a place of dishonor. People in the pits were raucous and if they didn’t like a performance or particular actor, they might throw rotten food at the stage. In our present age the theatre is regarded as a venue of high class and signifies intellectual prowess. Shakespeare would see excited, but otherwise tame crowds who laugh at comedies and cry at tragedies. Looking not only at the structure and aesthetic features of the theatres, but the theatre culture surrounding the two Globes, uncovers the blaring differences between the original and the copy. The new Globe copies the original in every possible way but must differ due to the evolution of modern culture. Even though Shakespeare may not recognize his Globe at first, he cannot deny the spirit engrained in both; eternal love for the performed word. 

Work(s) Cited: 

 

“History of the Globe / Shakespeare’s Globe.” History of the Globe / Shakespeare’s Globe. The Shakespeare Globe Trust.Web. 19 Feb. 2013. <http://www.shakespearesglobe.com/about-us/history-of-the-globe&gt;.

 “The History of the Globe Theater.” The Old Globe Theater History. Web. 19 Feb. 2013. <http://www.william-shakespeare.info/william-shakespeare-globe-theatre.htm&gt;.