Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Deformed Creatures and Star-Cross'd Lovers

Hey all! So, I have quite a bit to talk about, and I'll do my best to make sure I mention all of it.

My weekend (starting on Friday, since I have no classes on Friday's) was pretty uneventful. I wanted to get a lot of reading done, since I was assigned both Romeo and Juliet and Frankenstein to be read by the following week, along with my own books that I haven't really touched since the plane ride over. So, I mostly spent the weekend indoors, reading three books at once, something I haven't done since high school. On Friday, I did go for a bit of a walk from ISH to Charing Cross, a street well known for its bookshops. It was about a 20-25 minute walk, and I went down various busy, popular streets on the way such as Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street. At one point, I was approached by an old man in a battered tan coat with missing teeth, who smiled at me and said, "A min-it of yoor time, luv?" I just shook my head and kept walking. Thank you for those lessons you gave me years ago about walking in big cities, Mom.

Monday was England Through the Middle Ages, and a trip to the famous National Theatre for both a backstage tour and a production of Frankenstein, with Johnny Lee Morris and Benedict Cumberbatch as Victor Frankenstein and his infamous creature. I have a lot to say about the play, but I'm jumping ahead.

In history class, we were each assigned various points in English history that we'll be discussing throughout the semester, to do a fifteen minute presentation on whatever we were assigned. I volunteered myself as one of two people to talk about the Wars of the Roses, a period that I've wanted to read about in detail for awhile. So, I'll be spending the next few weeks reading Alison Weir's book "Lancaster and York: The Wars of the Roses" front to back. For anyone back home interested in picking it up, I believe in the U.S. it's simply called "The Wars of the Roses." Next week, we'll be going to the Tower of London, so I'm definitely excited about that^_^

Half the class, including me, had to be let out thirty minutes early (this was accomplished by my theatre teacher, Susie, promising my history teacher, Keith, to buy him a pint at the end of the semester) so we could have enough time to get to the National Theatre by 5:30 for a backstage tour. We took the bus, the first time on this trip I've been on a double decker. We got there in about 15-20 minutes, being let off at the end of Waterloo Bridge. Here's a picture of the outside of the National, taken right after I got off the bus:

Yes, it tends to be that cloudy and gloomy here on a regular basis. I'm glad my mood isn't dependent on the weather like it is for other people.

The National Theatre is huge, containing three different theatres at various sizes: the Olivier, the Lyttleton, and the Cottesloe. My theatre class is going to see a play in all three, with Frankenstein being performed in the Oliver. The Olivier is the biggest of the three, bigger than the Bingham theater in Actor's, but only by about 100-150 seats. I couldn't take any pictures during the tour, so I'm afraid I don't have more pictures to share.

Frankenstein started at 7:30, lasting two hours with no intermission. And Oh My God, was Benedict Cumberbatch PHENOMENAL. He carried the entire play. He and Johnny Lee Morris, for each performance, switch the roles of Victor and the creature. I got to see Benedict as the Creature, which I am extremely grateful for, because the Creature is definitely the primary focus in this adaptation. One very crucial difference about theatre in Britain versus America, we were warned in class last week by Susie, is that it is not considered improper for actors to be naked on stage, or to have sex. Such was the case here, because for the first ten minutes of the play, Benedict was completely, utterly naked. It was a fascinating thing to see, because, as Susie said, not one person in the audience made a sound during those ten minutes. Benedict was amazing. During those ten minutes, he was crawling and writhing on the stage, learning and adjusting to his body like a newborn, which he technically was. Later in the play, when Victor is making a female for the Creature, a woman came onto the stage, also totally naked.

On the other hand, there was a point near the end of the play where the Creature murders Victor's new wife Elizabeth. He rapes her (which the audience didn't really react to other than a general sense of horror,) but then right afterwards, he snaps her neck. I winced, due more to the sudden, sharp sound that was used to convey the snapping of a neck, but almost the whole audience gasped aloud when that happened. This confirmed another thing Susie told us, which was that the British look at violence the way Americans do nudity.

As I said earlier, Benedict carried the whole play. He looked, acted, and sounded nothing like Sherlock, which is how a lot of the people reading this blog know him from, if they know him at all. He was covered in scars, and his head got the Nero treatment, except it was deliberately only half done, so that you could see his hair beneath the "skin" on his head, making it look more crude and adding to the "hideousness" of his form. He spoke in a slightly higher voice than he does for Sherlock, with guttural, stilted speech, even when the Creature fully learns English. I learned later that the guttural, nonsensical sounds that the Creature makes before he learns English are all scripted, which impressed me even more. It's one thing to memorize lines- it's another to memorize nonsensical sounds.

One last point on the play: the music was gorgeous. It was very techno, which doesn't sound right for a play like Frankenstein, but it worked. It was apparently recorded by a popular techno group in the U.K. called Underworld. You can find numerous CD's of theirs on iTunes. I'm really, really hoping that they'll release the score at one point, because it really was gorgeous to listen to. Hopefully they will, since the group is so popular.

Today was Shakespeare class, and we spent the whole time analyzing/talking about Romeo and Juliet. Ruth, my teacher, likes Romeo and Juliet a lot more than a number of my other English teachers have, which is a refreshing change. I don't love or hate the play, which is a rare opinion to have in regards to Shakespeare's most famous, well-known tragedy, but I do have to say that I appreciate it a little more than I did in high school. There are a lot more signs than I noticed the first time that the two lovers are completely screwed from the start, which made me look more favorably on the play as a whole. My class is going to see the play performed in Stratford-Upon-Avon, Shakespeare's birthplace, next week, along with Antony and Cleopatra.

Aaand that's pretty much what's happened since Thursday! I'm sorry its taken me this long to put up another blog post, but I feel like I only should unless I have interesting things to talk about. The next post will be the long-awaited one on the various portraits that I decided were my favorite from the National Portrait Gallery, so stay tuned.

Until then!



  1. OF COURSE Benedict Cumberbatch was amazing! He's brill. I'm a bit jealous you got to see it.

  2. Mindy is a bit jealous, I am seething. We discussed this in detail though, so I will not remind you any further.

    I am glad you are having such a wonderful time, and look forward to seeing the pictures!