-Day 6- More London
Nicole and I awoke, in separate beds I should add, and borrowed a ride to the train station in order to allow us to visit London after a great deal of help from Mr. Cowey in finding places to go.
We grabbed a train into London and headed toward the Tower of London. While the fortress in the middle of the city was certainly neat, neither I nor Nicole felt much inclination to go inside because the line was frickin’ huge. Anybody attempting to visit the Tower should go early because otherwise that person will be waiting a very long time to see the Crown Jewels, Beefeaters, et al. However, despite the name, I can tell you that the Tower of London is, in fact, a castle, not just a tower.
We crossed Tower Bridge toward the other side of the Thames. Tower Bridge is mostly famous for being a drawbridge that is much more attractive than London Bridge, which we saw from the rails of Tower Bridge. True to what we had heard, London Bridge was nothing special. We wandered along the Thames, trying to figure out what to do next. Along the way, we saw the old bishop’s residence, which was quite remarkable for the fact that the bishop used to live in a modern parking garage. Though this seems an odd place for a 15th century bishop to call home, there were a few beaten-up walls standing where the bishop presumably stayed and the modern parking garage was merely to hold his Rolls Royces.
After a trip to see the Southwark Cathedral which was, of course, surrounded by scaffolding. On a non-London-related note, as I am writing this, I wanted to add that Microsoft Word did not like my last sentence. Here is the recommended version: "After a trip to see the Southwark Cathedral which did scaffolding of course, surround." Somehow I’m not that upset that I have a green squiggly line under that sentence. Anyway, the Cathedral probably would have been much nicer had it not been mired in tubular steel.
We determined to visit Shakespeare’s Globe, a recreation of the Globe Theater which was, of course, where Shakespeare’s plays were originally performed. After finding out that we actually had to take the tour in order to see in on a Monday, we decided, "Oh, why not," paid for our admission, grabbed some lunch and headed to the theater.
We hurried past the displays detailing what they knew about the original Globe toward where the tour was starting. A tour leader with one hell of a booming voice was marshalling us toward the stairs leading up to the theater.
After the part of the tour detailing just how much trouble it was for Sam Wanamaker (the man whose brainchild this was) to get the project underway, and the pointing out of the names of benefactors on the sidewalk bricks (Yeah, never seen that before), we headed into the theater. This began one of the coolest one room tours I’ve ever been on. That’s right, it’s right up there with Sun Record Studio. The gentleman previously mentioned was obviously very proud of this recreation. It was not hard to determine he was, more than likely, a Shakespearean actor.
The Globe theater is a generally roundish structure with two levels of wooden seats directly under the same roof. One end of the theater is consumed by the stage which juts into the open area used by the people who wish to stand for the duration of the play (the groundlings). Incidentally, there is no roof over the middle of the theater, as that was the place that allowed light to enter and this was an authentic recreation. So, if you are watching a play and it is raining, you get wet.
The stage was about five and a half feet above the ground, with a roof about 20 feet above it and a balcony one story above and behind it. The stage, of course, was earth, the roof was heaven, and under the stage was the underworld. Though most English teachers would explain the phenomenal symbolic significance of this, and why this is another reason everybody back then was smarter than you are, I think any dumbass would be able to figure out that all the characters lowered from the ceiling are good and all the ones jacked up from under the floor are evil, especially since it was standard in all the theater productions of the day. As a counterexample, if you see two tiny little people standing on a television character’s shoulders, you will know three things. 1.) They are imaginary. 2.) The one with the halo and the white robes is conscience. 3.) The one with the horns and the pitchfork is temptation. Don’t worry, in some later day English professors will hold those three facts over their pupils’ heads as more reasons why you were much smarter than them.
Back to the tour, the Ac-Tor previously mentioned was regaling us with some construction details of Shakespeare’s Globe. First, the cracks in the wood beams that hold the place up are perfectly normal. Two, the plasterlike substance that made up the intervening spaces (known, in the construction field, as "walls") is not some modern, quickly setting substance, this was made exactly like they would have made it back then. Animal hair was used as some manner of binding agent and the walls took, I believe, three months to set. By the way, the tour guide was very pleased with this. In addition, he was also very proud of the fact that people who came to the theater have said that the acoustics there are the best they have ever encountered.
Shakespeare, despite opinions to the contrary, knew how to keep the audience entertained. He knew a battle scene would be a good way to keep the audience entertained. When needed a battle scene, he needed battle sounds. So, what would be a good battle sound? Cannonfire. How do you get the sounds of cannonfire in the 16th century? Fire a cannon: duh. The minor fact that the cannons, way up above the stage in a sort of tower, were aimed directly at the thatch roof is only a problem if you happen to be one of those goofy people who thinks that theaters should not burn down, which the original did.
Thus, we bring ourselves to the next point, that being the differences between the original Globe and the new Shakespeare’s Globe:
1.) Marked fire exits. I could not help but get the feeling the tour guide did not like them being there and detracting from the authenticity.
2.) Marked seats. If they had gone for an even more authentic look about the place, they would have doubled the capacity and sold general admission tickets. Then, instead of finding their seats, the audience would have fought for them. Literally. I have the feeling the tour guide would have preferred that too, and this time I was inclined to agree with him.
3.) Sprinkler system. Ranks up there with marked fire exits in the column of "Good Ideas". This did not seem to offend our tour guide, since they would have to reconstruct the place if it burned down and then what would he do?
4.) Lights. The original Globe did not have them, so they, of course, had to act during the day. However, modern people tend to be "at work" during the day, so they cannot get to the theater that much and the theater does need to support itself, so evening performances during the week are a necessity. However, it is not stage lighting I am referring to when I say lights. The entire interior is floodlit. Instead of the audience being able to sit quietly in the dark and nod off, the audience sits there, in the light and, apparently, very awake and not very quiet. The tour guide mentioned that there is usually at least one person in the audience who talks back to the actors. Thus, the need for the actors to be able to ad lib in iambic pentameter to shut up the hecklers.
Now then, there are two kinds of productions held at Shakespeare’s Globe. The first are the travelling, modern interpretations of Shakespeare’s shows. Like, for instance, the performance of Romeo & Juliet that was going on at the time. In Portugese. And for reasons beyond my comprehension, Portugese interpretations of Romeo & Juliet require a Volvo on stage. I’m very glad the tour guide explained what that was all about, because it confused me when I saw it at first. The nice thing about such shows is that they allowed people like Vanessa Redgrave to come to Shakespeare’s Globe and play Prospero in The Tempest. I seem to recall, though, that even the modern productions are not allowed microphones on stage, because the human voice sounds different when miked than it does when it is projected on its own.
Incidentally, I have no doubt about our tour guide’s ability to project his voice from the stage throughout the theater, since it was very vertical, intimate place. Come to think of it, I have no doubt about our tour guide’s ability to project his voice to, say, The Azores.
Anyway, the second type of productions are very authentic recreations of Shakespeare’s plays. They do not use costumes, they use clothes. Costumes cost money, and there was, apparently, not much point since, to paraphrase our guide, one did not say, "Let us go see a play," one said, "Let us go hear a play." The usual details necessary in any such clothing recreation are followed, such as being completely hand-stitched and embroidered. No zippers, velcro, etc. Corsets, codpieces, etc. apparently all add an intrinsic authenticity to the plays, since there are certain limits on how a person can move when wearing corset (and presumably a codpiece, as well).
And while we are on the subject of corsets, I digress to mention that these are very authentic reproductions. That means that none of the actors in the corsets are, well, actresses. Certainly gives different spin on things when you know that Juliet used to be played by a young boy, doesn’t it? And, should you be in Southwark, and somehow gain access to a ticket (they are 98% sold for the entire season), you can see young boys play female roles. And it won’t be a joke.
Shakespeare’s Globe, by the way, is not on the original site of the Globe, what with the fact there is a now a major thoroughfare running over the foundation and the city of London had no intention of allowing a theater to be built in the middle of the street, what with theaters are much inferior to asphalt when one is trying to keep traffic moving.
Anyway, after our guide was done, we walked up to the edge of the stage to get a closer look before we hit the gift shops, what with Nicole wanting to purchase a few things. She is a teacher, after all.
We were going to go to Madame Toussad’s, but we would have gotten there only about half an hour before they closed and Nicole was none too excited for the idea of going to a place, described in her guidebook, as the original tourist trap. After a quick trip to an Internet café to check our respective emails, we returned to Woking.
Adrienne and Ian picked us up at the train station and we headed back to the Coweys’ for dinner. The Coweys’, by the way, were directly accountable for the best meals I ate during my trip. After dinner, we adjourned to the family room for, of course, tea.
It was during the ensuing conversation that I finally found out something, anything about this Ian guy who married Adrienne. I can now report the following things about the gentleman in question:
He works for Seagram’s as some manner of manager for accounts that do not fall under anybody’s region. I believe that is the description he gave me, though I assume Adrienne can correct me.
He is a big fan of Margaret Thatcher and he does work for the Conservative Party.
The most startling revelation was that he is thirty-two. I refer to this as "startling" because the man could easily pass for twenty-two.
The evening ended and everybody went to bed. The rails would be calling the next morning.