Friday, February 28, 2014

Day 109: York

My 40-day European tour kicked off in York, famous for being the birthplace of many of England's kings, the last walled city in England, and the home of the Grand Old Duke (who had ten thousand men). I spent just five hours here on the afternoon of December 19th, because taking a stopover in York saved me £10 on my train ticket to Nottingham.

Because I didn't have much time or money, I spent most of the afternoon walking around. The wall (parts of which have roman bases, making them over 1600 years old) are now open as walking paths around the city centre. The city was originally so small that you could walk around in just over an hour, so it was the ideal way to get a whirlwind tour of York, especially since the train station is right outside the wall.

The problem is that the wall originally stopped at the river that crosses through York and continued on the other side, but I couldn't find the continuing bit. So, when I ran out of wall, I set off into the city, passing by the castle keep and Yorkminster. I also walked through the central shopping district (WAY too busy with Christmas shoppers) and listened to a wonderful jazz band for awhile. England definitely has good buskers.

I spent the most time in the Richard II museum, which is located in a few rooms on top of one of the gates in the wall. Apparently Richard commissioned the rooms to be built in the 15th century, and he was actually a great benefactor of York. While history (thanks to Shakespeare) has painted Richard as a villain, the museum laid out some convincing evidence that he might not have been all that bad. The museum was small, but it was neat to be in such an historical place, and it only cost £2.

When it got dark I headed back to the train station where I caught a train for Newark. There, I had to transfer between stations (no clue why Newark has two stations- they were both tiny) which meant walking through an unfamiliar town in the dark and the rain. Not a high point of the trip, but thanks to Apple maps I arrived safely in plenty of time to catch the train for Nottingham. 
My time in Nottingham was full of new family, good food, and exciting day trips... but that's a post for another day. For now, pictures of York: 
York's train station (viewed from the wall, I think)

I'm not the only one who enjoys a stroll on the wall.
(I was, however, the only one strolling while rolling a suitcase behind me)

A corner of the wall, which likely has a Roman base.

Crossing the river.

Random Castle-thing

A) Did I climb up all those steps while lugging my suitcase?
B) Did I actually go into the tower?

View from the top of all those stairs...

Awesome jazz band playing in the shopping area!

York Minster

Walking around York Minster. I just love cathedrals!

Richard III on trial. Was he really as bad as history says?

Tiny prison cell in the Richard III museum. The door was so low I had to bend over...
and that's saying a lot!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Day 160 Part 4: Worth It?

After telling people about my ridiculous adventures in London trying to see Coriolanus, the most common question is: 'Was it worth it?'

It's a fair question. £70. 27 hours on a bus. 21 hours in three queues, with half of those hours in the cold and rain. Less than ten hours of sleep in three days. All that to see one play.

When I went to queue for Richard II, I woke up at 5:00am and arrived at the Barbican just before 7. As I walked up to the theatre, more than a little tired, I remember thinking that I had reached my limit- waking up at 5:00 would be the most I'd do to see a play.

Yeah, right.

Now, after going far past what I ever thought I'd do to see a play, the question of 'is it worth it' is a little tricky. Richard II was definitely worth waking up at 5:00am, but could Coriolanus possibly be worth the time and money I invested in it?

Strictly speaking, I don't think it was 'worth it.' Had I known what it would take to see the show, I definitely wouldn't have done it. As much as I absolutely loved the performance, I don't think any three hours are worth what I 'paid' for Coriolanus.

But still... I'm glad I went. In the same way that I enjoyed walking through London in the dark and wet, I somehow liked standing in a queue at 2:30am. Somehow, the utter insanity and discomfort of the situation made it into a positive experience. It was just so unlike anything I'd done before, or hopefully will ever do again.

After all, that's why I went. When am I going to get the chance to see Tom Hiddleston live in Shakespeare again? When can I just take off and go to London for two days? When can I be part of the insanity that is West End theatre queues?

Maybe it wasn't worth it. Maybe I was more than a little crazy to go. But it was an experience, one I won't forget any time soon. So, am I glad I went? Absolutely.

P. S. I promise that this is the last time I'll post about Coriolanus. I also half-promise that I'll start posting about my Europe trip soon. I've decided I'll just edit a half dozen photos from each location, rather than waiting until I've sorted through all 2000 pics. So maybe I'll get them up only a month late?

Friday, February 14, 2014

Day 160 Part 3: Coriolanus Review

Coriolanus was amazing.

After hearing so many good reviews and travelling all the way down to London for the show, my expectations were pretty high. Investing so much into seeing the show was definitely setting myself up for disappointment… but I wasn’t let down in the slightest.

The acting, of course, was phenomenal. Tom Hiddleston more than fulfilled expectations, making Coriolanus into a truly relatable character, both despicably proud and undeniably human. How he manages to stay adorable while covered in blood I’ll never know…

Mark Gatiss as Menenius
(apologies for the green glare- this is
a photo of a photo)
The supporting cast was certainly worthy. Mark Gatiss shone as Menenius, distancing himself from the role of Mycroft while still keeping the sly charm and just a hint of sass. I also recognized Peter De Jersey (Horiatio in the David Tennant Hamlet, also in Broadchurch and Doctor Who) and Elliot Levey (an absolutely miserable Don John in the David Tennant and Catherine Tate Much Ado About Nothing). The casting of one of the tribunes as female (Helen Schlesinger) took a little while to win me over, but by the end I was attached to all the cast.

The diversity of the cast gave the production an edgy, modern feel. With a cast of just fourteen, five were women (with two of these women playing multiple roles) and five were black (including two of the women.) Some reviewers felt that casting more women in a play that deals so heavily with gender (let’s just say that Coriolanus is a bit of a mama’s boy) obscured the issues the play addresses, but I thought that increasing the number of female characters made the questions of gender more relevant to a modern audience.

The stage before the production
Sound was used effectively throughout the performance. Although I think the performance wasn’t miked (I didn’t see any, and neither did my friends watching on National Theatre Live) I could hear every word, from the quietest soliloquies to the stirring battle speeches. Frequently the cast spoke in unison or recordings of crowds played, creating a sense of a much larger cast. Also, jarring music (almost a sort of symphonic heavy metal) played during the scene changes, contributing to the oppressive and edgy feel of the play.

The stage at the conclusion of the production (side view)
The set was deceptively simple, featuring a single ladder up to the ceiling, a back wall of brick, and around a dozen black chairs. However, the physicality of the play was fantastic—the chairs were slammed in time to music, thrown around, or arranged into barricades for the battle scene. Other objects, such as swords, were also tossed with astonishing precision. Heavy sticks hurtling across the stage, landing nearly a foot away from an audience member, certainly added to the intensity!

The shower scene. :)
The most remarkable aspect of the production, however, was how stuff was spilled on the stage. The play opens with Coriolanus’ young son painting a red square across the stage, creating almost a gladiatorial arena. In the first act, Coriolanus enters covered in blood, then proceeds to shower at center stage, screaming in agony as blood and water flow from his wounds and cover the stage. During Alfidius’ (Coriolanus’ nemesis) speech in the next scene, he spreads the blood across his face, and at the end of the play he allows blood dripping from Coriolanus’ death wound to fall on his head. Multiple times the stage is covered in falling rose petals or in torn up red ballots. As the lights dim, the stage is littered with various blood-red elements.

In short, I thought Coriolanus was brilliant acted, directed, and adapted. It was concise, visceral, edgy, and utterly enthralling. Despite having only two hours of sleep the previous night, I never came even remotely close to dozing off. Coriolanus was quite possibly the best performance I have ever seen, and, if they release the filmed version as a DVD I will certainly buy it so I can watch this show again and again. I may have come for Tom Hiddleston, but I left in awe of the entire production.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Days 158-161 Part 2: London and Back Again

If you had told me a week ago that I'd spend 27 hours on a bus, 20 hours queuing, and around £70 in order to see Tom Hiddleston and Mark Gatiss in Coriolanus, I wouldn't have believed you. Had I known how much trouble it was going to be before I set out, I probably wouldn't have gone. 

But I did go. And now, after seeing the wonderfulness that is Coriolanus, it was 100% worth it.

The plan was pretty straightforward. Take the bus down to London on Thursday, stay with a friend of a friend, queue Friday for Coriolanus tickets and then try to get Henry V tickets (staring Jude Law) on Saturday.

Sadly, Friday was an utter failure. Despite waking up at 5:00 am and arriving at the theatre at 6:00, there were still nearly forty people in front of me. I should have just gone straight to Henry V to queue there (it has a longer run, so it's easier to get tickets) but instead I decided to stick it out for Coriolanus. 

At 10:00, the box office opened and the line started moving... and kept moving... and we (myself and two American exchange students I met in the queue) actually started to have hope that we'd get tickets. But no such luck. When I was just 8th in line, they ran out of day seats and standing tickets.

So we joined the line for returns. This was nicer because it was inside, so I actually managed to get some stuff done (reading for class, memorizing lines for a play, writing blog posts about Europe). However, we waited all day but no returns came in until 6:30. They kept trickling in slowly up until the show started... and when the performance began I was third in line. So. Close.

I went back to the flat rather dejected and drank a cup of much needed tea before heading off to bed around 11.  I resolved to wake up at 2am... but my internal clock actually woke me up at 1:30. So I got up (amid severe doubts of 'is this really worth it?) got dressed, ran to the bus stop (the tube doesn't run that late/early) and got to the Donmar Warehouse by 2:20, where I found myself about 25th in line.

It was a hopeful position. On Friday 30 people had gotten tickets, and there had only been one show. There were two shows on Saturday, and fewer people in front of me. I was fairly certain of getting a ticket, assuming that everyone in front of me didn't buy two.

I waited in that queue for eight hours. In the cold. And the wet. I wore four jumpers and was still cold. When it rained, I shared an umbrella with an American exchange student who was right behind me in the queue. She was a theatre major, so having her to chat to made the time go by much quicker.

The Saturday queue (the box office is by the little red sideways sign on
the building on the right side of the pic; the end of the line stretched a fair
ways off the left side of the photo...)
At ten the queue started moving. Soooooo slooooowly. The line behind me stretched the length of the block. I tried to take comfort from the fact that if so many people were waiting behind me, there must be hope for me... but I started to be convinced that I wouldn't get a ticket, that I'd have to sit in the returns line again, or else go back disappointed.

But. BUT. I did eventually make it to the ticket window. And not only were there places left, but there were actual physical seats (not just standing places) left for the matinee. So I bought one. And I jumped and squealed and nearly cried. I just couldn't believe that all that waiting had actually paid off.

I went back to the flat, had a quick nap, showered, and headed back in for the matinee. Thankfully, despite having just two hours of sleep that night, excitement kept me wide awake. After all that trouble, I was going to enjoy that show.

And I did. So much. I'm pretty safe to say it's my favourite of all performances I've seen. It was funny, and tragic, and classic, and modern, and inventive, and so ridiculously well acted. I won't say any more now, bc this post is long enough already, but I'll blog in detail about the show tomorrow. 

I left the theatre so high on the show. It had completely emptied me, in a way, like any great tragedy should. I was so enthralled by the show that I couldn't focus on anything else.

Except for then I could, because that's when Andrew Scott showed up, making my fantastic day better than I ever imagined.

Sadly, the epic tale of Rachel's trip to London has a slightly depressing end. I had planned to take the overnight bus up front London and arrive back in St. Andrews in time for church on Sunday morning, but unfortunately, the bus had other plans. When we had just passed Carlyle (northwest England, right by the border of Scotland), the bus got a flat tire. So we sat there. For nearly two hours. Finally a replacement bus rescued us an took us to Glasgow where we were hastily allocated to different buses. After another transfer, I finally arrived back in St. Andrews early Sunday afternoon. Total journey time: 13.5 hours.

It was a crazy weekend, with more travel and less sleep than I've ever had (I think...) Tomorrow, I shall describe the play that made it all worthwhile...

Monday, February 10, 2014

Day 160 Part 1: How I Met Moriarty

Look at Moriarty. Then look at me. Then back to Moriarty. Then back to me.


Yeah. Huge fangirl moment.

(To anyone who doesn't get the significance of this photo: go watch Sherlock. You won't regret it.)

Andrew Scott has got to be one of my favourite actors. He has such an amazing way of turning ordinary lines of dialogue into something memorable (remember "that's what people DO!"). I love how he covers such a range of styles, from quiet and creepy to full blown anger, often in just a few seconds. He can act out-of-his-mind psychotic and then go back to seeming completely normal. His versatile acting style completely made the character of Moriarty, so I really admire his work.

And I got a photo with him! :)

It happened as I was leaving Coriolanus (which I will talk about in MUCH more detail later- I think there are going to be about four posts titled 'Day 160,' since I just have so much to say.)

I was walking out of the theatre, my head full of how amazing the show was. A bunch of posters hung in the lobby with images from the show, so I was taking photos of them because, obviously, I couldn't take any photos during the actual performance.

I turned around to leave, and there he was. Andrew Scott. About five feet away from me, just talking to some people. (I heard Laura Pulver, who plays Irene Adler, was also there, but I didn't see her.)

I did a huge double-take. He just looked so ordinary. You'd expect Moriarty to be there with a huge fanfare and theatrics, but, no. He was just a normal guy.

At that point he turned and began to leave the theatre, walking right past me. I sprang forward and asked him what is likely the most intelligent question he has ever been asked, "Are you Andrew Scott?"

When he replied in the affirmative, I had just time to say that I really liked his Moriarty before we were out of the theatre and there were a ton of fangirls, cameras at the ready, hoping for a photo of Tom Hiddleston (who didn't end up coming out.)

Someone asked Andrew Scott for a photo, and he agreed. As soon as they were done, I asked, handed my camera to someone, and got that photo with him.

At that point a lot of people were asking for photos and autographs, so he sort of looked around and commented, "This probably isn't the best place to meet Mark" (meaning Mark Gatiss, who plays Mycroft in Sherlock and who had a fairly large role in Coriolanus). Then he went back inside, saying he'd come back out, but I don't know if he did because I didn't stick around.

I walked away from the theatre a little stunned, simply because I hadn't expected that at all. Had I had a chance to talk to Tom Hiddleston or Mark Gatiss that would have been less shocking, since I expected to see them (and I did, in the show, but I didn't get to meet them).

It was just so weird to meet Moriarty. Pretty much my favourite screen villain, absolutely brilliant and psychotic and creepy but charming... It was so weird to have him be right there, so ordinary, and so pleasant.

The most bizarre thing was that, despite how Andrew Scott is (obviously) a very different person from Moriarty, his voice is exactly the same. On Sherlock, he speaks rather softly, almost in a British sort of drawl. I half thought that was just a character voice, but no. He sounds exactly like that in real life.

And that is the story of how I met Moriarty, which just made the whole experience of seeing Coriolanus that much better. Also, I learned that Andrew Scott is staring in a West End play in April-May, so I think another London trip is in order...

(P. S. I'll be talking more about Coriolanus and going to London and the general craziness of my trip in some future posts over the coming days. To those of you who aren't friends with me on Facebook, this probably seems a little out of the blue, but I promise, details are forthcoming!)

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Day 153: Too Much Stuff

I own so much.

When I walked back into my room after forty days touring Europe, that’s what I was struck with.

The backpack, shoulder bag, and suitcase? Mine.

The five stuffed animals on the bed? Mine.

The ten pairs of shoes, dozen dresses, and twenty sweaters? Mine.

The stacks of paper on the dresser. The books on the floor. The artwork on the walls. Mine.

The stuff hidden in the drawers, or under the bed, or in the kitchen cupboards. All mine.

After spending nearly six weeks living out of a suitcase measuring 25x40x55cm, walking into my room crowded with my stuff was a little shocking. What was more shocking was the realization that what’s here in Scotland isn’t even half of what I own.

There are two huge boxes at home that I packed away when I first moved out. Two more boxes and a filing cabinet at ‘my’ house in Ontario. Another half dozen boxes of stuff that couldn’t come to Scotland abandoned at my parent’s house. Scattered clothing at friends’ houses.

I’m twenty years old—I haven’t had decades to accumulate things. I’m a poor student—I don’t have the money to shop compulsively. Yet, I have so much stuff that it more than fills my car, trunk and backseat and all.

Why? How? What’s the point?

My biggest stress last May, when I was moving out of my Ontario apartment, was trying to pack up everything. I grabbed three armloads of boxes from the local supermarket, yet still needed to go back a few days later for more.

As I packed the boxes that would stay in Ontario, I realized that I wouldn’t see the contents again for a year and a half. Now, nearly nine months after packing those boxes, I can only guess at about five items in them. There’s a craft a friend made for me, a piece of pottery I painted… and a whole bunch of other things that I just can’t remember.

Yet, I stressed over getting that stuff packed. I lugged it to Ontario. I carried it to another house. I let it take up space in my friend’s basement. Finally in September I’ll go back to it and I don’t even know what I’m going to find.

It’s ridiculous. I don’t want to have my life spread across the world in the form of boxes filled with forgotten junk. I don’t want to spend my precious hours caring for stuff that has no purpose whatsoever.

I probably thought it had sentimental value. Yeah, maybe. But how sentimental is it when I can’t even remember what it is?

Maybe it’ll be useful someday. But really, if I haven’t wanted it in nine months, it’s probably not that vital to my existence.

Something has to change.

I don’t know how I’m going to cut down on the stuff in my life. Obviously, there’s not a lot I can do from here, across the ocean from most of my possessions. (And no, Mum, don’t take matters into your own hands and burn my boxes—if you destroy the binder of stories I wrote when I was ten, I will probably throw a shoe through the wall)

What I do know is that I don’t need so much stuff. I can survive with a carry-on sized suitcase. I can return to a room with only a quarter of my stuff and still feel overwhelmed by how much I own.

I have so much more than I will ever need. And I’m thankful for that. I’m thankful that I’ve been given so much.

But all this stuff has become more of a chore than a privilege. I think my time here has shown me than it needs to go.

When I get back to Canada, serious decluttering is happening. Hold me to that, internets.