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“There’s a great big hunk of world down there with no fence around it!”

“There’s a great big hunk of world down there with no fence around it!”

-Lady and the Tramp (1955)

Swooning from Shakespeare's sonnets..."Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?"
Swooning from Shakespeare’s sonnets…”Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”

This week, London Dramatic Academy was bomBARDed with Shakespeare. Get it? BARD. Hah.

On Wednesday, we were treated to a performance of Cymbeline at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse (an indoor version of Shakespeare’s own Globe Theatre). First of all, the space was incredible! It was a thrust stage with audience on the ground standing in front of the stage, and then two tiers of seating in a U-formation around that. The back half was backstage, but the balcony held musicians-two cellists, a drummer, a violinist. Entirely lit by candles, it was gorgeous! The chandeliers had the ability to lower or raise from the stage so that the scene could be set in a dark or light room. And, in the scene where Jupiter appears in Posthumus’s dream, a HUGE gust of wind blew from the tiring house, extinguishing the candles in a flurry of smoke and wind. Then, Jupiter descended from a hole in the ceiling. It was absolutely fabulous. I didn’t know much about the play itself-other than that it has one of Shakespeare’s most convoluted plots-but the actors made sure to keep the audience constantly engaged and on track. They rolled with the funny bits, played up the cheesy scenes, and threw themselves into emotion when it was called for. One audience member’s phone rang during a scene that was supposed to be sneaky, and the actor onstage turned to the audience and shushed them, “Turn that thing off!” Everyone cracked up! It was hilarious. OH! And guess who played Cymbeline himself! Anyone a “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” fan? Geoffrey, the butler, played him! Joseph Marcell! Once the students noticed that, our attention to the play was turned up to 100. He did smashingly!

NEXT, we went to Stratford-upon-Avon! Shakespeare’s birthplace and home town. We woke up super early on Saturday to take a train down there for the Matinee showing of Hamlet at the Royal Shakespeare Company. (RSC) Despite almost missing the train because I was getting coffee…(HEY, a girl’s gotta get her caffeine fix!)…the ride was simple and quick. When we stepped out of the station upon arrival, I felt like I was on some sort of movie set! No building was over two or three stories high, everything was walkable, the streets were intermixed with cobblestone sidewalks, 400-year old buildings, Starbucks, outdoor market stalls, and tourists! My professor called it “Bard-Land” because most of the pubs, restaurants and stores are named after Shakespeare’s characters. (Personally, I’d avoid “Iago’s Jewelers”, but that’s just me.) In the center, the Avon river (which translates to “River river”) intersects a beautiful green park. On the far end of the park, rising out of the greenery, is the ugliest brown building in the whole town-The RSC! But, hey. It’s what’s on the inside that matters when it comes to theatres. We visited Shakespeare’s church, where he WAS christened and IS buried! (with a CURSE on his coffin should anyone disturb it!) We saw his schoolhouse, his daughter’s home, and his house! It was so strange to see that old, crumbly building and think…’The man who wrote KING LEAR was a baby running around in diapers RIGHT THERE.’ Madness.

The show we saw at the RSC was a FOUR HOUR production of Hamlet: Prince of Denmark. So, picture everything you’ve ever thought of about Hamlet (even if that is just The Lion King) and THROW IT OUT THE WINDOW. The director decided to set THIS Hamlet in a undisclosed West-African location. That lack of specificity upset a lot of my classmates, understandably, but as I’ve stated in my blogs before-I go to the theatre to FEEL things, not to analyze their cultural authenticity. To me, it seemed like they made up their own fantasy location to include lots of interesting, beautiful, and fun West African elements. The color scheme, beautifully patterned warm kente cloth, the insane percussionists, the ritual battle at the end with sticks and wrestling instead of a swordfight….I was transported into their world. Even if that world doesn’t exist in real life. The man who played Hamlet (first black Hamlet ever at the RSC by the way!), Paapa Essiedu, embraced Hamlets feigned madness by splattering paint all over and laughing and sassing. It was an exciting approach to a character that’s usually taken so obviously dark. This way, Essiedu’s moral dilemmas were at much higher stakes because we, as an audience, could see how much he was struggling. Visually, as well as physically, he embodied madness by smearing himself with paint and feigning giddiness. Then, when he took off the facade and confided directly with the audience in his soliloquies, we could see how much inner pain he was going through and therefore the outward display made sense. ….OK, now I’M not sure if any of what I just wrote is understandable…but trust me! Hamlet KILLED IT. (Spoiler!) I enjoyed the production THOROUGHLY. I can’t believe I sat through four hours of it…it MUST’ve been good!

Well, anyway. Now that I’ve returned from Bard-Land, I definitely think I have a new appreciation for the intricacy and genius that are Shakespeare’s works. To see the very town that cultivated this guy’s mind blew my own. I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE walked these streets. WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE stood by this river. WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE learned about Julius Caesar in THAT ROOM RIGHT THERE. Then he wrote an ICONIC PLAY about it! GOSH. WILL I EVER GET USED TO THIS?! Nope. I don’t want to. I love traveling. I’m learning that there’s so much out there that you didn’t even know would benefit you from seeing until after you’ve learned your lesson from it.

Until next time!



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