Thursday, January 30, 2014

Coriolanus

I would like to preface this post with the admission that the fact that I saw this show, in the flesh, in London is A) exceptionally fortunate, lucky, and privileged,  B) somewhat phantasmagorical and surreal that it actually occurred, and C) one of the most humbling and moving experiences of my life. If I could personally thank everyone at Donmar Warehouse associated with the show, I would do so, but I have neither the words nor the means/abilities to do so. I am afraid this post will have to suffice. But I know this cannot completely express how utterly brilliant I found this show to be.

http://www.donmarwarehouse.com/whats-on/donmar-warehouse/2013/coriolanus
What does one say about Coriolanus? It's a tragedy, that's for sure. One knows that from looking at the title page of Shakespeare's script: The Tragedy of Coriolanus. This isn't going to end well for the title character. But hell, the play doesn't even start well for the title character. It begins with some very angry citizens wanting to kill Coriolanus for driving up the price of grain. In Josie Rourke's staging at Donmar, this is preceded by graffiti being panted on the wall in Latin, reading "grain at our own price". From the beginning, there is a sense of violence, tension, and unease. Sitting in the back row of the circle, the second level of the Donmar, with my back to a fire escape, I was rather terrified every time I felt a bit of wind on my neck or a particularly intense bit of action occurred onstage that someone was going to appear behind me with a sword and I was going to find myself even more immersed in the play than I already was.

From the beginning, the show draws you in. Whether you are familiar with the storyline or not, the staging and expression of the actors makes this play engaging and watchable. During the intermission, I told Tyler, my friend and theater companion, that I had somewhat forgotten I was watching a Shakespeare play. I meant this in a strangely positive way - I was so immersed in what I was going on I wasn't thinking about the transitions from Act 1 to Act 2, I knew things had been cut out but I wasn't concerned with them as I have been in other Shakespeare plays I'd seen performed. At the end, I knew that certain things had been tweaked but it didn't occur to me until later and I didn't mind. Language in Shakespeare is rarely a problem for me but in this staging, with what felt so seamless and smooth from act to act, scene to scene, I forgot entirely that the language I was hearing was not how we speak day to day on the street. It sounded so natural and so clearly expressed that I forgot that what I was hearing was in anyway unlike how I would have a conversation with a friend, or how I'd debate an issue with a coworker.

http://www.donmarwarehouse.com/whats-on/donmar-warehouse/2013/coriolanus
Of course, you'll all want to know what I think of Mr. Hiddleston's performance. And, much to your expectations, I'll tell you he was bloody marvelous. Coriolanus is a complicated character - he's not exactly a likeable guy, he reacts rather angrily and forcefully and belittles the plebeians. And yet, Shakespeare wants us to feel empathy for him, to see him as a man driven by urgings to seek glory and power. Hiddleston does this phenomenally well. At the beginning, when he brushes off the concerns of the citizens and later, when yells at his troops in a harsh very un-Henry V sort of way, the immediate reaction is dislike. Caius Martius, later Coriolanus, is quick to anger, violence and is kind of what I'd picture Cato from The Hunger Games being as an adult - a person who was trained early to be really good at one terrible thing - killing. (And speaking of The Hunger Games, which I've made allusions to before in discussions of this play, according to the program from the play and from Donmar's Twitter feed, President Snow's first name in the books is Coriolanus. Guess my seeing all of the allusions to the books isn't entirely unmerited. Yay for Roman history and Suzanne Collin's continual allusions to it! And if anyone can locate a page number in the books where Snow's first name is mentioned, I'll buy you a tea. Because I smell a future blog post about this...) Also like Cato, Coriolanus is greatly subjected to the expectations of his society and the expectations held about himself. He is both prideful and reluctant, wanting to claim what he feels is rightfully his in becoming consul, but refusing to show his wounds gained in battle in order to gain votes.

From here on out, this review is not at all going to be spoiler free. If you don't want to know pivotal plot points, I suggest you avoid the rest of this and perhaps read these really great review from the Guardian or from Sherlockology without spoilers. For the rest of you brave souls or those of you who may be reading this after the live stream on the 30th, carry on.

I've asked myself where my opinion of Coriolanus began to shift, when I really began to feel sympathy for him, and it was shortly after the epic battle scene, staged with brilliant effects of falling embers and ashes, in which Coriolanus is presumed dead, only to reenter, bathed in blood. My edition to Coriolanus describes this scene as him being "like a new-born in battle. It is as if, to be a man, the 'fatherless' Coriolanus must reborn of his own volition in the masculine setting of war" (Crewe xxxviii). In this particular staging, I saw this scene a bit differently. This is less about becoming a man but becoming a public spectacle, of going for soldier to war hero. Once Coriolanus enters, a horrific, epic sight, he has transgressed from ordinary into completely extraordinary. (But perhaps this is because I was watching Jack Gleeson's talk on celebrity culture before writing this).

http://www.donmarwarehouse.com/whats-on/donmar-warehouse/2013/coriolanus

After this scene, in which Hiddleston is covered in so much blood that I truly felt myself growing nauseous (and I thought blood didn't bother me), the play shifts into what I'm going to call the shower scene. I'd heard about this part before from the internet reacting to the fact that a shirtless, blood-covered Hiddleston showers onstage. Fans made this sound sexy and hot. I would like to add my two cents in and assure you, dear readers, that though Mr. Hiddleston may be a very, very attractive man and I think we can all agree that he is very fit, this scene was not sexy, it was not hot, and I was in utter agony throughout the whole thing. If you have trigger warnings with injuries or gore or such, I encourage you to skip the next section in case they might bother you. Maybe I'm more sensitive to gore than I thought, but I'd rather be safe than sorry for your sakes.

Here is how the scene goes down - Coriolanus strips off his shirt, blood matted in his hair and streaming down his neck, revealing a very gruesome wound on his left arm (I was facing stage left and thus got a very clear view of its gruesomeness). He proceeds to stand under a torrent of water, shuddering at first from the cold, then proceeding to slowly, agonizingly, let the water clean his wound. Somehow, without dialogue, only with physical actions, body language, and pained moaning and screaming that just recalling it makes me shudder, Hiddleston makes you feel as if you are Coriolanus, experiencing that piercing water pouring into your wound. This scene felt outrageously real to me and I am still wondering how the make-up artists made the wound look so real and how Hiddleston can possibly express such levels of pain night after night.

http://i.imgur.com/2yIcCWm.gif

Thanks, Sir Patrick Stewart. I needed that moment of levity.

By this point in the play, I start feeling rather badly for Coriolanus. He's gotten really beat up in battle, his worst enemy Aufidius, "a lion that I am proud to hunt," is still out there fuming and plotting against him, his mother is happy with his return but wants more from him, and now he's trying to win an election while a lot of people still hate him. He also shows a certain tenderness towards his mother, Volumnia, his wife, Virgilia, and his friend and supporter, Menenius, which contrasts nicely with his rage and anger elsewhere and makes it harder to simply dislike him. Coriolanus has depth and complexity. And maybe, in a sort of skewed listening of the Head and the Heart's "Homecoming Heroes," he doesn't want to stand for anything more and longs to do something else with his life that doesn't involve killing people for a living. Becoming consul could allow that but he must always conflate his warrior status with being a politician. Or perhaps he is unable to be any sort of politician but that who does always conflate his warrior/soldier life with politics but doesn't want to be other-ized as this victor, as a war hero. I could really postulate on Coriolanus' mental state all day so I'm going to stop myself before that's all I end up writing about.

This brings me to another area of interest for me and one I wish I knew the answer to. Upon reading the play, thinking about it over the course of a few months, and then upon seeing it, I found myself changing in how I thought of the characters. At times I agreed that Coriolanus was a tragic hero and at other times he seemed more a tyrant, a future President Snow that was stopped before he could go too far. Other times he was a political pawn, used to garner support for something he seemed somewhat detached from. And yet he still had his pride, he yearning for respect and admiration, to be seen as worthy of great accolade. I wonder, and continue to wonder, how actors peg down such mutable characters. Is there a way of fixing on certain interpretations so that each night you know what sort of Coriolanus you're playing while still allowing the other versions to simmer beneath the surface, to allow the audience to pick up on these possibilities while still expressing clearly the sort of character you are presenting? Are there still little things that shift about? Some nights, are a word or two given with more anger, more hostility than other nights? Does Aufidius ever present himself with slightly more hostility? Does Coriolanus ever feel a slight bit more forlorn? These are the things I wonder before and after seeing shows, upon wondering how an actor will present a character and seeing that, while a portrayal is clear, I still see so much simmering beneath the surface.

Too bad I already used the Patrick Stewart gif.

http://www.donmarwarehouse.com/whats-on/donmar-warehouse/2013/coriolanus
Where was I? Complicated characters. Let's pick up here with the two lead women of the play: Volumnia and Virgilia. Volumnia is described by Crewe as being powerful, perhaps even more powerful than her son, using him as a sort of surrogate to gain her own status (Crewe xxxvi). In fact, Crewe even claims that Coriolanus might be more valuable to her as a dead hero than a living one (Crewe xxxvii). I was surprised, however, when Volumnia seemed rather hysterical at parts. At first, I found this a little off-setting - why was such a complex character acting so weak? And then I stopped myself. No, she wasn't acting weak - hysterics is not a sign of weakness. Volumnia uses her "feminine weaknesses" to stay ahead of the men in her society and make sure that she is in an advantageous position despite her son's mistakes. If she supports her son, but also distances herself from his actions, she can stay ahead of the tide and keep herself being dragged down into his misfortune. And yet she tells him that "action is eloquence" and yearns for his success. At the end, it's her encouragement of him to leave Aufidius and the Volscians that is his downfall. However, it rids Rome of the problem he brings to them - a man who has been ousted from his homeland, taken in by their enemies, but longs to a place where he might have been heralded as a hero. At the end of the play, which I'll describe in more detail a bit later on, Volumnia returns, viewing her son's dead body while rose petals fall around her. Perhaps this suggests that she is the true hero, ridding Rome of a future tyrant. Perhaps this is to suggest that she only wanted the best for her son but he refused to compromise to her ideals. Perhaps it suggests that she destroyed him and that there is a tragedy in a misbegotten relationship. Perhaps its none of these. Deborah Findlay makes for a marvelous Volumnia and presents her as a character that is oftentimes is as contradictory as her son.

http://www.donmarwarehouse.com/whats-on/donmar-warehouse/2013/coriolanus
Virgilia is also a complicated character, made so partially due to her limited amount of lines and little known about her relationship with Coriolanus. Despite the limits of her character in the script, Birgette Hjort Sorensen gives a lot of depth to Virgilia and performs her marvelously. Virgilia and Coriolanus have a son and in Josie Rourke's staging, the couple seems to have a very warm, affectionate relationship. So when Coriolanus is banished, Virgilia's reaction is very striking and powerful. Dressed as what reminds me of a politician's wife in a tight black dress and heels with a sophisticated air, she seems the sort that perhaps has imagined being a senator's wife or, to us Americans, First Lady. This seems, however, to come from a little of Volumnia's pressures, something that comes out when the two women first appear and Volumnia tells Virgilia to enjoy the time she has away from her husband. This staging of the play makes further allusions to it when both women come to visit the banished Coriolanus and Volumnia pushes Virgilia to confront her husband, which she does rather sexually, sliding into his lap and kissing him while caressing the inside of his thigh. As this builds, Coriolanus pushes her off, seeming shocked, suggesting that something about this is offsetting or unusual. While they would seem to have a passionate, romantic relationship, perhaps this suggests that her actions are used to manipulate him as well. Perhaps Coriolanus is a changed man and cannot feel the range of emotion he would like to have towards his wife at this moment, or perhaps what he feels is too painful to deal with. Or perhaps, given his recent interactions with Aufidius, he simply cannot deal with more intense physicality.

This brings us to Aufidius, a character which powerfully represents the intermingling of sex and violence which Hadley Fraser does with great panache. He seems to simultaneously want to kill Coriolanus and tells him this, while making a lot of sexual insinuations and, in this staging, even kisses him. A case in which homoerotic subtext isn't very subtext and is performed as such paired up with the pivotal characters of Volumnia and Virgilia makes this play a whole lot of heated emotions. Crewe describes Coriolanus as preferring a plane of "contradictory passion and predatory interchange" in Rome, a harsher, more violent world that could Freudianly be read as consumed by the id (Crewe xxxvi). The interactions between Coriolanus and Aufidius are jarring and confusing, and I love it. There's no assumptions made about sexuality in the show, nor does it suggest anything about romance. It's a instance of mutual obsession, in which the two men are muddled up in hate and love and it is expressed in various ways. Complicated this with the idea that Aufidius is meant to be a double of Coriolanus and one could begin to wondering if this is more a commentary on self-adoration and pride as well as masculine superiority and patriarchal ideals, as readings like Crewe's take on.

http://www.donmarwarehouse.com/whats-on/donmar-warehouse/2013/coriolanus

http://www.donmarwarehouse.com/whats-on/donmar-warehouse/2013/coriolanus
Last but not least there is Menenius, who is suggested as a father-figure for Coriolanus and a bit of a Falstaff figure of support. He acts as a bit of comic relief and helps show an endearing, positive side to Coriolanus' warlike nature. To Menenius, Coriolanus is a hero and a good man, someone who deserves to hold the place of consul, and who could lead Rome to greatness. However, between Coriolanus' unwillingness to compromise and the citizens' insistence on Coriolanus to reveal his wounds and keep the promises made to them by those surrounding Coriolanus, Menenius' hopes are not to be. Menenius seems to be the smooth talker with a comic streak, which Mark Gatiss brings out marvelously, and he acts as the one who can assuage the politicians while Coriolanus rages and spouts whatever comes to his head before the assembly. There is something more restrained about Menenius, as if he were a sort of press corespondent for a rather uncouth politician. While he urges the Tribunes to believe that Coriolanus can be a good consul, Coriolanus with simultaneous darkness and humor snarkily persuades the citizens to fill out the ballots in favor of him. And when the citizens find they've been misled, they oust him and harass him, pelting him with tomatoes. Just scenes earlier, rose petals were dropped on a welcomed victor, and suddenly the tides turn and Coriolanus is now beaten with rotten fruit. And yet the worse for him has still not occurred.

I'll leap ahead now to the end of the show, which I will summarize briefly. After being thrown out of Rome and escaping to the Voscians, Coriolanus is visited by Menenius, whom he rejects, as well as his mother, wife, and son later. They bow before him, treating him as a powerful sort of warlord. Coriolanus' own son lays prostrate before him, an action, along with Coriolanus' reaction, that pulled roughly at my heartstrings. In one instance, Coriolanus appears to be ignoring his mother while she speaks to him, his back turned to her and appearing stoic. But, as he was facing our side of the theater, you could see the tears streaming down his face, not in the least bit unfeeling to her words.

Ultimately, Coriolanus decides to leave and return to Rome but, unlike the play, he never leaves the Volscians. Instead of being killed by conspirators, he is killed horrifically by Aufidius himself. Remember the trigger warning about gore from before? I'm going to bring that back for the remainder of this paragraph. Roughly grabbed, hung up by his ankles and either his abdomen cut from navel to chin or his throat cut or both, he is roughly murdered, his body jerking and spraying blood across the stage. To say this scene appalled and terrified me is a gross understatement. I have seen murders in plays - I've seen a staging of Macbeth in which Macbeth was trussed up and beheaded. But again, it was the realism here, the uncompromising frankness and intense stage effects that has imprinted this ghastly scene on the back of my retinas for the rest of eternity. I was not expecting the play to end this way - I can't say that anyone really was - and to then contemplate going to the stage door afterwards felt kind of perverse. Really I only wanted to curl up in a little ball behind my seat and cry for the next hour or two. These are the times I wonder what I've gotten myself into by becoming a Shakespeare fan.

I find it hard to really concisely summarize this play because I feel it encompasses so much. However, Crewe has given me a good way in which to do this with the line, "the one all alone is a god or nothing. To be a god in human guise is to be nobody at all, since humanity is constituted only in relation to other humans, and by their recognition" (Crewe xli). When Coriolanus worries about his words being twisted, when he longs to be powerful but by his own accords, not along the demands of the citizens, he struggles with the good old Shakespeare issues of public and private, of a ruler and a loner, of struggling to who he is versus what others want him to be. Considering that I am still immensely jet-lagged, I'm not sure any of this is making sense. And given the complexity of this play, I deeply feel the need to see it again before I can really make any grand summary of it (which I intend to do, thanks to the National Theater's rebroadcasting of their live screening).

I also haven't managed to talk about the rest of the cast, which is a shame, because they are all brilliant. I especially liked the duo of Brutus and Sicinia, the Tribunes, played by Elliot Levey and Helen Schlesinger. The stagings they had as well as their expression was really interesting and makes for a great insight to political discussion and commentary on the show. But truly every member of the cast is astounding and all work together marvelously and powerfully onstage.

While talking about this play, I noticed struggles in rhetoric that I'm not used to - feeling uncertain whether I refer to the person on stage as Coriolanus or Hiddleston. I've tried to stick to Coriolanus unless the its related more to particularly acting/staging of the show or it behooves me to say Hiddleston because of clarity or perceptions made about the show. But it's really a struggle - who exactly are you seeing onstage? Appearance-wise its Mr. Hiddleston, but in mannerisms, rhetoric, and action, the person onstage is Coriolanus. I have never seen one of my favorite actors perform live so to see two them who look so familiar but act unlike what the world perceives them to be is awesome. Who they are offstage, I'll never know. But seeing them in character in that moment is amazing and riveting and is a reminder that these people who before I have only seen discussed on the internet are real, living human beings. In that instance when it seems like Hiddleston/Coriolanus has made eye contact with you and the eyes look familiar but there is nothing familiar about that gaze because you are seeing an actor at work and what you think you know about them, whether it's true or not, doesn't matter because who they are onstage is someone entirely different and it is so cool.

I have also come to realize that I have complete inability to understand what actors really put themselves for their roles. This video released for the National Theater live screening came across my Facebook thanks to Donmar's sharing of it and... well, watch it:


Sometimes I feel like my art isn't physical enough. It's hard as a writer to be as such, so it's likely a good thing I throw some of my energy into running and yoga and insisting upon walking everywhere because otherwise I'd probably have a lot of pent-up energy that might drive me a bit batty. But seeing this makes me realize I have completely and entirely underestimated what it takes to be an actor. Seeing Coriolanus and wondering what it must be like every night to stage battle scenes, get pelted with tomatoes, and be hung by your ankles and stage a death is just something I don't usually consider. Literally, this entire post could be comprised of that Patrick Stewart gif and I think it would have the same affect.

If you haven't already noted, I think I have reached some strange new level of fangirling. It's particularly strange because I feel less actually fangirly and more... I don't know. I don't have the word for it. I feel like I've gained a different kind of understanding that I didn't have before - I found I'm kind of uncomfortable stage dooring, that I don't want autographs or photos but really want to have a chance to talk to the actors about their work. I've got some combination of reverence and respect but also an increase in the urging to ask the cast and director out for tea. I keep thinking back to the adage I often see on Tumblr, "Work until your heroes become your rivals" and I've been longing since last fall to go back to working in the theater. Now I feel even more driven to do so. Not that I intend to become an actor or anything of that nature, but as a dramaturge or an academic collaborator of some kind.... Yes please. Regardless, I have an deeper appreciation for the world of acting and will probably be accosting people with Cultural Studies-esque examinations of it for the rest of forever. But this is all to be considered a bit more in a separate post (because Jack Gleeson happened to say very brilliant things about acting and celebrity culture).

So, this experience, in a nutshell?

http://mrwgifs.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Spok-Has-Been-Emotionally-Compromised-Gif-On-Star-Trek.gif

Despite the fact that I have managed to make this play sound like the most painful thing in existence - and would agree that it has ruined me forever, I highly recommend seeing it via National Theater screening if possible. This show really has changed my life, as a would-be academic and as a fan of theater. It is an amazing, vibrant, powerful performance, and nothing I can say will really capture how much in awe of this show I am. Theater continually inspires me with its ability to interact and engage with audiences but I felt that this production took it to a new level for me. So a thousand and more accolades for Donmar, Julie Rourke, and the entire cast, crew, and whomever else isn't considered by those mere nouns for this absolutely marvelous show. Consider this an infinite standing ovation.

Citations from:
Crewe, Jonathan. Introduction. Coriolanus. By William Shakespeare. New York: Penguin Books, 1999. xxvii - xlix. Print.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Great London Adventure, Part 2

Day 6: We were hoping to catch another show while in London and, because Tyler is brilliant, it occurred to him that we should try to get day seats for American Psycho: The Musical, because it was a world premiere and apparently we'd made it our unofficial theme to see famous British cheek-boned actors covered in blood and committing atrocious acts. Matt Smith was marvelous in the show and I really liked the take on the story, with a different vibe from the film and an interesting mix of original songs and iconic 80s music.

(Photo courtesy of Tyler Davis)

Hanging out with Patrick Bateman (Photo courtesy of Tyler Davis)

Tyler and I got lunch earlier in the day at Slug and Lettuce, splitting a bottle of wine in our good fortune of actually being able to get rush seats.

Me trying to be classy (Photo courtesy of Tyler Davis)

That evening we attempted to stage door before Coriolanus, which ultimately resulted in us trying to get wi-fi in the basement of the mall next to Donmar so we could tell Anna where we were and me making awkward eye contact with who I think was Hadley Fraser as he went up to the theater. I also had a magical moment hearing Florence + the Machine's "Shake It Out" being played over the mall's speakers, reveling in that magical moment when a song comes out of no where and perfectly voices exactly what you need to hear. We hung out in a cafe for a bit until we met up with Anna for dinner at Bella Italia. Afterwards, we decided to give waiting at the stage door one last go, despite the fact that it was trying to rain again. We waited outside Donmar after the show, but found that Mr. Hiddleston no longer does signings after the show, which Tyler (who has stage doored many times for shows in New York) told me was pretty typical for the latter run of a show, but still kind of surprised me considering the internet seems to make it out that Hiddleston generally has to be dragged away from his fans. I was okay with this, really - at least I didn't have to worry about whether or not it would be really weird meeting your favorite actor and try to be upbeat and jovial despite the fact that the end of Coriolanus is anything but that. I feel like it would be really hard to come out and great the audience at all after such a dark, physical, emotional show, so I wasn't that disappointed - I mean, I got to see the show, which is a miracle in itself. And that's what matters. :D However, I was a bit disappointed I didn't see Mr. Gatiss either, as I really wanted him to sign my copy of The Vesuvius Club and wanted to marvel at the fact that he had seen the same performance of American Psycho that Tyler and I had earlier in the day. Mais c'est la vie.

I did get a lovely shot of the theater as I'd forgotten to do so the night before.


Day 7: On this day, we visited the Globe. It was lovely and spine-tingling and utterly magical. The tour guide quoted the opening of Henry V with the soliloquy from the Chorus, my favorite Shakespeare passage, and I was elated. I also took a billion photos. We walked across the Millennium Bridge afterwards, saw St. Paul's, got high tea at a place called Hush, and wandered through the city, ending up on the Strand and on Fleet Street. Then it was back to Anna's for a quiet evening of pizza, conversation, and TV.






(Photo courtesy of Tyler Davis)








Day 8: It was a chilly, damp morning but a great day to visit the Tower of London. I had a lot of Lady Jane Grey feels as well as Richard III debates, and we enjoyed a guided tour by a Beefeater and an immersive theaterical tour about torture in Salt Tower. We warmed up in a coffee shop outside the Tower and met up with Anna to explore Borough Market where we sampled raw milk (milk that hasn't been pasteurized; it was absolutely delicious and wonderful and makes me wish such things were available in the US) and got lunch - I had a very tasty omelet that was as dense as an American-style eggbake or quiche, as well as mulled wine which is super popular in Europe and something I wish Minnesota would off in restaurant, especially given our current cold snap. Afterwards, Tyler and I bounded off to see 221 B Bakers Street to snap a few photos and pay our admiration to the famous Sherlock Holmes. Then we wandered past Regent's Park and Marylebone Road, back towards the Primrose Hill area to take the Tube back to Anna's for Thai take-away.








(Photo courtesy of Tyler Davis)

Day 9: Tyler, Anna, and I ventured to Cambridge to look at the campus and to visit Anna's sister, Olivia. It was my first journey by train and I quite enjoyed it. We enjoyed tea and brunch at Cambridge in Corpus Christi, Olivia's college, and I attempted to understand exactly what colleges meant at Cambridge (somewhere between residential communities and Hogwarts houses, but no Sorting Hats and personality stuff, and more prestigious than residential communities as understood by my university). I decided upon wandering throughout Cambridge that it was my dream school - maybe not where I would go, but the sort of place I wanted to go, in theory. It was absolutely beautiful. Cambridge also has the best fudge I have ever consumed in my life.





Tyler and I explored more of the campus and a market area while Anna and Olivia got tea at the Michaelhouse Cafe, which is both a coffee shop and a church. We then wandered over to the Fitzwilliam Museum, which had a brilliant collection of Egyptian, Greek, and Roman artifacts (including a mummy with a very Grecian painted face and a mummified cat) as well as a great porcelain collection and portrait gallery. We made our way back to the cafe to head out to the train station and return to London for dinner. I grabbed a quick meal of a cottage pie to heat up in the microwave, which turned out to be very delicious, and a dessert of a Mars bar.

Fitzwilliam Museum (Photo courtesy of Tyler Davis)

Day 10: Our final full day. We ambled over to Hyde Park despite the wind and rain and Tyler got to see the London Whole Foods as he used to work for them. We made our way back into Covent Garden where we got fish and chips for lunch and later got coffee and explored Leicester Square a bit more. We wandered past some shopping areas and markets towards Bond Street, reveling in all the expensive shops and the just as expensive cars parked outside them. We made our way towards the British Museum, where we met Anna just down the street at a restaurant attached to the Radisson Blu called Scoff and Banter for dinner. It was a lovely last meal and a chance to give our thanks to our marvelous friend and host. And then it was back to Anna's for some tea and to see Twisted, Starkid's new musical.

Hyde Park

RADA Studios (excuse me while I fangirl)

Leicester Square at twilight

And then it was off to bed and off to Heathrow early the next morning, where I unwillingly boarded and tried not to cry on take-off. However, I left on an upbeat note. Anna had been telling me about a program at King's College London that was a MA in Shakespeare Studies that partners with the Globe. I'd seen their school not far from the Globe when we'd visited it and I decided to use my 40 minutes of free wifi in Heathrow to research the program. Not only did it sound perfect, its deadline for next fall is July 1st. Which means I could still apply for it.

Knowing that I could be returning to the UK as soon as the fall if wonderful, miraculous things were to occur and I tried very, very hard, I boarded the plane with a lot of hope and a sense of motivation I haven't felt in months. So thank God for Anna telling me about that program and thank God for Heathrow's free wifi (which they asked me if it improved my experience there and I of course told them YES YES DEFINITELY). Because going to London taught me many things, but most importantly that I love that city, that I can most certainly see myself living there, and I must live there as soon as I possibly can. Of course vacations allow for people to relax and feel good about themselves, but I've never felt so good before in a city, never felt so comfortable with myself, never felt so happy. A great deal of it has to do with the company of course - I found myself with absolutely wonderful people on that trip - but it also has to do with the environment and the city. London brought out something that I thought only Minneapolis could bring - a feeling of comfort and home.

I didn't get homesick once on the trip, something that's never happened to me before. I missed my friends back home, of course, and my parents, but it wasn't homesickness. I felt completely safe in London, I felt comfortable getting around, and I felt that there was always something new and exciting to explore around the corner. While living there will not be the same as vacationing - I will not be going to the theater a great deal or going to famous attractions every other day or eating brioches every morning (alas!) - there's still a great deal of opportunity to do that once in a while and to live in a city that offers so much and offers a different way of living I rather enjoy. Yes, the Underground is crowded and the traffic boggles my mind. But it's busy like any other city, and busy with a certain panache I admire. After visiting when I was sixteen, I wanted to get a better idea of what it was like, to know what it was outside a high school trip, to see it from a different perspective. I have now and it was even better than I could possible imagine.

So the question is no longer if I'm going back to London but when. The how I have figured out - given that I can get into what sounds to be a rather competitive program. But I'll give it my best shot and pray and hope that I can get in to King's. Going from the unimpressive Globe University to the astonishing Globe Theater would rock my world. So here's fingers crossed and positivity towards the work I'm about to undertake. Guess I'd better get started on my personal statement, huh? :D

The Great London Adventure, Part 1

How exactly does one begin a post after a ten day vacation and hiatus?

http://shockingblankets.tumblr.com/post/45173549255/not-dead-masterpost-incase-you-wanted-to-see-them

Yeah, that seems about right :D

Indeed, I have returned from London not dead, not whisked away by time lords (alas), and back in the arctic, brutal Minnesotan cold which can only have been brought on by the wrath of Frost Giants, making me wish that I had actually stayed in England like my friend and travel companion Tyler was joking I would. But I am back, only with intents to return for a longer term stay - if not a mostly permanent one - along with stories to regale you all with. So let's begin, shall we?

Day 1: Tyler, a friend of mine from high school who agreed to go with me on this trip despite knowing that I would do all of these things, and I boarded the plane, took airport selfies, and managed to actually sleep on the eight hour flight to London - a remarkable first for me, as I've never slept on a plane before. We landed in the UK around noon and took the Underground into the city, where we were met by our wonderful, amazing, and gracious host, Anna. After a tour of Anna's flat, a bit of a rest, then a tour of the city and sushi, we collapsed into our beds in the spare room, tired but very happy. However, somehow Tyler decided that we were at risk of being attacked by window demons, a concern that would continue for the next several nights.

Tyler and I on the plane! (Photo courtesy of Tyler Davis)

Day 2: Tyler and I got up early to go to Highgate Cemetery, a historical graveyard known for its famous occupants such as Karl Marx, Douglas Adams, and Christina Georgiana Rossetti and for its Victorian architecture. I'd wanted to visit it ever since I read the Audrey Niffenegger novel Her Fearful Symmetry, which involves two girls from Chicago moving to the aunt's flat right next to the cemetery. I was expecting peacefulness, a macabre sort of beauty, and an overwhelming feeling of history and human stories. I was not disappointed.

Highgate

Tyler at Highgate


Karl Marx's grave

Later we went to Camden market with Anna, a fantastic area of shops and food stalls, for lunch and for tea. I had Pakistani food for the first time ever (it was MARVELOUS) and a tea called Chili Chili Bang Bang (also marvelous). Then Tyler and I were off to Primrose Hill, Regents Park, and down to Oxford Street - which seemed to be the busiest street in all of London on a Saturday night - to take the bus back to Archway in order to grab take-away pizza from Highgate Hill from Pizza Express, a chain I recalled loving when I'd visited in high school. For future reference, I still love it :D

The view from Primrose Hill

Day 3: A fantastic friend of Anna's named Harriet came to visit and the four of us trekked into a very muddy Hamstead Heath for a lovely (if messy and adventuresome) walk through the lovely sunny Sunday. We got lunch at the top of Highgate Hill at a restaurant called Café Rouge. Afterwards, we stopped at a bookshop and I managed to find a copy of C. S. Forester's first Horatio Hornblower book, a copy of which I'd been hoping to find on the trip. We got some treats at a bakery (there are so many bakeries in London, compared to the absolute dearth of them in the Midwest USA!) and went back to Anna's for tea. A kind, clever friend of Anna's and Harriet's named Alex, planned to meet us at a pub that specialized in different kinds of beer and cider, so we ventured over there and conversed and drank outside on their back patio. To warm up, we went back to Anna's, watched some TV, and got the best Indian take-away that I have ever had in my life.

Hampstead Heath


The view from Highgate Hill

Harriet, Anna, and Tyler at Cafe Rouge.

Day 4: Because we apparently were living some magical, fantasy life where serendipity ruled and good fortune reigned supreme, Alex, who had recently finished a Ph.D. in history, gave us a tour of the Assyrian and parts of the Egyptian and Greek/Roman collections of the British Museum. We grabbed lunch near the museum at a restaurant that specialized in a Japanese pancake called okonomiyaki, which was cooked on a griddle right at our table and tasted savory and magical. Tyler and I went back to the British Museum so I could have another look at the Greek and Roman collections, as well as strive to find artifacts that had anything to do with Henry V (failed, but did see artifacts related to Richard III and a sculpture of his head. Which seems fitting as they just found his body last year). 

The British Museum
Later, we ambled over to the National Gallery for a look at the paintings there, including finding my favorite painting of the execution of Lady Jane Grey, which I'd seen at the Minneapolis Institute of Art when it was briefly exhibited here. I have a strange fascination for Lady Grey, and I can't quite express why. We grabbed a quick dinner at Costa, a coffee shop chain, and stumbled across a movie premiere for Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit in Leicester Square where, when glancing out at the red carpet, I was fairly certain I saw Chris Pine standing before the panel of photographers. I'll never know for certain but it certainly kind of looked like him from the side. 

Day 5: Theatre day. Tyler and I got up to grab our Coriolanus tickets from the Donmar box office in Covent Garden and to get coffee from Monmouth Coffee just down the street. I ate a brioche, one of the most delicious pastries I have ever consumed, and tried very hard to keep my wits about me while gazing at the tickets in my hand. We explored the shops in Covent Garden afterwards and I judged Tyler while he ate McDonalds in Leicester Square. 

(Photo courtesy of Tyler Davis)
 
Then we ambled over to Harrods to see all the magnificent expensive things we couldn't afford and we both dreamed of being able to buy the Andy Warhol artwork for sale in their art department. We returned home to primp for the theatre, then headed out for dinner before hand at a restaurant called Food For Thought which I had seen recommended by Tom Hiddleston himself in an interview he did about working at Donmar. I would just like to say that that if your favorite actor ever recommends food in an interview, try it because this was one of the most exquisite meal I have ever had in my life. Between the mix of salads, the vegetable masala and the lentil dish we got along with a fantastic dessert of fruit crumble with lots of whipped cream, I was in heaven. And all of around £20! Not the mention that the restaurant offers only vegetarian options and has the best peppermint tea that I can remember having in recent history. 


THE FOOD

And the show... oh God the show. My thoughts on Coriolanus are going in a blog post all on its own - because I have a lot of thoughts on it. Afterwards, Tyler and I attempted to stage door, which resulted in me getting very nervous and feeling very silly in the rain and all of us finding out that Mr. Hiddleston wouldn't be coming out that night. Slightly disappointed, slightly relieved, I left and Tyler and I grabbed a drink at Freud's bar, a place which was advertized very differently on their website than what it was in actuality. Regardless, I grabbed a drink with the same name as me - A Gina, a cocktail concocted out of Hendrick's gin, mint, cucumber, lime and tonic. Which, by the way, if I were to make a drink named after myself, is likely exactly how I'd make it (though this one was pretty weak on the gin). 

And so that's the first five days - five more to go! I shall continue on with those amazing final days in the next post, along with a post all about Coriolanus. :D

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Butterflies and Wanderlust

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I woke up wide awake at 3am this morning. I had no explanation for this except that, in London, the time was 9am and perhaps my brain was already attempting to throw itself into another time zone. Or perhaps it was because I was dreaming about working at Target and attempting to escape a customer's never-ending requests to find items for her. I'm dreaming about work - I definitely need a break.

Regardless, I am now on vacation, all packed and ready to go, checked in for my flight, and excitedly waiting to go to the airport this evening. I am sitting here with butterflies in my stomach and wanderlust in my soul, not quite believing that this much anticipated trip has finally arrived and that this time tomorrow, I will be in a different country.

I feel tempted to burst out into song, something like the "When Will My Life Begin (reprise)" from Tangled or "For the First Time In Forever" from Frozen. Why Disney songs? Can't say for sure, except that the seem to capture the same dreamy, wondrous excitement that I'm feeling. I've finished arguing with myself about what socks and shoes to bring, stopped worrying about whether or not airport security is going to be annoyed about me bringing along a full-sized umbrella, found a way to wedge my rather large headphones into my bag too full of books. I'm ready to enjoy the feeling of being in an airport again, return to a city I haven't seen since I was sixteen, and meet a wonderful friend in person. I'm am delighted to see London with new eyes, be in the UK for Robert Burns night, and get caught in the rain instead of the bitter cold.

And Coriolanus? I don't even have words for it. At least not actual works. Excited squeaking noises - I've got plenty of those. I've made my friend Tyler promise to not let me chicken out and drag me to the stage door in an attempt to get autographs and share my thanks with Misters Gatiss and Hiddleston. To top it all off, I'll even get a chance to see Cambridge, thanks to the serendipity and generosity of our host and friend, Anna.

Thus, my darlings, I bid you adieu for the present. I'm going on an adventure :D

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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

International Travel

In two days, I will boarding a plane with my friend Tyler to spend ten amazing days in London.

I am going totally bananas.

For this reason, you will get no sane post from me today. Instead, you'll get one of those "what I really do" gifsets on international travelers Enjoy.

International Travelers:

What society thinks I do:

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What my parents think I do:

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 What my friends think I do:

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 What my boss thinks I do:

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What I think I do:

http://tomhiddlstn.tumblr.com/post/34209206429

What I actually do:


And bonus of what I actually do:

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http://black-nata.tumblr.com/post/27914830174
So there you are. Yay travelling!

A note on the blog while I abroad: I did download the Blogger app to my iPad to test it out yesterday and discovered I don't like it very much. As a matter of fact, I don't like it at all. I figure I won't have time to write much anyway but wow does Blogger's app have some... shortcomings. I have added it to my phone so that if I find a particularly important photo to post or a moment that needs sharing and absolutely cannot wait and I have wifi, I'll be able to share it. Otherwise, I'll write up a post about the trip before I leave Thursday and that will be the last one until I get back on the 27th.


Only TWO DAYS until I leave. I can hardly believe it.