Thank You, Sam Wanamaker

Arrived in London yesterday and lucky us, no president*. Our hotel has extremely small rooms to prepare us for the QM2 on Wednesday. The weather is what you expect – rain on and off but mostly on. We spent our first evening on business with the engineering gang at the Litus Foundation. Everyone seems to be enthusiastic in difficult circumstances. Our fingers remain crossed.

Today we woke up to … rain. We went online to see if the theater had any appeal, and found a matinee performance of 12th Night at the Shakespeare Globe. Only two seats left! We got ‘em.

Breakfast was at a chain restaurant in Victoria Station: Café Rouge. It wasn’t bad. Croque Monsieur for me and poached eggs on hot sourdough for Alice. Thus fortified we went downstairs to the Circle Line and headed for Blackfriars. The rain was still falling, but there was more wind than water. We crossed the Thames and walked to the Globe.

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This recreation of the Globe Theatre where Shakespeare’s plays were performed was the brainchild of the late Sam Wanamaker. Thank you Sam.

I don’t know if the exposed beams above are structural or for show, but the shape of the building is real enough and the interior as authentic as possible.

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A model of the original.

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As you can see: nobs above, hoi polloi below and an open sky above those commoners who have to stand for the whole performance.

When we picked up our tickets, one of which was “obscured view”, we asked about tickets turned in and wow – we got front row, middle balcony. Only the back rows had backs to the seats; we had benches, but in the front row you can lean on the railing and it is quite comfortable.

Now to the play. It was an extremely free adaptation of 12th Night in that large bits were added, including an opening number aboard the soon-to-be-shipwrecked SS Unity: “We Are Family.” Later on the lyrics to “I will survive” slipped into the dialogue. At times we had to think twice about whether we were hearing Shakespeare or The Village People. And was this a musical or a play?

Nevertheless, the spirit of the original play was observed. Almost over-observed. You scholars will recall that the shipwrecked Viola dresses as a man to get a job with Duke Orsino. You will also recall that men played all roles in Shakespeare’s time – women included. One must accept cross-dressing or ignore the plays. In this production many men’s parts were played by women, Malvolio in particular, and she was a real hoot. Prominently forward was the part of Feste, played by a unique artist known as Le Gateau Chocolat. (Perhaps you remember the Zucker movie, Top Secret, in which the black resistance fighter introduced himself as “Chocolat Mousse.” I suspect a bit of borrowing here.)

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Here is Mr. Gateau. He first appears in the glitteriest gold dress I have ever seen, with an Afro wig two feet across. But the man is an incredible performer. His voice has a range from basso profundo (he could sing The Flea like Chaliapin) to high baritone, and it is a fine voice as well. I was blown away.

There are other castings that emphasized the We Are Family vibe, which was also one of the points Shakespeare makes. For instance, Sir Toby Belch was Tony Jayawardena, an Indian actor (I think, but could not find any biography), played as a golfing Scot with a perfect Scottish accent. The primary love interests were both inter-racial in the irrelevant sense that we use the term. In short, it was a United Nations of love and comedy.

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The shipwreck of the SS Unity. Both production photos stolen from the theater site.

In a theater-in-the-round with a mass of spectators right up against the stage, one expects some interaction. Yes, a few times the actors went to the edge and addressed happy members of the audience, but the highlight of this was when Viola (dressed as the man Cesario) is dazed by the encounter with Olivia who has fallen for the ‘man’ rather hard. Viola asks herself loudly, why did Olivia behave like that? A voice from the audience in a section occupied by primary schoolers said, “She loves you!” Audience collapses with laughter. Viola turns and points to the voice and says, “Right!” Good times.

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The student section is at the extreme right on the first level of seats. What with all the cross dressing and sexual innuendos we wondered what the little kids were doing there. They probably understood more than we did.

So the play was a great success and a very lucky find for us. Impeccable comedic timing, great dance numbers – Shakespeare would approve.

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Outside the sun had come out.

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St. Paul’s was closed because of services but the sun was perfect.

We had dinner at a pub: lamb shank shepherd’s pie (Alice) and fish and chips (me). It was fine, but not photogenic. Fear not, comestiphones, tomorrow we embark on the Queen Mary 2 and you will be deluged with pictures. They will probably be delayed because, I have heard, internet time is $50 an hour on board. But they will come.

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As we left St. Paul’s, we found another statue of John Wesley. The first one, you recall, was in Savannah. We had to take this one too.