Thursday, 14 May 2015

Jonathan Pryce as Shylock - Merchant of Venice - Shakepeare's Globe

I've always wanted to catch a performance at the Shakespeare's Globe, but hadn't got around to it for awhile. When Antony from London Meetups, said that he had tickets for Merchant of Venice, for the first time ever, I booked tickets THREE Whole MONTHS in advance.

Back in India, booking in advance means 24 hours before. With our crazy travel schedules, we rarely commit ourselves to anything more than a week away. This is one of the changes we are slowly adapting to, in London.

Anyway, Antony said that Olivier Award Winner Jonathan Pryce was playing Shylock in this performance. This is one of the Shakespearean plays we are familiar with - both of us have also acted in excerpts of this play during our school days. Since we had opted for the standing tickets in the Yard to get the authentic experience, tickets were a paltry 5-6 pounds each. For London, these prices are dirt cheap.

For most of you TV watchers, Jonathan Pryce may be more familiar as the "High Sparrow" in Game of Thrones or Cardinal Wolsey from "Wolf Hall". For the Bond Fans,  you would know him as the Media Baron villain  in "Tomorrow Never Dies" - Elliot Carver. And Johnny Depp fans would know him as Governor Weatherby Swann from the "Pirates of the Caribbean" series. Since I'm a fan of all of these, I HAD to go watch this Olivier Award Winning Actor (for Hamlet) perform live.

Shakespeare's Globe is a reconstruction of the Globe Theatre, an Elizabethan playhouse in the London Borough of Southwark, on the south bank of the River Thames that was originally built in 1599, destroyed by fire in 1613, rebuilt in 1614, and then demolished in 1644. The modern reconstruction is an academic approximation based on available evidence of the 1599 and 1614 buildings. It was built about 230 metres (750 ft) from the site of the original theatre and opened to the public in 1997, with a production of Henry V.

There are some balcony style seats in this circular theatre at multiple levels for those with more money. But Shakespearean theatre was meant for the masses and masses stand in the yard (open to the sky) right up close to the stage (maybe thats where the concept for screaming fans standing near the stage at award functions comes from). Standing and watching the play was quite an experience, I asked an usher if they had a facility to shut the rof if it rained or if performances were cancelled. With typical British style, she said 'The show goes on' and what about those standing in the yard "well, they get wet"

So there you have it! Book your tickets weeks, nay, months in advance and if it rains - you just get wet - while watching an amazing show.

The Performers were phenomenal. Launcelot (the Jester for the purpose of this play) grabbed a couple of audience members to get on stage with him and play the 2 sides of his conscience (like a comic performance and pretty unusual for Shakespearean performances as far as I've heard) Also the female roles were played by actresses (most Shakespearean theater had female roles played by male impersonators)

The play was slightly rewritten to make the dialogue more contemporary and easier to follow, but the original language was retained for some of the more poetic sections. However, the way it was portrayed, I came away much more sympathetic to Shylock and felt that he had been unjustly treated throughout (he seems logical and just throughout his dealings with his own code of honour - except when he insisted on his pound of flesh). Was Shakespeare trying to prove the superiority of Christianity over Judaism? (I'm not a Literature scholar, so I'm not sure about this)

The singers were amazing, their voices in the background went perfectly with the developments on stage.

However, standing for 3 hours is not the best way to enjoy a performance of this magnitude. We will return, but next time, I'm buying tickets for the seats.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Stanfords - THE Shop for Travel Related Books

12-14 Long Acre
Covent Garden
London WC2E 9LP
020 7836 1321

Stanfords ranks among my top 2 specialist bookstores in London at the moment. (the other is the one at the Wellcome Collection premises)

3 floors of travel and London related books. Lonely Planet, Bradt Guides and DK EyeWitness are obviously all available, but they are just the tip of the iceberg among the selection available here. Other than the guides and maps, they have fiction and non-fiction from specific regions too and a sprinkling of cookbooks.

Travel guides and travel accessories (toothbrush covers, walking sticks, waist pouches, games for kids to play when traveling - the range is vast) make up the bulk of the collections.

Half the top floor is the frame-able maps and globes section. Very reasonable and loads to choose from. I also love their travel themed furniture - if only I could fit them into my pokey London apartment.... Maybe, I can pick up something just before I leave the country. Those trunk style bars look wonderful as did the Ritz Lobby Cabinet. Maybe I can finally get my messy desk in order.

The staff is extremely helpful and not in the least bit pushy, so its always a pleasure to shop here. They often have a couple of discounts running and a few author signed copies.

There are quite a few London themed souvenirs on offer that are much higher quality than the 2pound stuff available elsewhere. The store has been around since 1853. They are obviously still doing something right to be going strong in these days of Online Book Bargain Shopping.

Its a great place to pop in for a respite or hunt for your next holiday trip. And there is a coffee shop - Sacred Cafe - on the premises if you want to give your feet a rest.

Monday, 4 May 2015

London Silver Vaults

A couple of months ago, I had read about the London Silver Vaults in The Londonist and it seemed like a very interesting place to visit. However, there are so many interesting places that I read about everyday and want to do, that some places slide down the list and the Vaults happened to be one of them.

I had work at Chancery Lane the other day, and I was walking back to the station, when I saw the banner for the London Silver Vaults. I just HAD TO walk in.

I love Silver Jewelry and each State in India has some beautiful traditional patterns and there are also a lot of modern designs coming out. I thought I would take a look at what the patterns in the UK were like.

When I walked into the building, I saw a security guard at the desk and nothing else - no shops. He very politely checked my bag and then I had to descend 2 floors below to get to the shops. It was an underground shopping center with each individual door to a shop - at least 10" thick and reinforced. Never seen anything like it. Not even when gold shopping in India.

The second surprise was that there was hardly any jewelry in the vaults. It was more of cutlery and serving bowls, candle sticks and decorative pieces.

A lot of the silver was antique, dating from the 15th and 16th centuries. Pepper pots, condiment sets. Some practical, some decorative. The amazing thing was that all the people I met at the stores, could speak very knowledgably and authoritatively on the history and purpose behind each of the objects in their store.

There were a few pieces of jewelry, but nothing that induced me to open my wallet immediately. Because design wise I have seen much better and at much lower prices back home. But there were a few unusual items that I would have liked to pick up.

But there is a VAT rebate if you buy it before leaving the country, so I will just wait for this posting to come to a close, before I head here with my chequebook

Photography is not permitted inside the vaults. 
Conversations are free.

London Silver Vaults is on the corner of Chancery Lane and Southampton Buildings, open Mon-Fri, 9am to 5.30pm, and Saturday 9am to 1pm. Entrance is free, and you can just walk in.