Tag Archives: London theatre

On Hamlet…84/100

cofI  have loved Hamlet for a long time. Correction. I have loved a passage from Hamlet for a long time. Though I had no idea it was Hamlet. Because I thought it was a song. From the Hair soundtrack. Boy oh boy did I love that soundtrack. I discovered it in my parents collection when I was about 10. I played it constantly. I knew all the words to all the songs, especially that one that is just a list of naughty things. I could probably sing the album today. It is skill I  share with my best friend from university, Abby. She too spent hours of childhood entranced by Hair. Fast forward many decades. Imagine my surprise when I heard “what a piece of work is man, how noble in reason…” spoken, not sung, by Hamlet. Well no wonder it is a song I remember, it is lyrical, pure poetry.  Words that stick on your soul. Hamlet itself is a little harder to love.

I know it is one of Shakespeare’s greats, if not his greatest. It is supposedly the most performed play in the world. Apparently Hamlets are taking place all over all the time. But it isn’t an easy play. The characters aren’t all that likeable. Their motives aren’t always clear. It is confusing at best. And the end is a proper bloodbath. I have seen 5 productions of Hamlet, all in London. By the standards of my British friends, this is a paltry number of shows. But remember, I wasn’t educated in all things Shakespeare like they were, like my children are. I am a newcomer to the Shakespeare cult. Enthusiastic, certainly, but uneducated.

The first Hamlet I saw was dreadful. Starring the usually incredible Michael Sheen, it was set in a pyschiatrict hospital, which immediately undercut Hamlet’s own madness as everyone was mad. Loudly, ragingly, incoherently mad. And poor Ophelia was reduced to a shrieking wreck throwing pills around for what seemed like forever. Relentless misery. I couldn’t make any sense of it at all. By the end, I think there were only 10 of us left in the audience. We had stayed only because my friend was so heavily pregnant she felt too tired to move. At one point we both stared hopefully off to the side of the stage, wishing a crisp packet or sweet wrapper to roll by and distract us from the main action. I didn’t enjoy it, but I wasn’t  giving up.

A few years later the Globe announced their Hamlet world tour. Their plan to take a production of Hamlet all round the world and in 2 years try, as best as geo-political situations would allow, to perform in every country in the world. My daughter and I attended the first show, at Middle Temple. A simple stage, a clothes line and a few hats, the production was funny and rich and reverant in its understanding that the words are what matter. This one I enjoyed. A lot. The production really did tour the world, acting in theatres, villages squares, studio spaces, outdoor stadiums, and a tent in a refugee camp.  Two years on, the same daughter and I enjoyed the penultimate performance, back at the Globe. With the same cast now fully engrossed in their roles. I admired what I saw, but still found the play difficult.

Then came the famous Benedict Cumberbatch Hamlet. Of course I went. My friend Mini managed incredible tickets in about the 3rd row. It was lavish. Magnificent. A triumph. Yet, I still cringed when Ophelia set about shrieking in the usual way, a way I don’t find at all convincing for what she is supposedly enduring. Hamlet the man stayed a mystery, why does he do what he does and why? Is he mad? Is he not? Does he mean what he is saying? Is there some essential sub-text I am missing? And what are all these other peole doing? But of course I enjoyed it. I went with the plot and let the gorgeous words flow over me. Flow over, but not through.

Friday night. Andrew Scott’s Hamlet. Suddenly, like a bolt out of the sky the words didn’t wash by, they penetrated. Deeply. I was transfixed. For almost 4 hours. This production, directed by Robert Icke, moved after spectacular reviews from the Almedia to the West End is sleek and modern, but without gimmick. The words still matter. In fact they matter even more, because I got them. Andrew Scott’s interpretation is so good he effortlessly bridges the gap between Shakespearen language and modern sensibilities. No longer was he some maybe mad man-child making lots of speeches, he became a fully formed human whose decisions, while not always good, made sense, and his self-expression personal, timely, vivid. It was as though he had written the words for himself, by himself.  In fact, all the characters made sense, even Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.  And Ophelia didn’t shriek. Her grief was tangible. And understandable. And quietly heartbreaking.  My brain was on fire. My soul filled. My eyes wet. Now  I get it, why it is that  this play written more than 400 years ago still resonants. Why it is the most performed play in the world. It captures so much of the human condition. That vengeful bloodbath at the end? Sadly,  that is pretty accurate as well. Now, I too am a Hamlet groupie. Thank you London. It took a while, but you have given me yet something else to love.

 

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On Harry Potter…..#keepthesecrets 67/100

dsc_0001_35I have seen the Harry Potter plays. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I took husband and children with me. We are all true believers. So when the great JK Rowling asked us (ok, not personally, but the HP community at large) to #keepthesecrets and NOT reveal anything about the plays we took that as an unbreakable edict. I won’t give anything away. But I will share thedsc_0002_32 following:

 

  1. It is an absolutely amazing couple of theatre.  We all loved every second of it. Funny, sad, shocking, beautifully staged. It is the kind of piece for which superlatives were made. Everything is done well.
  2. Our audience was made up of true believers. The collective love is tangible. But you do need to know the stories.
  3. It is one play in two, full length parts. They must be seen consecutively. We went on a Thursday and Friday evening, which my children liked as they said they needed the intervening hours to mull over it all. I am greedy. I wish I could have done it in a one-day matinee/evening extravaganza.
  4. The wait for tickets is quite long. I bought my tickets in the very first round, on October 29, 2015. We saw the performance on Nov 3/4, 2016. You do the maths.
  5. The next time a notice goes out that the run is being extended and tickets are going to go on sale, clear your diary for the day. Make sure you are logged on before the opening time. And wait. If you are below 10,000 in the queue don’t panic. You could be 45k or even 89k, as my eldest was when she thought she might like to go again. She didn’t get tickets. Don’t fuss over dates, just take what is offered. But think carefully as to who is deserving of going with you. The tickets will be for a year or more in advance. Something to look forward to indeed.
  6. When the big day finally arrives go with an open heart and an eager mind. And enjoy. It really is magical.
  7. And then just smile knowingly. #keepthesecrets.

On wine glasses and theatre…31/100

IMG_20160218_125608I am an unrepentant theatre addict. There are so many things about London theatre I love, to list them all would be exhausting, and a few things that simply must be endured, the impossibly small and improbably located ladies rooms’, for example. And the flimsy, but lip-slicing rimmed plastic cups one must suffer if one wishes to enjoy a glug or two of enamel-removing, warm white wine during the production, which, of course, I do. But London has now decided I deserve better. I went to the theatre two nights ago and was given the plonk in a REAL wine glass. Ok, it was plastic, but it was big, wine glass shaped, gentle edged plastic. I was amazed and delighted and of course I took it home! Last night I went to the theatre again, I am an addict after all, and the same thing happened!!! What, I demanded of the bar staff, was going on? The young girl shrugged and said, “dunno, Nimax theatre.” which enlightened me not one little bit. …a quick Google search later and I am ready to tell all. Nimax Theatres are a collection of 6 London theatres (Palace, Lyric, Vaudeville, Duchess, Apollo and Garrick) owned by Nica Burns (actress, producer, artistic director) and Max Weitzenhoffer (equally impressive resume from New York)….NiMax…get it? And clearly these two titans of the stage have decided to up the game with proper wine glasses, of the plastic variety. I could not be more pleased, and not just for the pleasure on the night. I did already confess that I took both glasses home. Because I need them. Wine glasses of the traditional material come into my home to break. All of them. Only took a few years to get through the 24 wedding gift Waterfords. The smaller collection of Baccarats went next. The slightly more affordable Williams Sonoma goblets managed to hang on for a while, then the John Lewis ones came and went…by last summer I was back down to a single wine glass. Fine as far as I was concerned, though guests sometimes looked surprised when offered a nice sauv blanc in a mug, but being English they never complained. At Christmas time, having invited the extended family, I picked up a few at Sainsburys, but they didn’t stick round long. I know it sounds like we host bacchanalian orgies where everyone smashes their glasses to the floor with triumphant hoots and hollers. In truth, the accidents happen in the boring washing up stage. The combination of hot water and porcelain just does them in. And now I have the answer!!! I am going to build up such a collection of beautiful plastic wine glasses from the theatre. What a genius plan. IMG_20160218_123931And the next time someone in the family says, “you are going to the theatre AGAIN,” I will respond, in a self-righteous tone, “yes, but I am doing it for the good of the home, for the wine glasses.” That should convince them!

This is made all the sweeter by an image of my future self I have carried in my head for years. Long ago, I read a funny piece about theatre lobbies being filled with women over 50, dressed like Catherine Deneuve, calling out “oh hello darling,” to men in capes. I realize that the author meant to mock, but I instantly saw it as the lifestyle choice of my dreams. The age is fast approaching, I do have some lovely clothes and certainly the shoes. I know cape wearing men, (no, I really do)…..and the final prop to this happy scene….my classy, plastic wine glass held aloft. Oh London, you do spoil me.

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Samuel wearing his cape about town