Traveling for Drama (To England!)

As noted in the blog post discussing bicycling, I didn’t write about my amazing little trip to London, and I should have. So now I’ll recall all I can from a short trip to Copenhagen and treat this as a lesson.

At the end of September, I went with an English class to London, and to Stratford-Upon-Avon to see four plays over the course of three days. We arrived in Stansted on a Wednesday evening via a cheap and dirty RyanAir flight. After going through ‘non-EU’ customs (a pain-in-the-ass), I found my bus which would take me into London well past midnight. From there I settled for the evening, getting up bright and early to take in as much London as possible before my class commitments. This meant wandering around, finding a café for breakfast, trying and failing to find a place that sells refills for my Traveller’s Notebook, and getting an Oyster Card (a pass for the London Underground with discounted rates).

Following that, I headed towards The Globe, where the class was to see the first of two plays that day. I wandered that area for a little while as well, getting fish n’ chips at a vendor in the Borough Market, taking obligatory photos of the iconic Shard, and the Tower Bridge from afar.

I hadn’t read or seen any of the plays we were to be viewing before the trip which can prove challenging for some people, but thankfully English departments don’t let students get far without a fairly thorough Shakespearian education. First up at Shakespeare’s Globe (the nth reconstruction of the theatre Shakespeare’s company ran) was King Lear. I cannot possibly explain how good this production was, it blew my goddamn mind! And The Globe is an open theatre! So there were helicopters flying overhead, and daylight! But still, the outstanding actors and musicians and everyone behind-the-scenes made it work, and I was lost in the play, I cried, and it was fantastic.

The set design and costuming was minimalist and somewhat post-apocalyptic-looking, with torn white and grey shirts, joggers, simple dresses, and a dark wedding-band of a crown, and later, (SPOILER) a flower crown. Torn, bleached, tarps adorned the backdrop and pillars of the historic theatre and as the story develops the stage is transformed through the destructive tearing of the tarp from the stage as the characters come to rage, madness, and finally their mortal ends.  Only for the order of a theatre to be regained, and for the players to rejoin the people.

A short dinner at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese later and the class headed back to see an exciting rendition of the hilarious Much Ado About Nothing, set in early 20th Mexico. Again The Globe put on an outstanding show, with a fantastical freight train set piece that was a character all on its own. Music, fire, pistols, and innuendos made for a spectacular production culminating in a heart-warming post-show tribute to Mexico, Mexican culture which inspired the play, and then a collection for donations for the victims of recent natural disasters.

Following Much Ado, we hopped over to another pub on the waterfront and discussed the shows, The Globe, London, theatre and such over a pint or so before making out ways back to our respective lodgings. The Underground is brilliant and efficient and I could join the choir to sing its praises.

In the morning, most of us met up for a proper English breakfast before walking around the city, stumbling upon a beautiful park and having a brief lunch there. Then we embarked on the train to Stratford-Upon-Avon where more glorious English theatre awaited us.

Pulling into the town we had just enough time to walk to our hostel (a little ways out of town) and bus back for a quick and unfortunate fast food dinner before rushing to The Royal Shakespeare Theatre to see Coriolanus.

Coriolanus was the only play that was a little lost on me. I’ll admit that I was maybe too tired to be in a dark and cozy theatre, but my brain struggled hard to follow the somewhat convoluted plot detailing the formation of the Republic of Rome. Despite my confusion, the production was an impressive spectacle with brilliant costume and set design choices where military actors had on modern gear and fought with swords, and non-military characters dressed in retro mid-twentieth century American garb, beautiful gowns and dresses. All of this is not even mentioning the spectacular couch and harrowing combat choreography.

Outside the theatre we hit the town, going to two different pubs until the last one kicked us out and we had to catch a cab back to the aforementioned hostel.

The day following was the last full day in the country and the only day where we saw a play by an early modern English playwright who wasn’t Shakespeare; Christopher Marlowe. A few of us got up ungodly early considering the previous night’s events so that we could do a bit of exploring. We saw fog covered, grey and blue fields and caught a little bit of sunrise. We had breakfast and got ready for the day, just before making our way to see a stunning local church and then take a bus back into town. We explored the downtown area a little more, had proper English tea in an antique shop, and then we were back to the theatre.

At the RSC’s Swan Theatre we saw Dido, Queen of Carthage which was, if I had to choose, my second favourite play we saw, next to King Lear. All of the actors performed marvellously whether they were lovers, sailors, or gods but the stage itself may have stolen the show. Covered in sand — actual sand, perfectly smooth to begin — complete with a literal waterfall allowed actors to be more than human creating a spectacle like none other.

After the show we ran to the train station, arriving just in time to catch it, taking us back into London. Once again in the city, we broke into smaller groups to find dinner and snacks for the following day before early morning flights. Stew, and excellent conversation later, I made my way back to the flat I was staying in and got things ready for the following day.

Utterly terrified to catch my bus and make it through customs and everything on time I committed myself to arriving three hours before my gate was open, meaning I had to be up at around 3:45am. I managed to do so, though I would not encourage anyone to do the same. The ‘special VISA check’ non-EU passengers have to go through while flying Ryanair is literally just a stamp, which they gave me after a short queue — no issues thankfully.

In a short time we touched down in Billund, a city a little ways South-West of Aarhus, and a quick bus ride later, I was home.

While I struggle to write this piece because it’s so late after the fact, I am trying to figure out exactly how much of my itinerary is worth including. Above, I have written about nearly everything, but I have a sinking suspicion that’s a little stale, let me know what you think.

Regardless, my first real in-Europe travel experience went well and lent itself to a lot of learning. Including what accommodation and bus pricing should look like, when to arrive for flights, what to stress about, and what not to stress about. Other than the bonding time it allotted to my peers in that course, all of whom are close now, and the experience of seeing the plays  and being in London/England, one of the most valuable things that this trip did for me was make Aarhus feel like home. Just two months into moving here I wasn’t necessarily thinking of my flat as a home just yet, and being out and about, experiencing the excitement and rigour of travel away from Aarhus, is precisely what I needed to make me appreciate the city and my little home here. I have been told, as I speculate will be the case, that this experience can be extrapolated to Canada for my return.

Edited by my wonderful mom.


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