And on to the theatre… the main reason I’ve been to London so much this year has been to see different shows. Last June I saw Wicked and Priscilla Queen of the Desert on the West End with a friend of mine who really loved musicals and we both agreed those two performances were superb. I had really wanted to see Wicked for the last few years – at one point I even had tickets to see it in NYC, but it was for when the theaters went on strike and closed down and I just never got around to getting tickets again. The West End version was excellent and I was happily swept away in the pleasant escapist spectacle that is most musical theatre. Jenn, the friend I was with at the time, and I found a discount tickets booth, much like TKTS in Times Square, and got tickets to Priscilla without really knowing what we were going to see. We lucked out. It was excellent. It now resides on my short list of musicals I’d happily watch repeatedly. So if you’re looking for an evening of traditional musical theatre while in London, you don’t have to look further than the West End. They also have a wide variety of dramas and other entertainment that is not musically based. I saw an excellent performance of Krapp’s Last Tape with Michael Gambon back in October at the Duchess Theatre.
However, if you’re interested in broadening your horizons a little bit, I’ve had several other amazing theatre experiences this year in London that I’d almost recommend over the musicals, because really, you can see those anywhere. If history is your thing and you like Shakespeare at all, I can’t recommend a performance at The Globe highly enough. I saw Pericles there in the Spring of 2005 and it’s still one of my two favorite performances I’ve ever seen. The work put on at the Globe is of the highest caliber and the experience of watching it in a recreation of what it was like in Elizabethan times adds wonderfully to the flavor of the performance. If you’re a real theatre geek (like me), or a true Shakespeare fiend, you can have an even more unique experience at The Rose. The Rose is where Shakespeare’s plays were initially performed, and all that remains are the foundation stones. You can sign up for a tour of The Rose while visiting The Globe, but plays are actually still performed there. Seating is extremely limited, but it was one of the most interesting venues that I’ve ever sat in to watch a performance. I saw Antony & Cleopatra performed there in April this year and it was a tremendous performance. They players perform on the small platform built on top of the foundation, which is covered in water to protect it.
Taking a step even further away from the West End, you can experience some really cool experimental theatre in London. I’m not completely sure, but I’d venture to say it’s one of the leading experimental theatre areas in the world. The Chelsea Theatre supports all kinds of unique work, and it’s worth checking out their website to see if anything appeals to you before heading over. I sawThe Quickening of the Wax by Marisa Carnesky (one of my tutors at the university) in October, and it was a perfectly eerie and entertaining way to kick off the Halloween season.
Another venue known for their work with experimental artists in the Barbican Center, another website worth checking before heading over, also the easiest of all the venues to reach with a tube stop very nearby (not that the others are impossible, just a little more challenging). I attend a day of the Spill festival there this year and saw 3 performances. Kings of England’s Chapters One: Elegy for Paul Dirac, Sylvia Rimat’s I Guess if the Stage Exploded and Romeo Castellucci’s On the Concept of the Face, Regarding the Son of God. The first two performances were paired together on a ticket, and we really only decided to go to that performance because we were heading all the way down there for Romeo Castellucci, but they were ok. Clearly experimental and still working out some kinks. Personally, I really hated the Kings of England performance because they made up sit in silence for 20 minutes, but Sylvia Rimat’s piece was ok. It felt like the sort of thing we’d probably devise in one of our classes, but it wasn’t a total waste of time. The highlight of the day there was the Castellucci piece which was brilliant and deserving and completely worth the trip. I loved everything about it.
The final venue I’d like to recommend is my favorite venue: the Battersea Arts Centre. I love everything about this place. If I had actually lived in London, I can’t imagine how much money that place would’ve made off of me. I want to see nearly everything they put on. What I did actually make it to was a performance of Kneehigh’s The Red Shoes, it was a phenomenal piece of storytelling and spectacle, but it had been a little over-hyped for me. I feel like if I had walked into it with no expectations, I would’ve liked it a lot more, but it was a very good performance. My favorite thing I’ve done all year though was attending the One to One Festival at the BAC. One to One Theatre was a form of performance we studied in school here pretty extensively, even to the point of creating our own performances and I struggled with it intensely. I actually started out hating it. I’m still really uneasy about creating the performances, but I love the performances. I even love the idea of them and the possibilities within such a strange performance venue – just 1 audience member and 1 (or occasionally a really small group, like less than 5) performer. I like the deep probing of some performances, the child-like whimsy of others and the sheer terror in one or two of them. The BAC presented the performances in little groups. For a £17 ticket you got to attend 3 performances under the heading of one theme. Since we’d come all that way from Sheffield, my classmates and I each got a few tickets, trying to cover most of the options between the 4 of us so we could discuss them later.
I picked 3 different performances: Challenging, Personal and Dreamy. First up was Challenging which consisted of 2 Free, Observation Deck (Battersea) and Rendez-Vous. 2 Free was just too much for me. Suffice to say you enter a room and have to make a rather large decision immediately to continue the performance. I opted not to agree to the term and exited, so I’m more than a little curious about what would’ve happened if I agreed, but I guess you just have to live with the choices you make. Observation Deck is where they put you on a board and roll you out of a second story window to look at the building. I think it was listed on Challenging for people who are scared of heights, but I really just found it sort of boring. I suppose I’m just not patient or introspective enough. The whole reason I signed up for the Challenging option was for Rendez-Vous, which was my favorite performance of all the ones I attended. I found it really restful and encouraging, and sort of pleasantly quirky, with just a touch of a feeling that I was entering someone different’s culture or life rituals. I spoke with other people about it over the evening and found that a surprising number of people had found it upsetting or at least unsettling.
The second menu I experienced was Dream. Another 3 performances: The Collection of Fears and Desires, The Magical Number Seven, and Where the Wild Things Sleep. The Collection of Fears and Desires was alright. At the time I was sort of impressed that she got me to admit several of my fears and desires, but after a lot more time to reflect, I’m a lot less impressed with the piece than I initially was. I don’t actually want to write much about The Magical Number Seven other than to say that it was one of my favorite pieces at the festival, all of my classmates and I saw it and we still talk about it reverently to this day. Where the Wild Things Sleep was another piece that ranked really high on my favorite list. It was so much fun and the set was wonderful. The only part that bothered me was what I felt was a weak ending, but honestly, I’m not sure how else she would’ve ended it and the piece was otherwise phenomenal.
The last menu I experienced was the Personal menu which offered 3 different experiences: Internal, Self-Portrait with Frida and Neverhome. Several of us had been looking forward to seeing Ontroerend Goed’s Internal and it did not disappoint, despite leaving some of us possibly scarred for life. I found Self-Portrait with Frida to be surprisingly relaxing and pleasant. Neverhome was a little disappointing, but one again an amazing set.
If there is one theatre performance I could recommend checking out in London, it would be Battersea’s One to One Festival, if you happen to be visiting whenever they schedule it for next year. It will open your eyes to an entirely new form of theatre and it’s really just a whole lot of fun too.