By Emma Buchman
One of the most highly recommended things to do in London is experience its theatre scene. Since arriving, I have taken this advice to heart and attended to two plays. Each gave a different experience and proved in its own way why the theatre of London should really be something on everybody’s to-do list.
The first play was called “Three Days in the Country.” It detailed three days in the country home of an aristocratic family in early 20th century Russia. It was showing at the National Theatre, and was starring one of my favorite people, Mark Gatiss, whom you may know from writing and acting in shows like “Doctor Who,” “The League of Gentlemen,” and “Sherlock.”
I was excited to see him in the flesh and in a different genre than I am used to seeing him in, but it was a struggle just getting there. I ran late getting to the tube, or subway, got lost on the way there, and even ended up having to be escorted into the theatre during a change of scene (yes, I was one of those people).
There were several times when I thought about just going back home and scrapping the play altogether. However, once I was in my seat, and focused on where I was and what I was doing, I knew it was worth getting there.
Just the feeling of, “Wow, I am sitting in a beautiful theatre, watching Mark Gatiss, in London,” made the entire hassle of getting there worth it. The play itself was put on very well, and gave its own perspective (or criticism) of how love operated at the time it took place. It may not be as well-known, but it was still worth seeing.
The second play that I saw was “Hamlet,” and while it gave me the same feelings that seeing the former play provided, it had the added bonus of being a Shakespeare play done well. It was performed at the Barbican Theatre with actor Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role.
Now, as you may know, Shakespeare’s plays can be denser to than reading the Bible. When you work past the almost foreign language and get to the meat and potatoes of his play, you can see just how truly brilliant they are and what Shakespeare was trying to say through them.
Seeing them in the flesh is even better because they were written as plays, and it’s always better to view something in the medium for which it was intended. With Shakespeare, this can be difficult. If you don’t have the right people or the right direction, it just sounds like some guy reading a soliloquy, not a character speaking to the audience.
That was no problem for this cast. Cumberbatch made me actually like Hamlet’s character (as beforehand I thought he was kind of a whiny brat), and the supporting cast did a spectacular job. The scenery and occasional musical interludes only built up the emotion. This, for me, was Shakespeare at its best. It made you feel everything and look at the characters as real people, not just endless lines of dialogue.
I am truly sad that more people won’t be able to see this play in person because it was so good. For those of you who won’t be able to see it and are just relying on the reviews you’ve read, don’t listen to them. You should be upset that you can’t see it.
An additional bonus of seeing a play is that you never know when you may run into unexpected surprises. After watching “Three Days in the Country,” I got to meet Mark Gatiss and take pictures with him. When I went to see “Hamlet,” I saw “The Theory of Everything” actor Eddie Redmayne sitting in the row in front of me.
Additionally, at the end of “Hamlet,” Cumberbatch asked everyone to stay back for five extra minutes, and he asked on behalf of the cast to donate to a charity raising money to help refugees fleeing Syria.
While this may not seem like an important event, it was a unique opportunity to see Cumberbatch’s personality shine through and to see him as a person, not pixels on a screen or a larger-than-life celebrity.
The theatre is not for everyone, and not just because of the medium itself. Going to a play can be stressful and the atmosphere that surrounds any theatre can feel oppressing.
That being said, it could also be one of the greatest experiences that you have in a new place, as it gives insight into the culture of where you are and shows how they choose to express themselves.
Seeing one in London is just all the more special because of how precious the theatre is to its culture.
I am a poor college student, and so I have to judge what I’m going to put my money towards every month. I have to look at what I need and what I want to splurge on, if I can splurge at all. Even if you go and find that it wasn’t a well done play, at least you’ll have a more developed palette.