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Monday, August 16, 2010

"'Tis no sin for a man to labor in his vocation"

Finally sitting down to write down my opinions of In the Heights last week reminded me that I never wrote about my experiences with theater while I was in London.

When John and I arrived at Shakespeare's Globe I reverted to a fifteen year old English lit geek. I don't remember what John and I talked about in queue because I was memorizing the details of the lobby. I took dozens of photos which I deleted later because although each photo op seemed pressing in the heat of the moment, I really didn't need pictures of the door handles and floor of the (all modern) lobby.

We bought tickets to Henry IV Part One, and although I was disappointed that our plan to see Macbeth had been thwarted by box office sales I agreed with John when he said "you can't really beat seeing Henry the Fourth at the Globe Theater."

Obviously, it's not the original Globe Theater, which burnt down in 1613 and was rebuilt on the same site. The second theater was shut down in 1642 by Puritan rule. This replica is as authentic as possible,  built in 1997 (through the efforts of an American actor/director), a mere matter of meters away from the site of the first (and second) Globe Theaters. It was the first building allowed to have a thatched roof after the Great Fire  of London.

Original thatched roof or not,  to watch Shakespeare performed by some of the world's best known classical actors in a space that aims to duplicate the experiences had by Shakespeare's first audiences, is a treat.  We took our place in the Yard with the other groundlings, and I took approximately a gazillion more photos of the intricate interior of the theater as we awaited the start of the show.

My hand touching the stage. I'm in heaven.
The show opened with a flourish of dance and music. All the instruments were period, and played by actors. Mummers with grotesque and exaggerated costume pieces staged a comedic street performance on a platform smack dab in the midst of the groundlings. After a bit of bawdy banter they were interrupted by the entrance of  King Henry, sir Walter Blunt and the rest of the King's court who then proceeded to take the stage and dive into the plot.

All the characters were strong. Hotspur (Sam Crane)  and his unintentionally comical bursts of temper.  Prince Hal (Jamie Parker) with his boyish grin, and torn loyalties to street life and prince-dom.  King Henry (Oliver Cotton) with his loving but firm reproach of his son's behavior. In fact, the highly complicated relationship Cotton and Parker created between this famous father and a son very nearly brought me to tears several times. Still one man managed to steal my heart the show.

Every critic has said it in one way or another, but in the event that you're not keeping up on reviews of shows in London right now I'll say it too: Roger Allam was born to play Falstaff. He's exactly what you want in a Falstaff: a booming voice, impossibly expressive face, and dead on sense of timing. Allam's Falstaff doesn't shy away from the parts of his character that are disgusting (binge eating, drinking to excess, lying and thievery to name a few), and still comes off as the lovable, mischievous man we all would gladly share a bar counter with. If only for the stories we could tell later.

The show ends after the Battle of Shrewsbury with all out reveling and a full cast song and dance number, the nature of which made me feel as though I were actually peeking into a tavern window in the 1400s and not standing on concrete in an open air theater with hundreds of strangers.

I would absolutely love to see Part Two. Anyone want to fly to London for a matinĂ©e?

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