I forgot that our magical (and very expensive) tickets to see A Winter’s Tale were for this afternoon, not this evening. This put us off to a weird start of the day which only got weirder as Henry and I managed to make every travel mistake on our way to the theatre.
We left with about two hours to make a 20-30 minute trip. First, we boarded a double decker bus because…why not. Up to the top, front seats where we sat down next to a man who had a terrible case of “every possible annoying breathing sound” going for him which was more than I could handle, so we moved to the back of the bus where I could still hear the breathing and Henry started to get nauseous. So we walked down the stairs, mistakenly while the bus was still moving, and endured one or two more stops of the jerkiest bus ride before we had to get off lest vomit ensue.
Once off the bus, we tried to find the train station but instead found a little coffee spot. The owner told us it was his first New Years as a married man and we told him it was our first one together, prompting a little cheek kiss from me to Henry which the owner must have found charming because we were then gifted free pistachio treats (I ate both since they had flour; dating a gluten-intolerant man is proving to have its perks). Lifted by the caffeine and pleasant exchange, we found the bus stop which took us…not where we had expected.
But that was fine, it just meant a change of trains. So we figured out the new route and got on the train. After a stop we both panicked, thinking we were going the wrong way, jumped off the train, ran to catch one going the other way, got on, realized that NOW we were going the wrong way and we had just gotten off the correct train, got off at the next stop, ran back to find the other train which was not going the route we had anticipated but at least going the right direction, then got off at our stop and wandered until we found our theatre with 20 minutes to spare.
When I was around 11 and in England for the first time with my parents, we wanted to go to a particular place for fish and chips. We exited the hotel, crossed the street and wandered, lost, for HOURS. We walked for what felt like miles, landed in a not so great part of town, found our way back and just when we all thought we were going to collapse, we found the place…closed for the summer. Defeated, we turned the corner and found our hotel.
Today’s journey felt like that day all those years ago.
After waiting an agonizing amount of time to use the loo (there’s never not a line for the ladies) I met Henry by our incredible seats. We were on the upper level almost dead center. We looked around considered the people in the audience. I felt conspicuous in my old clothes—my nice things having been packed and sent home—as a spectator who was probably 20-50 years younger than almost everyone else on the balcony. I told myself I had just as much right as anyone to be there, having spend the majority of my life studying Shakespeare and theatre and having also handed over what was probably a week’s worth of work in cash to sit there.
Oh, where to start on this show?
I have had a fondness for this show since I worked on it in high school at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival. We had acting blocks as sheep, costumes put together from stock and our own closets and less than a month to prepare and a ragtag group of nerdy teenagers who loved Shakespeare. It was wonderful.
A Winter’s Tale, one of Shakespeare’s later plays, is one of the Romance Plays or Tragicomedies—dark with a warm ending. It deals with jealousy, loss, betrayal, young love, healing…among many other timeless themes that keep Shakespeare’s work alive and relevant all these years later. My breath caught a little as the curtain lifted and revealed a beautifully set stage and a spot on a young woman who sang out a single, haunting note before exiting as an old Christmas tune broke out. I sat enraptured as Judy Dench and her fellow actors wove together the story of a man who, torn apart by jealousy, loses everything he held dear: his son, his wife, his best friend, his daughter. Overcome by exhaustion and grief, the king leaves the stage and we watched as his faithful servant left the baby princess to be found on another island.
I found near tears for the entire first act, leaning forward and squeezing Henry’s hand with excitement. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a production of Shakespeare that was this beautiful.
As the final curtain closed and Henry and I put on our coats, I turned to him and said “let’s make something that beautiful,” and he said “yes”. We left the theatre and sat down close by to eat some food while we processed the play.
Seeing a piece of theatre of that magnitude and skill tends to have one of two effects: inspiration or total devastation. Does it make you want to go create? Or rather, does it make you question everything you’ve ever done to get where you are and whether or not you’ll ever make anything worth while? We experienced a little bit of both but ultimately it made us both a little sad and confused about what the future holds for us once we return to the states.
Instead of braving the crowds out in London to see the fireworks that would take place around the London Eye, Henry and I stayed in with Annabelle, her boyfriend and their flatmate, listening to music and enjoying a drink, listening as Henry and Annabelle reminisced about their time on the Camino. At midnight we went to the window to see if we could witness any of the fireworks but as we were unable to, we watched from the TV instead.
Welcome, 2016. I’m looking forward to collaborating with you these next twelve months.