Quintessential London: By Day and By Night

By Day

Though our tour didn’t directly pertain to any of our studies for the class, we toured Westminster Abbey and the surrounding areas with Ulla, and got some good information in regards to the history of London outside of the Victorian era. Even though it wasn’t quite focused on the Victorian era, getting earlier history as well as more modern history was nice because (including our knowledge of the Victorian era) we get a well-rounded picture of what created the social and political conditions which enabled and influenced the creation of the texts we’ve engaged with.

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Like most of the things in London, Westminster Abbey is old. It has a rich history built into every stone, and it shows. The most interesting points for me were the chair which was displayed inside of the chapel. While the portrait which was displayed beside it, picturing one of the Richards (Richard II or Richard III, I can’t recall exactly) suggested some artistic liberties had been taken, it was still incredible to see the efforts to preserve the chair. The chair dates back to the early 1000s-1100s, long predating Shakespeare or Queen Elizabeth I. For me, this was important because the most precious value I’ve observed in the UK is their efforts to retain as much of their history as possible for educational purposes, which is something that doesn’t really take place in the US. Granted, the history of the US is much shorter than that of England, but even then, the preservation of original structures and artifacts is rare, and when it does occur, there is often limited access to the public. One of the most mind-blowing things for me is the fact that just about all of the museums we went to, housing such precious artifacts, had no admission cost. To me, that shows an emphasis on the importance of education, with particular emphasis on history and understanding the growth of the country.

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After walking through Westminster Abbey, we passed several of the quintessential “I went to London” landmarks. We saw the Victoria Tower, the Houses of Parliament, the House of Lords, the tower housing Big Ben (side note: I had no idea Big Ben was actually just the gigantic bell you hear, and has nothing to do with the building that’s always displayed; this really shook my world and all I thought I’d known of London prior to visiting.), St. James’s Park, Downing Street, and Buckingham Palace. From certain points, I could even see the London Eye too. Overall, we saw a majority of the typical London tourist sites, and despite how cheesy they are, I couldn’t be happier.

By Night

One of my favorite parts of the trip was when we went out for dinner as a group, then went to see the Royal Shakespeare Company production of Much Ado About Nothing, held at the Royal Haymarket Theatre. Honestly, I’m not sure which I enjoyed more, the dinner or the show. First, we had an interesting turn of events with our dinner plans. Because of a power outage that wouldn’t be resolved in time for us to eat and get our seats at the theatre, we had to leave the Mint Leaf, a nice Indian restaurant where we had dinner reservations. Then, we scrambled as a group, searching for someplace nearby that could accommodate our group of ten on such short notice. Luckily, we came upon Spaghetti House, a local Italian restaurant. The dinner was lovely. Food was delicious—from what I heard, everyone enjoyed their meals and drinks, but more importantly, we got to spend some time together as a group, simply enjoying each other’s company, rather than taking furious mental notes about tours in anticipation of our blog posts later, and the final paper rapidly approaching. It was enjoyable because overall, I never felt like there was any animosity among anyone in the group; we all got along well, and that made all the difference for the trip. For me, in that moment, we all felt like family.

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Being the Shakespeare enthusiast I am, I was thrilled when Dr. McLeod told us that she’d been able to get us tickets to a show. Much Ado is my favorite of the comedies, and RSC’s production did not disappoint. While I do love when productions play with the temporality of the show, I was somewhat confused by this one. Rather than a typical Elizabethan period production, RSC adopted what appeared to be a WWI/Roaring 20s theme, reflected in the costumes and props. While I enjoyed it greatly, I never did quite grasp the purpose of resituating the time period (while maintaining the original Elizabethan vernacular) for this production. That aside, I was in love. If I had to choose the aspect of the production I enjoyed the most, it would be the casting, particularly with Hero and Beatrice and Benedick. First, the actor who played Hero was everything I’d imagined Hero to be in my initial reading of the play. She captured Hero perfectly—slightly ditsy, but not annoyingly so, carefree, and so eagerly focused on love, for herself and for her dear cousin, Beatrice. Second, the chemistry between the actors playing Beatrice and Benedick was astonishing. The banter between the two of them flowed effortlessly and naturally. Overall, I was completely blown away by the production—not to mention the ice cream for sale at intermission. My only regret is that I didn’t have the foresight to plan to attend more shows, like the thirtieth anniversary production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera.



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