A London theatre triple crown

Because I've been thinking to myself that I need to memorialize this forever, time for a throwback to last month's London trip! In between tiara-shopping and being chased by bloodthirsty swans, I spent a large part of my weekend alone in London hitting up the theater scene. When I studied abroad, I spent way too many nights (and way too much of my meager stipend!) at the theaters and opera houses and saw so many different performance genres, many for the first time. 2010 London introduced me to my first live opera through a class on the history of opera, to experimental plays, black box productions, and Shakespeare AT the Globe Theatre. Needless to say, going back with the funds to really do theater was heavenly. 

A short eight hours after landing and getting checked into my hotel, I headed to the London Coliseum for the English National Opera's production of Mozart's "The Magic Flute." I had previously seen their production of "Lucia di Lammermoor" in 2010, which they translated into English (much to my chagrin). The staging of "The Magic Flute," much like "Lucia," was sparse but innovative, making use of projections, a mobile, elevated raked platform, and a pit orchestra that performed as an extended part of the stage. Didn't hurt that my seats were fabulous, either...I scored with prime dress circle seating that left me perfectly positioned for the richest sound. 

That said, I was utterly crushed to find that, just like in 2010, the ENO had translated Mozart's gorgeous German into English for the performance. Usually, operas are sung in the language in which they are composed...most often Italian, German, or French...and the translation is projected above the stage. To take the language away left "The Magic Flute," already a pretty simple, fairy-tale-esque story of princesses, kings, queens, and the gods feeling like a bad nursery rhyme. That said, the singing was still lovely, particularly Lucy Crowe's Pamina, and I thoroughly enjoyed my night. 

The next day, I crossed the river to the National Theatre for my first time experiencing Shakespeare's iconic "As You Like It!" I read the play during my freshman lit seminar but had never seen it live...and couldn't wait for the famous "All the world's a stage" monologue. The Olivier Theatre's staging felt so Guthrie-esque to me, it almost seemed like I was back home. The show opened in a 1970's-ish office for the first several scenes...

...then all of a sudden everything literally took flight as Rosalind and Celia flee to the forest. The entire set was apparently rigged to wires and cables that jerked the office to the skies to represent a deeply wooded forest, and it was so incredible to watch...until the mechanism broke down mid-elevation. We were treated to a ten-minute, unplanned intermission while the technical team ran around frantically unsnarling desks and chairs and cables, and I laughed and took the opportunity to snag a photo. The set was truly striking and honestly stuck with me more than any individual performance...it was just incredibly innovative and detail-oriented right down to the Post-it note leaves. 

Frankly, I think my favorite half hour of the entire trip was crossing the Waterloo Bridge after the show with this view, which single-handedly cemented London's status as my favorite city in the entire world. The photo doesn't even do it justice...it was stunning on an absolutely indescribable level. 

Finally, after discovering that I had a mid-week evening to myself due to my bosses' other commitments, I made a total spur-of-the-moment decision to treat myself to an evening with my favorite "Friend!" Matthew Perry recently wrote and is directing/starring in his debut play, "The End of Longing," at the Playhouse Theatre. 

I scored with fourth-row seats, which was pretty much the highlight of the experience. Being twenty feet away from Chandler Bing? Life experience I never thought I would have. I was all set to get my spazzy fangirl on...

...but honestly, I didn't love the play. It's loosely autobiographical, telling the story of a witty and sharp New Yorker struggling with extreme alcoholism...basically the story of Matthew Perry's adulthood. Populated with a cast of characters including a lovable dumbass (Joey), a prostitute with a heart of gold, and a sidekick female friend that could quite literally have been Monica Geller, the cast was solid but the script was lackluster and felt so forced. Every third word out of every actor's mouth seemed to be "fuck" (or some permutation thereof), which was fine at first but, by the end, seemed so completely superfluous and grating. 

The highlight of the play occurred about fifteen minutes before the end, when Perry completely redeemed his writing with the most intense, searing, raw monologue set at his character's first AA meeting. It was personal and vulnerable on an entirely different level, and earned a standing ovation from the audience before the play even ended. Had the entire play shown that depth and emotional finesse, I would have adored it...instead, I'm going to marathon my favorite Chandler scenes to redeem my love for MP. 

All English opera, technical malfunctions, and excessive "fuck"s aside, I think the three shows I picked were the perfect trilogy for a whirlwind trip through London's theatre world! Already looking forward to doing exactly the same thing on my next trip across the pond.