All the World’s a Stage

Hi! It’s been a very busy four days, full of theater. We saw two Shakespeare plays at the Globe Theatre, which was amazing. In addition, I went with a friend to see Wicked, which was amazing in a very different way.

Our first show was Henry V. The Globe theater has introduced a new policy of gender blind casting for the 2019 season, meaning that the role of Henry was played by a black woman and Katherine was played by a middle-aged white man, who also played Falstaff. This is a complete reversal and subversion of traditional racial and gender interaction and expression throughout history, which took a little getting used to, but it was a breath of fresh air. In addition to the dramatic reversal of the leads, many of the dukes or other male supporting roles were played by women. This casting choice is less obvious, but it makes a similar statement: it’s not necessary to default to male representation or casting. It didn’t make much difference to the quality of the performances and some less observant patrons may not have even noticed. In addition, the other aspects of the production such as set and costuming were very minimal. This allowed the power and range of the actors to take center stage. There were no elaborate costume changes apart from Falstaff to Katherine and perhaps the removal of a cloak. One of my favorite moments of the play was the song “Nom Nobis Domine”, which was sung at the end of the battle. It was in another language so I didn’t understand every word, but the general tone seemed bittersweet-gratitude for victory mixed with mourning for the dead. There was very little instrumental backing and the actors could let their haunting harmonies carry across the amphitheater.

On our second night in London, we went to see As You Like It (with much better seats). This is a very different show from Henry V. The first was a complex history with a linear plot and the second was a fantastical romantic comedy. Both offered intriguing new angles of producing iconic work, but As You Like It had some interesting casting choices, Right off the bat I was surprised to see Celia played by a black woman and signing all her lines instead of speaking. Rosalind was played by a tall skinny man. Rosalind speaks Celia’s important lines, but also signs most of her dialogue in her first scene with Celia. In scenes with other characters, Rosalind simply spoke her lines. I was surprised by this because I was expecting gender-swapped actors, but the signing wasn’t advertised or promoted. I appreciate this because society should not expect praise for being accommodating and inclusive, it should be seamless and natural. This worked in terms of representation, but I missed all of Rosalind’s dialogue. If I were to cast a hearing impaired character, I would have them speak and sign, as Rosalind and others did when speaking to Celia. That way those who are hard of hearing can know what’s going on but those who don’t understand sign language don’t feel confused. The melancholy Jáques was also played by a hearing impaired woman, although she didn’t sign a majority of her lines. But that was an interesting choice because when she did sign, it was to say “I am different, I am apart from you.” I only know this because Anna interpreted this scene after the show, but that knowledge makes that scene all the more powerful. Overall it was a lovely show and I was quite pleased with the representation of different abilities on such a prestigious stage. I am so grateful to have seen shows at the Globe theater and I hope to see more in the future.

These two plays were amazing, but on the third night in London I went with a friend to Wicked, and that was dramatically different. I went with my friend M who had never seen it before, and I was honored to introduce her to the masterpiece. She loved it and I loved witnessing her joy.

I have seen the play before so I remembered the general plot, but I had forgotten both the political overtones and the sheer emotional gravitas of the play. I had also forgotten the character of Nessarose, who was done SO WELL!!! She’s the only disabled character and she starts off as the “token pity character” and then we find out she’s abusive and then she dies and we’re left confused. Was she good or evil? She’s NUANCED! I live for disabled nuanced characters on stage! Also (spoiler) in this one it had Elphaba and Fiyero run away together at the end. I find it interesting that they extended the ending. They could cut out proof that she’s alive and that would be just as powerful. (End spoiler) I was surprised to learn this musical is only 13 years old, given how quickly it’s achieved such iconic status. This acclaim is well deserved, given that the play heavily critiques issues like racial injustice and corrupt politics through paper-thin metaphors. Even without understanding the profound warnings of the story, viewers can appreciate the already-classic songs like “Defying Gravity” and “For Good”, both of which were flawlessly executed in this production. In addition, I was blown away by Elphaba’s powerful performance of “No Good Deed”, showing a woman who has been hurt too many times and has had enough.

London has an incredible theater scene and I am so grateful to have experienced both the historic and modern expressions of theatre. I think I was more excited to be at the Globe Theater than to be seeing these particular plays, but they were still wonderful new experiences. And I had an amazing time with M, rediscovering such a profound classic musical. After all the excitement and intensity of London, I’m excited for some downtime in Sligo. Stay tuned!

Bon Voyage 🇬🇧 E


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