Royal Albert Hall

Theatre Galore: Exchange Diaries II

October 17, 2013 / by / 0 Comment

In the blink of an eye I’ve now already been living in London for a month! My past two weeks have been a theatre-going extravaganza and although I am now almost broke as a result, it was definitely money well spent. It truly is a privilege to be able to study literature and art in London, there probably isn’t anywhere else that can compare to the level of artistic and cultural edification that this city offers. I highly encourage any English/Fine Arts student, or BA student, or just anyone in general, to apply for exchange to London! It would be an eye-opening journey that you’d never forget. Since I’m only here on exchange for 3 months (1/3 is already over ;(), I’m grabbing every opportunity I can to make use of this advantage as much as possible!

I’m currently taking a course on “Modern Theatre” at the moment so going to the theatre to watch plays is technically my homework (how amazing is that?). Before taking this course, I didn’t take a great interest in drama, I enjoyed them but I definitely preferred novels over drama. Right now, however, I must say I’ve fallen quite in love with theatre, studying drama on the page practically kills the art form. Being able to study drama alongside the theatre performance allows a much more comprehensive and in depth understanding. I remember my high school English teacher once said, “Shakespeare dies on the page”, and I fully see that now after watching Macbeth at the Globe Theatre and Othello at the National Theatre. The script is really only a fraction of the art.

There’s something very special about theatre, it’s able to distill and crystalize historical moments and human nature and make an impact on us like no other art form because we experience it real time. The effect is incredibly powerful. The fact that something from 40, even 400, years ago is still able to make us cry, laugh and care is a testament to that.


Globe Theatre

Shakespeare’s Globe!



Front and center in the Yard!



Billy Boyd as Banquo, aka Pippin in Lord of the Rings!


I’d read Macbeth many times before and have watched film versions and filmed stage versions of the play as well. Watching it in the Globe, however, was not surprisingly a whole new experience. Watching the play work and unfold in its own element was quite magical, though the current Globe is only a reconstruction of the original, which was demolished in 1644, it was nonetheless a great experience to watch the play inside a replica of where it was first intended to be staged.

As I’m a student on a budget, I chose the £5 standing yard ticket and to my surprise I actually prefer it over the sitting tickets, and not just out of self-consolation because I couldn’t afford a more expensive ticket. I had a very nice spot front and center in the yard, and in several scenes the actors traveled through the crowd, sat on the edge of the stage and I came so close to them that I might just feel their sweat, spit and tears! Standing in the yard gives you a view of minute details that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to see sitting in the circles. And I’d also like to think that standing makes it a more authentic experience, it’s as if just as how the common Renaissance Londoner would have watched Shakespeare’s plays back then. And as promised by the plot, the brilliant cast delivered an insanity-ridden, gory mess of a performance, the £5 is truly a bargain!

The only complain I have about the performance, however, are the airplanes that flew across the Globe during the performance! I’d never thought I’d scorn modernity but the airplanes were extremely disruptive, at points drowning out the actor’s projection and at others breaking the tense silence. Everyone groaned a little by the time the third plane flew past only to be followed by a few more later on…But there was a slightly hilarious moment, though it really shouldn’t have been, where Macbeth says, as he looks towards the sky, “Strange things I have in head”, as an airplane flew by overhead. Everyone couldn’t help but chuckle a little. You’ve got to love live theatre.


Adrian Lester as Othello, Rory Kinnear as Iago. Image credits:

Adrian Lester as Othello, Rory Kinnear as Iago. Image credits:

Other than Macbeth I also watched Othello at the National Theatre, which though costed me a FORTUNE, managed to blow me away completely. I’d only read the play before and have never seen any production of it, be it staged or otherwise. I wasn’t too emotionally attached to the plot when I first read it, my thoughts on it mainly chided Othello’s foolishness and jealousy and I wasn’t that convinced of the narrative because Iago’s plan just seems to work too perfectly with everyone wrapped around his fingers. This production, starring Adrian Lester as Othello and Rory Kinnear as Iago, was a modern adaptation and it completely changed my view of the play. As I watched Iago’s machiavellian ways on stage, I realized just how powerful words and manipulation can be when he spoke his lines. Jealousy truly is a green-eyed monster and I question if I wouldn’t react the same way Othello did…obviously not turning murderous though! But doubt can really eat you up.

The staging was very clever with movable set pieces and rooms, the production was scored with a modern, energetic and at times suspenseful rock/pop score, and modern weaponry (namely guns) where involved to make the drama all the more intense. My favourite moment in the performance, among many other brilliant ones, has to be in Act 1 Scene 3 where Iago says, “Hell and night must bring this monstrous birth into the world’s light.“. Just as he finishes his sentence, a large ray of piercing white light shone on the audience, exciting not a few gasps, to facilitate the scene change. It genuinely gave me a sudden start as it was so unexpected, which made it all the more brilliant to heighten the drama in that ending couplet.

At the end I actually ended up crying, Desdemona’s murder was utterly heart wrenching, a lot of tears were shed both on and off stage.

Besides, Macbeth and Othello, I had also gone to see Ibsen’s A Doll’s House and Ghosts and an orchestral performance at the Royal Albert Hall by the BBC orchestra playing Danny Elfman’s music from Tim Burton films (Danny Elfman himself as well as Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter showed up!!!). Next, I’m off to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream very soon!

Royal Albert Hall

Royal Albert Hall

Inside Royal Albert Hall!

Inside Royal Albert Hall!

And besides me telling you about all the exciting performances that I’ve been watching, do not despair because Hong Kong’s fall program is also quite exciting (slightly bummed that I’m missing it). We’ve already had the Globe’s touring performance The Taming of the Shrew and One Man Lord of the Rings, which fellow blogger Erica Li went to watch (so jealous).

CURRENTLY SHOWING is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Starlight Express & the hilarious The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) by the Reduced Shakespeare Company.

UPCOMING is the very exciting A Clockwork Orange in November and the terrifying The Woman in Black coming from London in December.

Also, the 2014 Hong Kong Arts Festival Program is now out! Go and check out what’s coming next year. Let’s hope that Hong Kong will see more and more theatre companies to visit in the future!



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