the magic of the west end

Theatre has been one of the greatest parts of my study abroad experience. I grew up wanting to become a film actor, and while my life goals have changed slightly since then, my love of theatre-related all things has never diminished. (Side note: will definitely be applying for film-related jobs in London post-grad, can’t let that dream die completely.) Here are some of my thoughts on the shows I’ve seen during my time in London:

The Book of Mormon

Hilariously inappropriate, just as I expected it would be. My friend Ali, whom I went with, had seen this show before and told me that I was going to love it because it was exactly my sense of humour. Well, she was right. It was refreshing to see a comedic show rather than a drama, and the whole thing was very entertaining. Great music, too! I was dying laughing throughout almost the entire thing.

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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

I was really quite surprised by how much I enjoyed this one. We all saw this for one of our classes, and had absolutely no idea what to expect. Turns out, we were all blown away by it. Not only was the plot beautifully intricate, but the acting was shockingly fantastic (especially that of the main character and his mother) as well. The set design and choreography were what really made this play exceptional, though. I was a bit confused when I first took my seat and saw the set, which was basically a giant cube with graph-like lines on it, a dead dog impaled by a pitchfork lying in the center. However, the actors’ use of the space made me question everything I ever thought I knew about theatre. I learned quickly not to judge a book (well, play) by its cover, though, as this ended up being one of the most emotionally moving plays I have ever seen. I think that this play really helps open up what most consider to be uncomfortable discussions about people on the spectrum, as the main character’s has some sort of disorder that is never truly revealed. As someone with a cousin who has severe autism, it really made me think a lot about him and try to understand more what he (and his family) are going through. Overall, this was a beautiful, thought-provoking and informative play and I would strongly recommend it to anyone regardless of whether you are a fan of theatre or not.

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The Phantom of the Opera

My friends and I got cheap tickets to this show through the CAPA program, and they happened to be in the third row, which was a life-changing experience. In all honesty, I wasn’t extremely excited to see this play at first, as I have never thought that the plot sounded very interesting. Oh, how my mind was changed. Phantom is now one of my favourite shows of all time. My jaw was actually sore from being dropped open almost the entire time. The singing was magnificent, with gorgeous songs that I could listen to forever, the acting was splendid (I kind of fell in love with Nadim Naaman, who played Viscount Raoul de Chagny in the play), and the set/artistic direction was immaculate.

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My man Nadim on the left… *swoons* there’s just something about men who can sing and dance!

The famous chandelier dropped right over us, and I think that that was one of the best moments of my entire life, probably. Since Phantom has been running for so long, there was a semi-permanent installation around the stage which I couldn’t stop staring at due to its extreme creepiness. (At first I thought it was the actual stage until it dropped down too!) You can kind of see it here:

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Terrifying.

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As I said, I was absolutely enthralled by this show. I want to see it many more times, as it has captivated my heart! That eerie, iconic organ music will never fail to make my heart skip a beat.

Jersey Boys

Anyone who knows me knows that this is my favourite show ever. Period. Ali’s grandfather came into town around my 21st birthday, so he took us to see this show. I will never fail to be blown away by this show- in my opinion, it has one of the best soundtracks of any show ever. I’m a huge Frankie Valli fan, and couldn’t help but sing along to every single song in the show. Great show, great night, great birthday.

Good Dog

This was a very small, local play Ali and I went to see with our friend Carol at the The Albany Theatre in Deptford, where she was interning. It was a one-man show with probably less than ten people in the audience, but it turned out to be quite good. We went into this show having no idea what to expect, and it was definitely a very interesting experience. We sat in the second row, and the stage was pretty small so it was a quite intimate setting, almost uncomfortable at times (at one point a man in the audience got up and just walked straight across the stage to use the bathroom… sure, there was really no where else he could have gone but it still seemed quite bizarre and awkward). You could see every single drop of sweat on the actor’s face. The play deals with social injustices in London and the riots that happened across cities in England back in 2011. I quite liked the way the play provided an in-depth look into a young boy’s loss of innocence in a sense, although the dialogue was a bit hard to understand and follow at times. As the Telegraph stated, “The dense, poetic-slangy script could do with pruning.” I did think that it was all a bit drawn out, but the actor really did a truly fantastic job of painting entire scenes out of a set with nothing more than what looked like the exterior a simple square-shaped wooden house. In summary, though, this play was unlike any other I have ever seen and I’m very glad that I got to experience such a unique show. While it definitely wasn’t one of my favourites that I’ve ever seen, it did make me think about a lot of things (racial injustices in London, etc.) that probably never would have crossed my mind before. It was also quite cool to see such a small production in contrast to all the big West End shows I have been seeing here.

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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

I think this was truly the best show I have ever seen. Maybe that’s just because I’m an enormous Harry Potter fan, but I really don’t think so (obviously it helped, though). Needless to say, I was absolutely and utterly blown away by this play. My friend Ali bought us tickets for this show over a year in advance for my birthday present, before we even knew for sure that we were studying abroad in London- the mark of true fans (or maybe just insane people). The casting (we got to see the original cast, woohoo!) was spot-on- Jamie Parker, who played Harry, was beyond perfect for the part and was exactly as I would imagine the grown-up version of him to be. The actors playing Ron Hermione were astonishing, as well. Without giving too much away, I just have to say that the “magic” in the show, especially the dementors (terrifying), the moving staircases, the evil bookshelves, and the Polyjuice Potion, was truly… for lack of a better word, magical. The transitions between scenes were beautiful, the gillyweed swimming scene was spectacular, and the Hogwarts Express was bewitching (especially the sweets trolley witch… yikes). The overall plot was just pure art, as well. I never thought that I would love Scorpius (Draco Malfoy’s son) as much as I did, which was a major surprise. The play was split into two parts which were both the length of full Broadway shows, so Ali and I had a nice Italian dinner in between, making for one of the most enchantingly perfect nights of my life. I think that seeing this play is truly as close as you can get to actually being a witch or a wizard living in J.K. Rowling’s fantastical dream world, which I know has always been so many kids’ dreams. (Seriously though, I sat by my mailbox and cried on my 11th birthday because I didn’t receive a Hogwarts letter… I still think that my parents are just jealous Muggles and hid it from me.) I will forever remember this show as one that brought tears to my eyes and made my heart absolutely explode with emotion. It is a must-see for every single Harry Potter fan, and I will never forget the impact that it had on me.

Hamlet

I got to see this play, starring Andrew Scott from Sherlock (one of my favourite shows), because my roommate Lauren got free tickets for us and our other friend Emily because the Almeida Theatre (an amazing place) had a few free shows where they gave out tickets to people under age 25 in order to promote Shakespeare, as well as the love of theatre and the arts, to young people in London. I was unbelievably excited to see this show, first of all because it was Andrew Freakin’ Scott, second of all because it had received absolutely rave reviews from what I had heard. It definitely lived up to those spectacular reviews. The play was a modernized version of the classic, but with the original dialogue. Andrew Scott is a theatrical genius, an artist and a master of his craft. I think that this play accomplished exactly what it had set out to do- made Shakespeare, something that people often shy away from or turn their noses up to, into something sexy, engaging and moving, and I loved every second of it.

Les Misérables

Okay, first thing’s first. If anyone ever says that they don’t like Les Mis, I automatically distrust them. Sure, like anything else, there are bad performances of it being performed out there, but when you’re seeing it in the West End in London, you better believe that you’re in for an emotional journey. Ali (my theatre buddy, if you haven’t already figured that out) and I held hands and teared up during many parts of it. Nothing can move me like grand musical numbers, such as “Do You Hear the People Sing.”

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All I really have to say is: I love Les Mis, Les Mis is amazing, London is amazing, go see Les Mis. In London if possible. Yay.

Romeo and Juliet

I figured that while I’m in London I had to see a show Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, right? Wrong. Oh, so very wrong. Okay, disclaimer: I’m not against modernizing or making bold artistic decisions to Shakespeare (or other plays, for that matter) adaptations at all. In fact, I think it’s pretty awesome. When I was seeing a show at this historic theatre (or so I thought- apparently the one now is a remodel that stands just a few feet away from where the original was…), I expected it to be a very traditional version of Romeo and Juliet, which I was actually pretty excited for. I could not have been more wrong. Turns out, Romeo and Juliet at that time was this very strange portrayal where all the characters were creepy clowns but still performed the original Shakespearean dialogue, with a few ill-placed songs such as the Village People’s YMCA. At first, my dad and I thought that this was all a joke, but then it just kept going and going, getting worse and worse. I’m still pretty shocked by it. This review does a really good job of summing up my feelings about the whole thing. Also, this is something I did expect, but it was absolutely freezing cold since the theatre is outdoors, which I think just added to our misery. I’m glad I went just to say I did, but I will never, ever recommend that someone visiting London goes to see a show here. Yikes.

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