A summer in the Crucible @ Old Vic – (background)

(Note/warning – i’m having to split this into various posts so i haven’t gotten to the Crucible yet, this is just context, so avoid if what you are after is just the Crucible :-))

Way way back when…

I don’t even know where to begin….  So maybe I’ll start by apologising in advance for confusing and disorganised ramblings. But you could say I’m using this as an attempt to make sense of the various questions, impressions and emotions this play has confronted me with and reminded me of over this summer. (

I’m not a very experienced theatre goer. Not to say I don’t like it, but due to various circumstances I grew up with classical music more than any other art form and to this day it’s where I feel most comfortable. Even in school it was what I least enjoyed reading, as it always felt it was meant to be seen not just read. I did see a few plays every year, but compare that to some classical music or other about 2-3 times a week and you get the picture 🙂 Like most foreigners, I got to see quite a bit of Shakespeare via BBC films and quite a few   – mainly Russian and French – classics, in translation.

The plays that I did study in school I never got to see performed, some for the simple fact that there was no German theatre, so I read my Schiller and Brecht but never seen any live. On the other hand nothing contemporary really made it through censorship.

I have a few fond memories of good comedies and good actors, but nothing really life changing.

Having said all that, the first time I ever visited London the first thing I saw on any stage was… theatre 🙂 Not seeing doesn’t necessarily mean not knowing, even I was aware of theatre tradition in the UK!  Having never read Shakespeare in English, we decided we would go along to the Barbican to see the RSC do Midsummer night’s dream. English isn’t even my 2nd language (and when I’m tired probably not even my third;-) and my memories of theatre involved a lot of raised voices and not the best experience of diction. Fair to say my expectations were low, not of the play and the acting, but of my capacity to process it in a foreign language. To my very pleasant surprise we understood a lot of it and the acting was natural and engaging and the staging uncomplicated and effective. Although this is now many years ago I still have memories of images from the play in my mind.

But the barrier is real and unlike with classical music/opera in particular, with theatre I am always acutely aware of the huge gaps in knowledge, vocabulary, experience that I have. There is so much I never got a chance to read, writers ( like Miller) that I know of but never read, not in original. This is particularly true of English and American novels and plays. Culturally it was the farthest away from what was available, bar the few Shakespeare exceptions. So I get to feel what I actually never did in school, like an unprepared student in front of an exam paper. You have no idea how unsettling this can be when you grew up with little to no TV, no internet 😉 or the like and spent your time between books and music. The one thing that used to be your refuge and safety net becomes a source of uncertainty!

But this is a few years back now 🙂 Reading the above, I make myself sound like I have a fobia! I don’t, I just thought it’s just one of those things, theatre is not  my favourite thing to do and I don’t know enough of the language to understand it as it is meant to be, and I need to prepare for it to do it justice, which I rarely have the time for these days. Besides, when you think about how to spend your precious spare time (and your spare funds) in London it’s bloody hard to choose! And I was already spending my time between the ROH, the ROB, the Wigmore, the Barbican, the Southbank and Glyndebourne (+ a few others on occasions). So the question was not really why not go to the theatre, but rather why go to the theatre INSTEAD of any of these other places I practically lived in? It was clear it would involve yet more planning efforts around money and booking dates and more ticket headaches, all of which I already had enough of. I needed a motivation to juggle more balls in the air than I already was.

Thankfully, I did eventually get to be dragged along to theatre by dear friends. More out of curiosity than anything else and well, wanting to see what fun I was missing out on when they were talking about it. There is also the summer break from seasons, usually filled with Proms, but at least I had some spare time and… I got lured to the Globe 🙂 And luckily (thank God for London!) like many brilliant places around London you can get to see things for affordable prices.

You could say my love affair with theatre started there, in the pit at the Globe, with Shakespeare (what else!) and with Henry V in 30+ degree heat :-). Yes, it’s not smooth sailing all the way, as I still have to spend the first 15-20 min hearing myself into Shakespeare before it flows from my ear quickly enough to my brain, but usually by then I’m fully hooked.

Boy, was I hooked!  I stood for 2 more Henry’s and the best one was standing leaning on the stage looking up at the actors. It takes some work to get used to stepping from a seat far away from the stage to getting so close. But at the Globe you have to do it! They gently and almost unnoticeably involve the audience, interact with the audience and you find yourself at their feet, lapping up every line, reacting to every smile and threat and having the time of your life! It really is the most amazing stage and one of my favourite places to go to in London. And every time I see Shakespeare performed it still strikes me how current he is, how much he understood us all and how much we understand him still today.

Give me more!

Henry V @Globe Directed by Dominic Dromgoole /Designed by Jonathon Fensom ( Jamie Parker as Henry V)

To be continued….