September 3, 2012
I began my day at St. Paulís Cathedral. Built in 1675 by Christopher Wren, St. Paulís sits on the same site as the Old St. Paulís, built by the Normans and destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666. (And there was a Saxon church on the same site before the Normans came along, dating back to 603). St. Paulís is grand and Roman and ornate, with a particularly impressive high altar. So much amazing art has been created in the name of God.
I am proud to report that I climbed all 528 STEPS to get to the uppermost gallery of the cathedral. And this wasnít a simple staircase, no sir. Irregular and steep steps of wood, stone, and metal, narrow passageways, and at times no handrailÖ I would have maybe felt nervous if I werenít so winded.
The top gallery is a narrow catwalk on the outside of the cathedralís dome. Though there was a railing, it was hard to not cling to the stone, as beyond the catwalk lay the city of London, 300 feet below. (Observation: from above, London looks like a very modern city. The older, lower buildings are all obscured by the newer skyscrapers. Observation #2: itís really fun to pretend to be in The Da Vinci Code while clinging to the outside of the top of St. Paulís Cathedral.)
I met up with a friend of a friend for lunch, Matt, who is a London stand-up comic. It was great to chat with someone so fun and interesting. Matt was then gracious enough to walk me to my final London adventure ó The Globe.
The (incredibly) authentic replica of Shakespeareís Globe Theatre is only 300m from the original site. The first Globe was build in 1599, and was dismantled in 1644 after the Puritan administration closed all theatres. This (new) Globe was finished in 1997, designed using a multitude of historical records and constructed with authentic materials and methods. And, wow, talk about an awesome game of pretend. Iíve been reading about The Globe for so long, and it was amazing and wonderful and fun to have such a perfect playground for the imagination. The galleries, the covered stage, the open area for the GroundlingsÖ awesome.
I had tickets to see As You Like It, but a little time to kill after the tour of the theatre and the museum, so I went over to the Tate Modern for about thirty minutes. I usually find modern art either fascinating or completely angry-making, and the Tate Modernís exhibits followed form (ie, I loved the enormous candelabra made out of mannequins covered in packing tape, but had no patience for the installation that was basically a bucket covered with a blanket).
I walked along the South Bank to find dinner, thinking I would get something in Borough Market, but the markets were all closing up, so I continued to walk. I in fact walked so much ó and have been walking so much ó that I had the odd sensation that I wouldnít be able to stop even if I wanted toÖ that I would go on walking forever unless something forced me to stop. Eventually that something was dinner, and then the show.
Hokay. So. As You Like it was the best production I have seen of that script, the best Shakespearean play I have ever seen staged ever, and on the top ten list of all of the plays I have ever seen in my whole life. It was that good. The cast was made up of eight actors, who presented the text so earnestly, so clearly, so joyously, so authentically, and with such incredible talent, that it was impossible to not get entirely wrapped up in the story. The production elements were simple but inventive, the physical theatre was precise and very, very funny, and the performances were really beyond compare. No lights, no setÖ just incredible. So, so good. It all reminded me of what is so essential to good theatre, and that is the joy in the work and the finesse of performance. If you have these two things, you just canít go wrong.
Today was my last day in London, and it feels a little bittersweet. I honestly didnít think I would like this place so much, coming here primarily for the theatre. The architecture, history, and literature has really captivated me, though, and I so glad to have spent time here.
Also, it was a good idea to get into the swing of traveling in an English-speaking country. I have mastered a foreign public transportation systemÖ now letís see if I can do it in French.