I’ve spent the past week exploring London, visiting historical landmarks, capturing footage for my film, observing performance, and looking for the most affordable drinks.
As part of the class I’m taking, we had the incredible opportunity to see Shakespeare’s The Tempest at the Globe Theater. The Globe itself is an interesting example of an ethnographic object of mimesis. The theater, that supposedly housed Shakespeare’s original productions, was actually reconstructed for commercial purposes; the original theater was burned to the ground. The reconstructed version, however, is based on a drawing of a Renaissance theater called “The Swan,” that may just as well have been drawn by a five-year-old. So essentially, the Globe is as authentic as possible for being a recreation of an inaccurate depiction.
Regardless, the actual productions performed in the space are authentic replications of Renaissance theater. The actors often interact with members of the crowd, who are encouraged to laugh and shout back throughout the performance. This aesthetic of audience participation was widely practiced at the time, and it was a huge breath of fresh air to see such an accessible and light-hearted production of Shakespeare coming from the “high art” western conception so popular in America.
The production starred Roger Allam as Prospero, and BBC’s Merlin star Colin Morgan as Ariel. I really enjoyed the humor they incorporated into the production. I think that The Tempest can be a difficult play to produce, especially in a space as technologically deprived as The Globe. The technical aspects, however, were masterfully executed. The musicians sat on the balcony level above the stage, and used an assortment of percussive instruments to enact the sounds of thunder, wind, and ominous music. The open roofed design of the theater added it’s own contribution to the show. Often a gust of wind would whip through the crowd or a wayward seagull would wander into the performance space, enhancing the tropical environment of the play.
Today I traveled to South East London and visited Maryon Park. This park was featured in an international film titled Blowup (1966), directed by Michelangelo Antonioni. At the time the film was made, art house film was extremely popular in the states, so an American production company funded an overseas production with the intent of importing it and taking advantage of the market. The mod London film became an international hit.
Employing several aesthetics of Art Cinema, Blowup is a film about an English photographer named Thomas (David Hemmings) who stumbles across a murder in his developed photos, and obsesses about returning to the scene of the crime— not to solve the murder—but to take pictures of the dead body. The murder itself remains unresolved.
Thomas’ inaction symbolizes Antonioni’s frustration with artists in the era of the Vietnam War. Antonioni felt that artists were exploiting the death and destruction of the war for their own artistic purposes, but failed to take any sort of meaningful actions.
Stills from the film and my visit