The Stage is a Magic Circle

“Act well your part; there all the honour lies.”
― Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man

The best and most avid travellers plan meticulously, spending hours online doing the research that pays off once their destination is reached. I know many people like this, and I understand that built into it is the pleasure of anticipation.

I needed none of this. The prospect of meeting up with Christian in England kept me going for months leading up to September. He was to be my guide; all I had to do was follow along.

You can’t visit London with a drama school graduate without immersing yourself in its theatre culture. And you shouldn’t. Because New York City notwithstanding, London is the greatest theatre city in the world, with hundreds of theatres operating year-round. 

To a Montrealer, that seems fantastic,  even unbelievable, because it’s tough going for most theatre companies in the city, and next to impossible to live from full-time work on the stage.

I’m no expert, but I’ve learned a lot trailing in Christian’s wake, including the fact that the word play means what it ought to: enjoyment, entertainment, amusement, pleasure.

Londoners know this. They understand their cultural history, and in true Shakespearian tradition expect to be engaged—directly— by what’s unfolding on stage. Few subscribe to the notion of the theatre as two separate spaces: one for the players and one for the audience. Instead, English audiences react more like participants in the event. They also expect to be able to do this with a drink in one hand and a snack in the other. They shuffle, rustle ice cream wrappers, and generally make themselves at home.

For example, in The Play That Goes Wrong, there is no fourth wall. Instead, the characters occasionally speak directly to the audience, and circulate in the house throughout.

All of which is fantastic, and was a revelation for me.

During my two weeks with Christian, I saw eight theatrical productions: four at LAMDA’s Linbury Studio Theatre, and four in theatres throughout London. Christian also took me to The Electric Cinema, on Portobello Road: like dying and going to movie heaven.

The stage is a magic circle, and I have a lot of catching up to do.

September 23rd Facebook post:

The Electric Cinema, Portobello Road.
I mean: come on!
It comes with leather armchairs, foot rests, cashmere blankets, individual side tables, and a restaurant-bar at the back.
It’s almost reason enough to fly to London. xoxoxo
Oh! And the movie was Everest.

The Electric Cinema, Portobello Road, London, UK
The Electric Cinema, Portobello Road, London, UK

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September 25th Facebook post:

Christian and I finished this sunny day by heading to Westminster to see The Oresteia.
When we were advised that it was a 3 1/2 hour show with small strictly controlled breaks, our resolve didn’t waver: such are the reviews of this fabulous adaptation of the Aeschylus trilogy (yes! 3 plays presented in one evening’s performance), that nothing was going to put us off.

It was bloody brilliant! Robert Icke’s daring adaptation had me hanging onto every word.

Magnificent!

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September 27th, 2015: Day 15, The End.

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Christian took us to see The Mousetrap, the longest running show in the world.
Period.
How cool is that?!

A classic locked room mystery, and the root of every spoof and eccentric murder mystery since then, I think (such as Hot Fuzz and The Play that Goes Wrong and Midsomer Murders and…)

We were in the nosebleed section, in wooden board-seats that seemed designed for people with no legs (translation: in old theatres like St-Martin’s, the less affluent were short and able to put up with a lot of discomfort in exchange for the pleasure of seeing live theatre).

Still, we could hear every whisper and see every face.

There is a code of silence which every audience member must respect, so I can reveal NOTHING about the dénouement, except to say that I had it figured out at the interval.

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Facebook post: Day 16. Last Day in London

Today’s great thrill was once again made possible by Christian who took me to the Globe Theatre to see Shakespeare’s Richard II.

Imagine this:

You’re standing in an OPEN AIR theatre that is a replica of a circular venue of late 16th century England.

You have a ticket that gives you the status of “groundling”: the cheapest seat in the house, but, unlike St-Martin’s theatre where you were wedged into a cheap, tiny seat, this ticket is for standing only, but standing right next to the stage; so close that you can reach out and touch the actors if you so choose. So close that you feel that you are part of the performance.

It is an astonishing experience.

The Globe is a huge success. The audience was made up of people of ALL ages. From the first sounds made by the horn players, the audience hushed…and then became spellbound.

I return home tomorrow having seen 8 live theatrical productions, and feeling almost as lucky as Christian, who has lived in this fantastic city for a year.

Now, it’s time for us to go home.

“The stage is a magic circle where only the most real things happen, a neutral territory outside the jurisdiction of Fate where stars may be crossed with impunity. A truer and more real place does not exist in all the universe.” 

― P.S. Baber, Cassie Draws the Universe

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