Monday, January 20, 2014

What's in a Name? or, That Which We Call a Rose

Moving on to Saturday.

The plan on Saturday was to get a ticket to Richard II. This would have been much easier if I'd actually checked where the theater was before I walked out the door. But I didn't. And it turned out that the theater in question was NOT in the Leicester Square area, whither I wandered for a while, at all. And the tube line that went directly to the theater was down for repairs. So I did not see Richard II.

So I thought to myself, I'll go see the National Gallery. Been meaning to do that. I hopped on the tube and headed back down southward, passing some stops now made familiar by Friday's walk. And on the tube, I thought. Yesterday, we'd been introduced to the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, which is a brand-new theatrical venue built as a kind of sister site to the Globe. It is a Jacobean, rather than Elizabethan, theater, much smaller than the massive Globe. In the interests of historical accuracy, performances there are candlelit. I'd thought on Friday that such a thing would be a thing worth seeing, so instead of going straight to the gallery, I hopped off the train at London Bridge and retraced my steps back to the theatre.

On the way, I found one of the things we'd been looking for: the Borough Market. I bookmarked it for future reference.

I also found a little sign pointing me to the Rose Theatre. I bookmarked that, too.

I got to the box office and enquired if there were a ticket lying round anywhere for an upcoming show. To my surprise, there was one for the matinee in three hours. Because it was a behind-a-pillar seat, it hadn't sold. I took it, stuffed the ticket in my wallet, and retraced my steps back towards the market to get some lunch.

On the way, I found that sign for the Rose again. What the heck? thought I, detouring thither.

The Rose is currently a tiny little space tucked under an office tower: part archeological site in stasis, part visitor's center, part hipster art venue. It seems they unearthed the site when the land was renovated, and the size and quality of the find took everyone by surprise. But there was neither the time nor the money for a complete excavation, and the poor theater's foundations started to deteriorate when they were exposed to the air after four hundred years, so the site was covered up with sand and mud and plastic sheeting, and then just flooded over.

What you see at the Rose now is a wide, cool pit of black water that trembles subtly at your footfalls. It looks a little like the gates of Moria. The walls and stage of the theater are laid out in red lights that gleam in the blackness. While the Globe is a triumphant monument to History Rebuilt, the Rose is a tenacious embodiment of History Defiant, stubbornly refusing to be forgotten.

The plans for the space are really cool. Suzanne, the nice volunteer who gave me the run-down, informed me that if they can raise sufficient money by June, the government will match it and allow them to finish the dig they started. Then the plan is to preserve the site under a glass floor and create a kind of museum about the archeology thereof. Cool enough. But the last stage of idea-making is to re-build part of the upper theater, making a semi-reconstructed theatrical space for the works of Shakespeare and Marlowe, where the actors will play with the ruins of the old theatre visible beneath their feet. Cool, huh?

I had a nice chat with Suzanne, and she gave me her card so I can call her if I bully enough people into coming back to the site and getting a tour.

"Suzanne, right?" said I.

"Right," she affirmed. "And you're . . ."

"Rose," said I, automatically.

She did a double take, then laughed. Rose in the Rose.

After my splendid journey back through time, I continued on my merry way and finally got my teeth into the Borough Market. It was less like an ordinary farmer's market and more like the Minnesota State Fair, compacted and euro-fied. For instance, what's that extremely noticeable and not altogether pleasant smell?

It's fromage a raclette, bubbling away under long cheese-wheel-cross-section-shaped grills, of course.
 And what's that crowd of people jostling one another to get at?

Why, vegetarian pies stuffed with potatoes and cream cheese and smothered in red-wine-and-onion gravy, of course.
And what are the knobbly alien-looking plants tucked in amongst the other vegetables?

Only brussels sprouts in their natural habitat. 
 And . . . wait, you're telling me that hamburgers aren't made out of ham?

Yep. These are made out of springbok, and ostrich, and alligator, and (I kid you not) zebra.
 And why does everything smell deliciously of warm coconut milk and spices?

Well, because you can't simmer three-foot-wide vats of curry in an enclosed space and not make that space currilicious.
And don't even get me started on the cheese samples, the chocolates, the teas, the wines, and the stacks and stacks of crusty loaves of every kind of bread under the sun. Oh, and did I mention the cheese? The noises I made while sampling those cheeses were absolutely not appropriate for a public space.

At length, happily stuffed on pie, apple juice, cheese, and chocolate pastries, I returned to the Sam Wanamaker. I was early, so I hung out in the gift shop and read Romeo and Juliet in manga form.

The Wanamaker is SO COOL. Everything in it is wood . . . not smoothly varnished wood, but new, clean oak, rough to the touch but splinter-free. It's structured like the Globe, two round balconies stacked over a yard, although the yard is much smaller and fitted with benches like everywhere else. In deference to modernity, there are plain cushions on the benches and safety lights at everyone's feet, as well as windows letting in the fluorescent light from the lobby. But as the show started, the actors lit beeswax candles on the seven big chandeliers that had been lowered to the stage. The footlights went out, and wooden shutters were slid over the windows. (I didn't notice any of this for a while, because a hundred beeswax candles are actually plenty to see by.)

I was, as mentioned, sitting behind a pillar, but it was easy to lean around, or even against, so I was fairly comfy and could see the show just fine. I'd never heard of The Duchess of Malfi, and I just loved it. Great stories are made by great villains, and this show had some of the most fascinating villains I've seen in a very long while. The script was clearly written for just this kind of theater, as one part of it called for complete darkness . . .  something that would have been impossible in the Globe, with its sunlit afternoon performances. The darkness made for a great, and genuinely scary, reveal. A table tried to catch on fire at an early point in the performance, but the lead actress blew it out with a none-of-this-nonsense attitude and went on with her scene.

Great, great show. Great trip back through time. Great experience.

The Wanamaker is still fundraising for their last few hundred thousand, though their first season is already open. There are posters everywhere inviting those wealthier than myself to have their name put on one of the seats for a small 3,000-pound donation. As I did not have 3000 pounds handy, I gave this prospect a miss. But out of curiosity, I did look to see who'd sponsored the seat I'd taken.

Well, how about that.

1 comment:

  1. OI!! THE FOOD!!! :-P Please, please, please can you direct me where to find a recipe for that vegetable pie!!