Honestly, I don’t know why I don’t go to the theater more often. I love everything about it: the spectacle, the drama, the humor, the music, the amazing effects that can be achieved through sliding doors in the floor and secret panels in the walls, and the majesty of a show being so well done that the audience members leap to their feet in a standing ovation at the end.
Except for my high tea and the large bag of M&Ms from London’s M&M World, I only ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I made in my hotel room, so I was able to splurge on three shows: all dramatic plays based on books or plays.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime
Gielgud Theater, West End
Based on Mark Haddon’s novel of the same name (which I had read previously)
If you haven’t read this novel about a 15-year-old named Christopher with symptoms placing him on the autism spectrum, you should. It is an amazing experience getting inside the head of a person with autism. Not only is Christopher a mathematical genius, but the way he looks at the world, as if the rest of us are the ones with the problem, makes a lot of sense. We speak in riddles, saying things that mask what we are thinking and using confusing metaphors that literal-thinking Christopher cannot understand.
There was a lot to like in the stage production, but the real star was the set. Simple, muted squares and cubes, probably much like Christopher sees the world, dominated the set, but the way they were used to create a street lined with houses, a school, a home, a subway, and his room were so creative. Every time Christopher found himself speaking with his teacher Siobhan, he’d build a train set, complete with train tracks and accessories like trees and buildings for the tracks to pass by. Just before intermission, the lights dimmed and the buildings glowed as the lighted train finally began its journey. It was stunning, especially when we realized he wasn’t just laying down train tracks on the floor: he was building a functioning railroad.
At the end of the play, we were treated to a Q&A with the actors. I moved out of my nosebleed seat and into one of the front rows to listen as the actors discussed their roles, their performance choices, and how Graham Butler, who played Christopher, prepared to portray a person with autism so authentically. It was a great way to learn more about what goes on behind the scenes.
The Old Vic Theater
Based on Arthur Miller’s play of the same name (which I read immediately afterwards)
The Old Vic is Kevin Spacey’s theater, and this production of The Crucible’s theater-in-the-round stars the brilliant Richard Armitage, who you may know better as Thorin Oakenshield from The Hobbit.
This play was long—3 ½ hours—and it was intense. The tone was set instantly with a smoky, incense-smelling mist taking over the stage and Tituba, one of the characters, creating percussion with the rhythm of her bare feet on the wooden floor. It was eerie and mystical and compelling, just like the rest of the play.
The Crucible is based on the Salem witch trials, where young girls in the village, perhaps out of revenge, perhaps out of frustration at the stifling restraints their religion placed on them, convinced the leaders that certain members of their community were in contact with the devil. Unfortunately, there is no way to prove or disprove this claim, and somehow the girls’ accusations were believed over those of the adult innocent, probably because the girls seemed to go into cold trances, have fits, or occasionally fly through the air. One of the most affecting scenes in the play, and there were many, was the one where the group of girls displayed a sort of mass hysteria supposedly puppeted by the devil.
The punishment for being a witch was hanging, unless the witch confessed to being with the devil, in which case he or she was allowed to live. This all leads to a dilemma for Armitage’s John Proctor. He has lied before and betrayed his wife, but he would like to be an honest man, a good man. So when he is accused of witchcraft, should he lie to save his life, or go to his grave telling the truth?
This was a fantastic production with strong acting all around, particularly Armitage and Samantha Colley’s Abigail. It also left an impression. I read the play before I left London, and I’m not going to lie: this kept me up at night. It was disturbing in all the right ways.
Let the Right One In
Apollo Theater, West End
Based on John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel of the same name (which I will read soon)
Ultimately a tale about bullying, this Swedish novel is put on by a troupe of Scottish actors. Young Oskar, played by Martin Quinn, who nailed this role, is essentially friendless. His father has left, his mother has trouble with boundaries and alcohol, and at school he has captured the attention of a group of bullies because of his lack of skill in the athletic arena. In addition, there is a killer on the loose in the woods. Naturally, as a young boy, Oskar heads directly out into the woods and there he meets a friend.
But this friend is strange. Eli smells like his dead dog, for one thing. She talks oddly, with “old people” phrases and a grating timber that took awhile for me to get used to. She lives next door and is frequently overheard arguing with her father. But when it comes to dealing with bullies, there is no one better equipped than Eli. As we discover is a rather graphic way, Eli is a vampire. She never ages, and her “father” is actually her husband from years past. Eli develops feelings for Oskar, and vice versa, and Hakan is not pleased.
There is a lot of humor, which is good because there is also a lot of gore; vampires do like their blood. I loved every second of this play, even the ones that had me leaping out of my seat in shock. Scary? Yes. Bloody? Yes. Endearing? Surprisingly yes!
You don’t need to fly all the way to London to see this one: it’s also a movie. I recommend watching it in the bright light of day, though. Between The Crucible and this, I had several sleepless nights in London.