Wednesday 7 June
A big day. For anyone, I would hope, but especially for those of us not from London. (‘Country bumpkins’ as we’ve been described by our Capital-dwelling counterparts in a manner I’m choosing to believe is affectionate.)
Zoe arrived at Oli’s house having spent a night at home in Cambridge, and so she, Oli, Gab, Annabel and I departed the domestic comforts of Elstree & Borehamwood and headed into town.
Getting into Blackfriars station, we walked amiably down the South Bank and picked up our tickets to see Romeo & Juliet that afternoon at Shakespeare’s Globe. Day standing tickets are only £5, and so one is left wondering a) how this isn’t a regular habit for all those within an hour radius of the city and b) who would pay extra not to stand with the ‘groundlings’?
We had some time before the performance at two, so we wandered a little further onward to Borough Market in the hopes of finding some lunch. However, as we had anticipated, the market was shut and surrounded by police, still an active crime scene from the terror attack to have happened there just days earlier. So we dined on those other most famous of London delicacies- Subway and cheap sushi- before heading back to the Globe.
Daniel was waiting for us when we arrived, anxious by our tardiness and fearful that we weren’t coming. (Come on, would we dare miss a show that Michael Billington of The Guardian described as “perverse” example of “vandalised Shakespeare”? And as liberal high-minded Arts students, we all know that The Guardian is always right. Always. And never wrong. Never.)
For many of us, it was our first time in the Globe. (It was my first time in London for a period beyond eight hours.) But for us all it was an especially memorable and poignant pleasure to be there, since we had all been involved in BoxedIn’s own version of RJ just a few months prior. (Well, almost all of us. I won’t name names to spare Zoe’s feelings…)
And so by the show’s end we found ourselves in a bit of a predicament. Some of us, like Billington, agreed that the Globe’s main function was historical ‘experience’ and replication, and so productions should adhere to the ethos of being performed ‘as it would have been done.’ Others did not share this view. However, despite all of us having something to say and aspects to critique, we all thoroughly enjoyed the performance. (Two and a half hours standing is never easy, but it could hardly be described as difficult that afternoon.) I myself take the traditional view for the performance space, yet found myself laughing and enjoying this wacky production of clown costumes, Doritos bags and drunken renditions of YMCA.
We left the venue immersed in this debate, but all concurred that our own production in March was superior. (I mean Romeo played by a man?! How absurd…)
Took the tube into Camden where we met up with Sarah. Had dinner at the market, all of us choosing separately from the various and diverse stalls before eating together. The day was just starting its slow and long drop into night, and the mood was jovial.
(London prices can actually fuck off, though.)
Went back into town and met up with Emily. We were all lucky enough to be given free tickets to see Kinky Boots on the West End by our good friend Jamie Jones. For those uninitiated with the show, it was written by Cyndi Lauper, it features a lot of drag queens, and it’s about shoes. (It’s also about respecting our fellow human beings for who they really are and accepting them in a modern diverse society, but it’s mostly about shoes.)
It’s basically a more fabulous version of Wood.
We all loved it, and came out singing and tapping our feet. Jamie Jones and Hannah Raymond-Cox took us for drinks afterwards, where we all got quite merry indeed.
(Until I saw the prices. Seriously, London, we’re trying to make it as actors. Help us out.)
A Shakespearean show with my fellow Shakespearean (amateur) actors, Camden market dinner and a West End musical. I hadn’t felt a country bumpkin when I left the house…
Thursday 8th June
Left to our own devices, we each spend the day doing our own thing. Since it was election day I felt it only fitting to get off the train at Blackfriars again and walk up to Westminster and around Parliament. (Not before walking past the National Theatre and BFI Centre, thinking how these two giants of British art could be next door to one another, and about the privilege and good fortune of those who work there, and how they got to do so.)
The cast came round to Oli’s for a rehearsal in his spacious garden to refresh our memories of the play and to work in the small rewrites Oli had written in. (Did anyone else notice how only my lines had been cut?) After which we all shared a barbeque with Oli’s parents, eating and drinking inside in the warm summer air, abruptly brought to an end by the warm summer rain.
Those of us residing at Oli’s stayed up to watch the election results come in. Whilst not a conventional win, we were all relieved to see Mrs. May’s majority go down (even if later dismayed at the implications of this regarding the DUP.) We took a break and had a swim in the early hours, feeling like teenagers five minutes into a slasher movie. Shivering, we headed back inside and went off to bed, the results suggesting a Conservative reduced majority, proving not all victories are overt, and Tories are capable of losing two gambles with the electorate in a row. One cannot self-prescribe hubris, it seems.
Friday 8th June
Another day spent doing what we pleased. I returned to Westminster and briefly hung outside Downing Street, seeing a few protestors and a single camera, but not general attention as I had thought. (In fairness, it had been a long night.)
As Saturday would be our first performance day, we spent the afternoon around Liverpool Street Station and Brick Lane, trying out the best flyering spots. Turns out the high prices weren’t the only London stereotype which turned out to be true. Londoners, though living in a wonderful city, are rude. And reserved. And looking at either a phone or their feet. They were a resistant wall almost impossible to flyer to.
(Then again, if I had just finished a long day’s shift in the office, having a greasy-haired twenty-something with bad facial hair offer me a free evening of queer theatre would probably make me reach for my phone, pretending to be busy.)
That evening we all watched Barber Shop Chronicles in the Dorfman at the National Theatre. It was my first time in the building proper (discounting my open-mouthed lull around the bookshop the day prior) and I was genuinely excited, as was everyone else.
Another wonderful show. Funny, emotive, poignant, political, personal. And slick (those transitions, man…), it really was a brilliant piece of theatre and one I am glad I got the opportunity to see. I advise people to see it, and I hope to see it again myself.
I really was enjoying London a great deal.
After the show we all took a stroll down South Bank, the city lit up, the office blocks slowly fading, St. Paul’s Cathedral dominating the cityscape across the Thames. Down on the shore there were shirtless fire dancers, spinning flaming touches in a sort of jungle-style ritual. We watched, and a fellow onlooker informed us that it was in celebration of the full moon, and something they do on every such lunar event. No wonder the city and water had looked so charming.
Oli was particularly content, and commented that we had just seen a wonderful show in the greatest city on earth, and by this time tomorrow we would have contributed, if only slightly, to that artistic-cultural mosaic.
(I don’t think Lawrence Olivier ever had to say “I want you inside me Nick,” however.)
Saturday 9th June
Our first show day.
The afternoon was spent flyering as required by our shifts, the rest of the time we were free to do as we pleased until call time at 5:20.
Both activities- flyering and meandering around shops- further confirmed by suspicions about London. The flyering, as has already been mentioned, simply strengthened my belief in the rudeness and reservation of Londoners compared to the rest of the country. (Granted, we had only Brighton to compare them to, and one would be forgiven for assuming that the only constituency willing to vote in the Greens would be a little friendlier than most.) The second was what was on display in this trendy, up-and-coming area. Unsurprisingly, there were vintage shops, market stalls and cheap delis. However, there were some others occupants to these important buildings that were both surprising and, given the general degree of piercings, tattoos and beards I saw on the populace, not surprising at all.
One chief example would be the room dedicated to coal. Not a shop, almost an art exhibition, this environmental project wished to spread its message by renting out a room, filling it with coal, and giving away bags of coal to anybody who wished to possess a bag of coal before instantly regretting their previous decision, now stuck with a bag of coal and blackened fingers. The message seemed to be if curious Londoners had the coal in paper bags, then other people with ulterior motives couldn’t have at this seemingly precious reserve of coal. (Fat Cats, I believe they’re collectively known as. Or, better still, ‘The Man’.) This was an unanticipated and interesting use of space, but considering it was mere metres away from the Cereal Killer Café– the pricey shop that made headlines back in 2015 with accusations of gentrification of the neighbourhood gone bad- a room full of coal didn’t actually seem all that surprising.
What I’m trying to say is, London was fulfilling expectations.
Since we were performing in the beer garden of JuJu’s Bar and Stage (which, predictably, was usually filled with paying beer drinkers) we could not use the space until just a little before show time, just time enough to set up the performance space. So we went to a nearby park to warm up. We’ve done it so many times now, it’s funny to think how odd we must all look, singing and moving around and playing games in an enclosed space, oblivious to the surrounding park-goers confused as to what this loud intrusion is. They just wanted a quiet rest at the park, away from the noise of the city.
The performance space itself was smaller than what we had had in Brighton. We were all slightly nervous about this, nor were we sure what to expect. The ground wasn’t what you’d traditionally call even, and once we moved the tables to the side we saw on the ground a large family outing of maggots, and the odd worm. Gab, who spends half of the show lying on the ground as the dead body, had a look on his face I don’t think was stage fright.
Further problems arose when we attempted to peg the tents down. Putting the peg into the ground, rather than rummaging downwards through inches of soil, there was a strong resistance mere centimetres beneath the ground. I cleared away the soil with my hand to see that this little layer of earth was lying upon a brick flooring, clearly impossible to fully peg down a tent in. Since the garden was enclosed by walls, we prayed the wind would not be too strong.
The audience was mostly made up of family and friends – although we did get a few locals coming every day, curious about all the creative commotion in an other-wise quiet beer-garden. The show ran smoothly, the new space not proving an obstacle after all, and the show ran very smoothly, with positive feedback from all the audience members.
And so we had enjoyed the fruits of our capital city, realised its obstacles and limitations, but had, in some small way in a little beer garden buried in a corner of Brick Lane, contributed to its artistic landscape.
(I don’t think Romeo & Juliet had that many “fucks” and “cunts” in it, however.)