Saturday, August 07, 2010

all is true

We were up early today for a Saturday, putting some finishing touches on Rappaccini's Daughter, the piece that my students are taking to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival on Monday. I'm excited to see how the piece works up there. They've certainly put a lot of time and work into it, and it has been carefully adapted and directed by Scott Stringham and Alex Ungerman. It was odd, and a little inspiring, to watch these students work through a piece that was blocked in Utah, re-rehearsed in London, which will be performed in Scotland. I'm excited for them.

We had a busy day, and those are the best kind. We started with a backstage tour at the National Theatre. Our tour guide was probably the most irrepressible person you could ever imagine. She had so much energy and talked so quickly that I was barely able to get a photograph of her. You can see what I mean. She didn't stop. She also asked us not to take pictures as soon as I snapped this - in fact she's starting to say it right as I took this - so I'm glad I got what I got. I think she would be the ideal Mary Poppins should Lisa and I ever need one. We'll just wait for the wind to change direction, and then this girl can blow in and tell us all about prop tables and revolving sets.

The amazing thing about the National Theatre is that it is so ingeniously designed, so artfully cared for, and still so socialist. I kind of like that. Nobody gets special treatment. There are no tricked out dressing rooms for stars, the programs are free, the shows are cheap, and the work is incredible. It's subsidized, naturally, but it's exciting to see people working because they love the work. You may hate a show at the National, but at least there's passion in it. It's not like watching Wicked or Les Mis, where the entire cast spends the performance thinking about what they'll have to eat after the show.

We grabbed a quick bite to eat at the appropriately named EAT, strolled past the bookshop under the Waterloo Bridge, and then headed back to the National for an amazing performance of After the Dance. It might be my favorite play this year. I need some time to reflect on everything, but it very well could be. Wow. It was incredible. It's a simple story: a few wealthy Londoners in 1938 refuse to admit that a war is coming, and they continue to party like it's 1925. And of course nobody is happy, and nobody wants to admit it, and terrible things happen. It was just so beautifully directed and performed. The best acting I've seen this year. I was so excited that my students were able to see it - it's the kind of work that you remember for a lifetime. But what my students will probably remember the most is this fight I got into with a middle-aged woman who sat behind me. She was upset that we stood for curtain call. I told her we had every right to. She said when we stood up she couldn't see the bows. So I told her she was free to stand as well. Then she said that I was a real pain. And I said I could say the same thing about her. And then she said "I daresay."

This being a two-show day, we scrambled to get more food in us before the second performance: Henry VIII at the Globe. Luckily there is a Wagamama's just a bit further down the river, and our timing was good. We made it inside and got a table just as the rain hit. Very rainy lately! But our exceptional timing, which is also luck, kept us dry. And after a really nice dinner (I had some kind of ginger chicken noodles) we found blue skies and a little sun. So that was encouraging. And Alex, Rachel, Jessy, and Nick had saved us spots at the front of the Globe so we could lean on the stage.

Part of the charm of seeing Henry VIII is knowing it may be the only time you get to see it. Nobody ever does it, and you can see why. It's kind of a snorefest. People talk and talk, and then there's a coronation, and then more people talk. It's more of a poetic pageant than a play, and many people don't think Shakespeare even wrote most of it. Certainly it has a different feel than most of his plays. But leave it to the Globe to find interesting and exciting ways to tell the story. They used film motifs throughout - flashbacks, montages, cross-fades - and did all they could to keep our attention. I admit I zoned out while Cardinal Wolsey talked for three pages, but I certainly loved the lady who played the jester and the waiting woman. Her rubbery face alone was worth the price of the admission.