This blog is supposed to be about travel and theatre. And guess what? I actually, finally, travelled for some theatre.  And where better to start than the theatre capital of the English-speaking world?

Gull in London

When I heard that Conor McPherson, one of my very favourite playwrights working today, had a new play on at the National Theatre in London (and that it was about ghosts in 19th century Ireland), I decided it was a good time/excuse to go to London.

For my next few posts, I’ll let you into the nerdy thrills of having a week free to fill with theatre in a city that does sleep (plays start at 7:30 and last call is still before midnight, despite newish rules), but also keeps all your senses, feet, and credit card tingly and well-exercised.

Pigeons and mannequin

DAY 1
LONDON 

When I plan trips, I sometimes get wrapped up, which makes me forget about things like packing toothbrushes and the existence of jetlag.  When a couple of my friends and I booked tickets for 13 at the National Theatre for the evening I arrived, we hadn’t quite factored in that I would be seeing it on about an hour of sleep in 33 hours.  So I may have missed some bits, even with the help of coffee, ice cream and the excitement of being with my friends on the South Bank.

The epic play (name a topic- it was covered) was the perfect mixture of dark, dreamy (nightmarish?), and slightly confusing to go along with my state of mind.  And because of this state of mind, I don’t feel like I can talk about this one properly.  I’ll just say that the set was amazing and there was a huge, talented cast.  It made me wonder what I would do if I was a set designer or director or producer with a real budget.

13 at the Olivier, National Theatre, London Photo: Marc Brenner

With the tag line “How are you sleeping these days?” and the promo focussing on how everyone in London wakes up from the same terrifying dream, I thought 13 would centre around sleep and dreams.  But the rich potential of these ideas were diluted by the ambitious (read: unfocussed) scope of the script.  Wait, was the sleeping and dreaming thing just a metaphor?  Nevertheless, the whole thing was mesmerizing, perhaps in part because of my own half-dreaming state…

Graffitied South Bank, site of pre-theatre skateboarder entertainment

5 things I love about London’s National Theatre

1- £12 tickets makes it accessible to everyone (i.e. me)

2- People go.  I have yet to see a play at the NT where there are more than a handful of empty seats.

3- The bookshop has an amazing selection of theatre books and knickknacks that would make any theatre nerd drool [I’d own it all if only I allowed myself to check luggage on the plane and didn’t have a credit card limit]. Also, you sometimes spot someone like Fred Willard in the NT bookshop but are too shy and respectful to say anything so you just smile to yourself and think “whaa happen?” while trying not to stare.

4- They choose interesting, well-cast, well-directed, well-designed plays and give new writers a chance.

5- There’s ice cream at intermission and you can even bring it to your seat with you (this goes for most theatres in England- something I think Canada should adopt… and fast!)

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