It’s bad news when sitting down to write a blog post gives you a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach. Never fear, lovely people, it’s not you. It’s the 4000 words I handed in on Monday that have left me drained, weak from sleeplessness and wrought with carpal tunnel–in short, I’ve felt totally incapacitated this week and have done precisely nothing in order to recover.
Alright, I’ve done SOMETHING. Including the obligatory attending of the classes and having of the fun. Let’s start with Saturday, before the wretched papers were handed in.
If Canterbury was a literary pilgrimage, my theatrical pilgrimage happened 13 November, 2010. The home of brilliance, the son of an ordinary but proud milliner and the quintessential God of Theatre…Shakespeare’s birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon.
*INSERT HALLELUJAH CHORUS HERE*
Okay, it could have been all that, but didn’t really get the chance. As with all ISA-related trips, we were rushed from one place to place. On top of an already packed schedule, we were stuck with a private coach driver who was an hour late, London ISA students who seem the think the world waits for them, and bloody European Union laws about how often the driver has to take a break. Though the 45 minutes at a side of the road pub did allow for some adventures, picture taking, and meeting a chocolate lab who lives the coziest life ever, in the end it only served to delay something I was really excited about.
Luckiest dog ever, at the Red Lion Pub
Next we headed to Stratford-upon-Avon, and our tour guide led us to some historical spots, such as where Shakespeare went to school. What I loved about Stratford was that nearly EVERYTHING had Shakespeare’s likeness on it, intermixed with the names and faces of other literary and theatrical giants, such as a bookshop called “The Chaucer’s Head” and a bed-and-breakfast called “The Marlowe Hotel.” I really wish we’d had more time to walk around, I would really like to go back if I can scrounge up the cash. Shakespeare’s birthplace was really cool. They had it set up with as much original furniture and items as they could, and even had Shakespeare’s schooldesk from when he was young.
Shakespeare's birthplace and childhood home, Stratford
I heard from some others who went through the house more quickly that there was a Harry Potter themed shop nearby that had Bertie Bott’s AND Butterbeer! I was taking my time seeing all the stuff at the house, but if I go back, I will definitely have to go there.
(There is a town called Exeter in west England, where J.K. Rowling lived and wrote the Harry Potter books. There are a number of places in the books that are based on places there, and they have Harry Potter tours and everything. Another place I would like to go see…but I’m running out of weekends.)
It was quickly back on the bus and about a half hour ride later, we were at Warwick (read: War-ick) Castle. This was really fantastic. It was more touristy than Dover castle, but also more interesting in a different sense. We climbed to the tallest tower for some fantastic views…the little boy who was behind me proudly announced “One hundred ninety-six steps!” after we reached the top. To which I responded, “Thank you, small child, for reminding me how out of shape I am.” But it was worth it.
View from Warwick Castle
Inside the castle were a number of exhibition-type things. My favorite was called “Secrets and Scandals,” which used the fictional scenario of being an attendant a dinner party to display the secret lives of the people who lived in and visited Warwick Castle. It was in conjunction with Madame Tussaud’s (the wax museum) and the Countess of Warwick had left you secret “letters” throughout the castle that revealed the scandals of the other partygoers (aka the wax figures in that room). It was very lifelike and an interesting approach. I couldn’t believe people had lived there as recently as 100 years ago.
We also saw the dungeon where prisoners were kept and tortured. It was incredibly creepy.
Oh, and one last thing…
There was a PEACOCK GARDEN. This photo is not zoomed in.
Overall, despite being fast-paced as usual, Saturday was fantastic.
Section of Warwick Castle at sunset
Like I said (now I sound like my mother and grandmother), I spent the rest of the weekend writing and editing papers, which you assume would be old hat. But it’s easy to underestimate how hard it is to write an essay in a foreign country. There is different sized paper, a different style of citation, a different focus in the essay, uncertain requirements, eight million different expectations from your professors, printing you have to pay for, and FOOTNOTES. The bane of my existence…
I thought I could relax for a bit after I handed in my midterm papers, but then I immediately received the final paper topics and nearly died. I am confident I WILL die before finals week and be unable to return to the States. Thank you, travel insurance, for returning my corpse to my family when Chaucer and modern British poetry end me.
On Thursday night (18 November) we went to see “We Will Rock You,” a musical co-written by Queen and featuring (you guessed it) all of Queen’s music. I was booking it from class, which I had until 6 PM in Reading and had a curtain in London at 7:30.
NB: This includes walking to the bus stop, a bus ride into town, a train ride into London, Bakerloo tube line to Oxford Circus, and Central line to Tottenham Court Road. That’s a lot of room for public transportation error.
On top of my already short time, I was on the Bakerloo tube line when they made an announcement that a passenger was sick at one stop and THE ENTIRE SOUTHBOUND LINE had to empty out. You have not experienced public transport congestion until that happens to you and you have only a half hour to make it to the theatre. Luckily, I made it with enough time to go to the bathroom and find my seat. It was certainly an unforgettable solo adventure.
Hearing others exclaim about the musical is all well and good, until they ask you what you thought about it. My fellow Americans were not expecting to hear a real review of it, so I stuck with “It was pretty good.”
I suppose it’s like looking at a piece of artwork when you’re an artist–I can’t watch a production without examining it from a billion different perspectives. “We Will Rock You” has never had and never will have a well-written plot IN BETWEEN the songs, but to experience the atmosphere in the theatre and hear these songs performed is worth the ticket. We’ll give it PROs on set, lighting, the live band, a dedicated ensemble, and the vocals on about three of the leads. Oh, and the exorbitant amount of overhead on the stage! I have no idea where all that stuff they lifted in and out of there went. AND the music of course. CONs in the categories of the supporting lead vocals, the director’s awful concept, and a lame plotline.
At the end of the night, I hadn’t paid for my train or theatre ticket and I sat in a comfy seat for two and a half hours. I’m never going to complain about free theatre for too long.
Dominion Theatre, London. (Taken a different day.)
Now it’s Friday night and I’ve started to buckle back down today. Tomorrow I’m off to Oxford University with the English Society to see “A Streetcar Named Desire.” I’m very excited! (Now this is theatre I paid for. It better be good.)
Sometimes it’s hard to decide how to end a blog post. This time, it’s easy.