As the time has passed since my trip to London ended, I look back on the whole experience with nothing but fondness and a little bit of sadness at the realization in is over. My time in London taught me independence, team building, and helped me to explore and understand a brand new culture. Although they spoke the same language as me, the British people I encountered had a completely different way of living and outlook on life. They have different priorities individually and as a country that as Americans abroad, we noticed the contributions they made to alter their English-speaking society from ours.
It would be impossible for me to write about all the theatre we saw in fewer than two pages, so instead I will focus on one of the amazing short trips we took outside of London. Our first outing was to Stratford-upon-Avon, which we all learned means “the town of Stratford that sits on the Avon River.” Shakespeare’s birthplace, the location of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and home to many other original Tudor period buildings provided an excellent example for us of the Tudor Style and a chance to experience life in a smaller British town.
Stratford is luckily only about an hour and half long drive from London, in which we passed many small villages made up of entirely thatched-roofed houses, the Cotswolds, and the steepest hill in England (which they must close down in the winter due to the icy conditions). We arrived to sunny weather, making it a perfect mini-vacation from the hustle and bustle of the city. I was extremely excited to get the chance to visit all the historical buildings surrounding Shakespeare’s life and to see shows at the Royal Shakespeare Company since they are known for such incredible and groundbreaking work. Our first day, we visited the home of Shakespeare’s mother, Mary Aden, which is a working farm with all kinds of animals including sheep, hairy red pigs, and plenty of chickens. I had the most fun, maybe for the whole trip, playing on the playground at the farm. There was a pretty big group of us who were just letting go of any self-consciousness and just playing like we were 8 years old at recess again. There was a wonderful swing that was a giant hoop with rope tied to make a sort of hammock. Two of my friends pushed me on it as I lay on my back looking up at the sky. My immediate reaction when I’m scared is to laugh so I must have looked crazy while I was swinging. They were pushing me really high and I just kept laughing and then crying because I cry when I laugh a lot. I kept shouting “No!” and “I’m going to die!” But the truth is I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun while being so extremely terrified at the same time. I loved watching people have the same reaction as they took a turn on the swing.
After visiting the farm, we went to Shakespeare’s wife’s cottage, which had wonderful gardens to walk through and lovely orchards to take strolls in. Shakespeare wooed Anne Hathaway at this cottage, so it was exciting to see such a significant place in Shakespeare’s life. I loved spending time in the lavender maze there and just relaxing in the sun.
We saw three amazing productions at the RSC while we visited, Love’s Sacrifice (a Jacobean revenge tragedy), The Jew of Malta (one of Christopher Marlowe’s most famous works and to which Shakespeare wrote The Merchant of Venice as a response), and Death of a Salesman (Arthur Miller’s classic). All three shows had extremely high production value, immensely skilled ensembles, and all worked well to captivate their audience during each performance. It was interesting to go to this world-renowned Shakespeare company and not see any plays written by him at all. It was almost ironic that we saw the production of The Jew of Malta, written by one of Shakespeare’s biggest rivals, performed on Shakespeare’s birthday. In fact, for that performance, my seat was in the front row and a man sat down next to me dressed in an outfit made to resemble Shakespeare himself. I was sitting with some of my peers and we all wondered if he was maybe a plant by the company but when we talked to him after the show, he said he was not from the company but that he enjoyed dressing up to celebrate the day. The cast of the show made him come up onstage after and had the entire audience sing him “Happy Birthday.” It was definitely a night I will never forget.
On that same trip, I also really enjoyed our short visit to Kenilworth Castle, or rather the ruins of a castle built in the 12th Century but primarily used as one of Queen Elizabeth I’s favorite places to dwell. It was amazing to walk through the ruins and feel the ancient history of the land. I sat on one of the hills toward the back of the castle for a long while and just stared at the beautiful countryside. As I sat on that hill, I thought about how lucky I felt to just have seen such wonderful play and visit such historic landmarks. I learned so much about myself (and British history!) on the London program that if I had the chance, I would go back just to experience it all again.
– Elah Seidel, Theatre in London