When I first visited London one of the first things I noticed was the ridiculous amount of ads that plastered the walls of tube stations. As you stood on a crazy long escalator you were bombarded with things to buy, shows to see, online shopping sites to try… etc. But the thing that really interested me were the shows.
The theatre culture in London is awesome, there are a huge variety of shows from musicals, Shakespeare, the latest book adaptation, comedies and more. The musicals with never ending runs, like Billy Elliot, Lion King, Les Miserables and other ‘classics’ are more targeted at tourists who want to experience the theatre culture, rather than the ‘theatre connoisseur’ who enjoys frequenting more obscure productions. However, as a form of entertainment, theatre going is definitely considered more “classy” than most (probably because of the price of tickets) and typically attracts a certain demographic of older people. Lucky for me, this means there are a lot of offers around for students as theatres seek to encourage younger people to attend. Most shows have some kind of student discount or special ticket ranging from £5. It’s a good deal really and looking up these offers even got me cheap tickets to the sold out Hamlet, with Benedict Cumberbatch.
In Sydney, the theatre just wasn’t popular as a form of entertainment or a ‘night out’. Ok that and not many people are fans of sitting through renditions of Shakespeare. However, now that I’ve essentially entered theatre lovers wonderland, I’m taking full advantage regardless of whether I have company. No one judges a lone theatre goer… at all. Given I do go to Imperial where I’m sure Shakespeare fans don’t really abound… I’ve become rather good at putting aside the awkwardness of going to things alone (this is not limited to theatre, I went to a concert alone too = next level loner life). Once you get past it, it’s kind of freeing in that you aren’t letting anything get in the way of what you like and enjoying yourself. Friends are an added bonus, not a necessity.
That’s another thing having mainly hall friends, you share common geography not common interests and it does seem stupid not to go to things just because no one else you know is interested. Although you could argue part of the fun is the social experience. It does really develop your ability to speak to strangers though, you may not be forming deep relationships with small talk, but you get to meet all sorts of people, which at a theatre is really quite a variety. I met another lone theatre goer at Henry IV Part I who was Canadian, lived in London and spoke fluent Russian… That’s nothing if not interesting. I even stayed for the post show talk where with the depth of their questions, I was amazed by how seriously people took these adaptations of Shakespeare. Some detail about my recent Shakespeare exploits …
King and Country Cycle
The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) are putting on a series of 4 of Shakespeare’s histories: Richard II, Henry IV Part I and II, and Henry V. They are linked in terms of their chronology and share characters, but were originally written to be performed as individual plays. This is similar to another attempt to make these 4 plays a series with the BBC’s Hollow Crown adaptation starring Ben Whishaw, Jeremy Irons and Tom Hiddleston … Which I watched and really enjoyed, but having seen it live I must say the experience is very different.
The main sell of these plays for the popular audience was that David Tennant played Richard II and while tickets for Richard II sold out months in advance (seriously intense digging was necessary to procure my tickets), I was able to buy £5 student tickets to the other plays in the cycle and got great stalls seats. In recent times, British actors who have achieved success through film and television returning to theatre roles has brought mainstream media attention to productions that otherwise wouldn’t have interested the demographic of ‘crazy fans’. For example, the BBC is making a second Hollow Crown series of 4 different plays starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Judi Dench and Michael Gambon. Personally, I think its a great way to introduce Shakespeare to people who wouldn’t have otherwise enjoyed or have been exposed to it. Hopefully people come for the actors, and stay for the story? I’m allowed to hope.
It was also the first time I’ve experienced the ‘stage door’ aspect of theatre, where the actors come out after the show to meet their ‘fans’. For the most part, its not really that crazy, but after Richard II it was nuts. People who weren’t watching the play waited outside for hours to be at the front. I came out after the show very confused as to what was going on and joined the crowd in curiosity. 20 minutes of waiting, a crazy crush and loud screaming when David Tennant came out and frantic programme waving later, I had an autograph and a lot of paparazzi style photos. But hey, it was an experience. When Benedict Cumberbatch was in Hamlet, they had to stop doing it because the crowds were just too crazy. By contrast, there was virtually no crowd after any of the other plays in the cycle… So much for people coming to the theatre for the Shakespeare eh?
Seriously, I had a hell of a good time watching people pounce about on stage in cool medieval costumes. My next Shakespearean exploit is As You Like It at the National Theatre (the first Shakespeare I’ll see not at the Barbican centre) as they have £5 student tickets and I’m also trying to find time to see Wicked, because I found a theatre project offering £5 tickets to that too! Its actually cheaper than clubbing and healthier for my liver. Woo! Now I just have to find some theatre keen buddies.