My left brain: “Stop.” My right brain: “NEVER.”

It’s the middle of Week 4 in London, and I have seen a total of six shows with numbers seven and eight already planned and happening next week and the week after.

If you are thinking, “Holy conventionally highbrow hobbies, Batman, that’s a lot of theatre,” you are correct, sir.

I have never seen this many professional productions in succession in my entire life. I think my brain might actually be starting to melt. But the thing about seeing live shows is that it’s like doing drugs, or eating chocolate, or thinking about Ryan Gosling—you try to stop, but you’re physically incapable of doing so.

So this post is going to outline my reactions to every show I have seen this semester. To be clear, I’ve sort of glossed over them in some of my other January 2013 posts, but this post is special. This time, I’m resisting the urge to disguise my overly critical opinions in unrelated anecdotes about my life—I am instead releasing them into the wild. Be free, opinions! Run like the wind, opinions! Leave now and never come back, opinions!


THE 39 STEPS – The Criterion Theatre, Picadilly Circus

The 39 StepsJanuary 8: I mentioned in this post that I thought this show was charming. And I really did. It was a melodrama—performed by a cast of four including only one woman who I would argue stole the show—about a man named Richard Hannay who must flee to Scotland after a beautiful and mysterious spy is murdered in his apartment. The play is based on the novel by John Buchan and makes multiple allusions to the Alfred Hitchcock film adaptation (as well as his other films).

The show was deceptive in its ability to appear low-budget and technically simple, when in reality it involved ridiculously fast quick-changes, shadow puppetry, precisely choreographed chase scenes, and a compact and maneuverable set that could adapt to each scene.

The dialogue was quick, the physical comedy was entertaining, and the story was satisfying. Family friendly. Plus it helped that the actor playing Hannay looked exactly like a young Cary Elwes.

KISS ME, KATE – The Old Vic Theatre, Waterloo

Kiss Me KateJanuary 15: Cole. Freakin’. Porter. I saw Anything Goes in Los Angeles this past winter, and even though I was blown away by this composer’s capacity for fantastic WTF lyrics and hyper-unnecessary dance numbers, I still walked out of the theatre knowing I’d seen something I wouldn’t forget.

This also applies to Kiss Me, Kate. I’d never seen it before, and I knew it’s an American show, but I decided that I might as well see the way British people play it while it’s running in London. It was worth it just to hear the shifting American dialects—one minute they were from Jersey, and the next from 1950s Hollywood. It was fabulous. That must be how the British feel when we try to imitate them.

Overall, though, I really enjoyed myself. It was clearly a tourist attraction, considering that more than half of the audience was made up of Americans on vacation, but the voices were phenomenal. Actress Hannah Waddingham brought down the house as diva Lilli Vanessi/Katharina, and her co-star Alex Bourne was just as much of a pleasure to look at listen to.

A few things about this show: there’s an unruly amount of spanking involved. I don’t know, don’t ask me. Also, as my musical-loving roommate back in the States warned me, it’s basically The Taming of the Shrew performed in an overtly American and purposely ridiculous style. Seriously, half the show is lines lifted directly from Shakespeare. Act II’s opening number “It’s Too Darn Hot” is the musical’s key ten-minute WTF moment, but this is the price you pay for getting to watch the male dancers prancing around the stage like heavenly, muscular antelope.

THE MIKADO – The London Coliseum, Charing Cross

January 22: I have already said all I needed to say in this post. Here is the Venn Diagram once more, for your convenience:

My understanding of The Mikado

My understanding of The Mikado

THE ARCHITECTS – The Biscuit Factory, Bermondsey

January 24: I was required to see this show for one of my drama classes, and seeing as I already wrote an academic response to it, I will now proceed to reveal my real opinion.

Do you see the Mikado diagram above? This is the one I made for The Architects:

Not even remotely.

Not even remotely.

This is not just because it was 100% avant-garde. I don’t have a problem with experimental theatre. I just had a problem with this show.

The Architects was performed in an abandoned warehouse on the Thames, which in and of itself was enough to freak me out. Shunt theatre company is very famous for creating site-sympathetic productions that utilize the insides of spaces and give the audience an “insider’s perspective,” so to speak, on worlds that appear to be exclusive. The Architects followed this to an extent, but I still found it lacking in the cohesion department. It was based on the myth of the Minotaur, and the show involved:

  • a crudely constructed wooden labyrinth
  • a cruise ship
  • a punk rock band made up of people claiming to be “interns”
  • a hollow cow
  • two very talented aerialists
  • four Scandinavian architects
  • a minotaur

Over the course of the performance I was yelled at, called on a telephone, watched on a TV monitor, kissed on the cheek, given a handshake, and nearly impaled by plastic forks. I mean… I still enjoyed myself. But I didn’t know what the heck was happening for two hours straight.

THE EFFECT – Cottlesloe Theatre, Southbank

The EffectJanuary 28: I saw this show by accident, actually. My friend asked if I wanted to get standing tickets for £5 each the morning of, and so we ended up seeing Billie Piper that evening for less than I paid for Kiss Me, Kate.

How to describe this show… I cried. I’m not saying that it was the best show I’d ever seen, but it was definitely a powerful story, especially in such an intimate space.

The Effect is about two young people who volunteer for a clinical trial for an antidepressant, and when they start to fall in love with each other, they are unsure of whether it’s real or just the drug. It’s a love story firstly, but I also think that the playwright Lucy Prebble definitely took every opportunity to drive home a certain point about depression being rampant in today’s society. Which is true. But it also made the play really heavy and painful to watch. I felt exhausted instead of hopeful when I came out of the theatre, and that’s not how I wanted to feel after witnessing and experiencing so many emotions in one play.

Still, I’d recommend it (but to a mature audience—beware the nude Irishman!).

THE JUDAS KISS – Duke of York’s Theatre, St. Martin’s Lane

The Judas KissJanuary 30: Finally, tonight I saw this imagining of the final years of Oscar Wilde’s life, starring Rupert Everett as Wilde. I don’t know, really, how to react to it. What was most interesting about the play was the fact that you already knew what was going to happen (it’s history), so in order to remain captivated you had to focus on something other than the plot.

I ended up focusing on the blocking and the lighting, which was strange for me because I’m normally most interested in language. However, this time, the blocking and the lighting design took the cake, because they were both so dang bizarre.

The blocking was basically like TRIANGLES TRIANGLES EVERYWHERE, which is all fine and dandy until you realize that the star of the show, the wildly imaginative Oscar Wilde, is not moving. He’s stationary. For almost the entire show. People and things (see: lights) move AROUND him. I get that they were trying to make a point about how life was happening to him instead of depicting him living his life, but I still became extremely uncomfortable extremely quickly, and also very conscious of how long I had been sitting in my chair.

The lighting was kind of cool at first… but it got old really fast. The designer and director had decided to use a roaming spot to show the passage of time (like a sun setting or rising), but after the first time I saw the spotlight moving at a glacial pace around the stage, coming to rest on various pieces of furniture as though privy to inside jokes about the set dressing, I got irritated. It was as though the designer was determined to make his mark, and decided a bright white light was the only way he could possibly do it. I got it the first time, dude. You probably didn’t need to do it thrice more.

Also, this show contained the most male nudity I have ever seen in my life. One of the actors didn’t even seem to have a real character—all he did was say a couple phrases in Italian and sit naked on the floor for 20 minutes, snacking on dinner rolls.

I didn’t know where to look, guys. Maybe that’s why I studied the lights so much.


So that’s the end of that. Next week, I am seeing Port at the Lyttelton Theatre, and the following week a Brecht play in Stratford-upon-Avon. I know. I can’t believe how much of a nerd I am, either.

–Samantha Chaffin

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