Sunday, June 17, 2012

A little touch of Harry in the night

Today, I fulfilled a long-held desire and went to a play at Shakespeare's Globe in Bankside. And what a play it was. Henry V, performed with such verve and wit that it was impossible not to be charmed. I had one of the 'noble' seats in the front row of the first floor gallery (looking down on the 'groundlings'), and it was a perfect perch, close enough to the stage to be fully absorbed into the world of the drama. The cast made great use of the theatre set-up, with lots of interacting with the crowd and comings and goings through the audience, and it was wonderful to have the music played live on authentic instruments. I'm not sure if it was the authenticity of the theatre (right down to the oak bench seats and open sky above), the quality of the performers, or the traditional interpretation (no WWI costumes or other unnecessary twists), but it seemed much more immediate and alive than any previous Shakespeare play I've seen performed live. Apart from the lack of rotten fruit being thrown and whores plying their trade in the darker corners of the pit (or if they were, I didn't see them), it was probably quite similar (if a lot less stinky) to seeing the play as  it was first staged in 1599.

There was an extra connection for me with the play's subject matter, as I'd spent that very morning at the British Library reading documents relating to Henry V's campaigns in France. One of the texts was a letter dated 1419 from the mayor of Bordeaux, pleading for the king to send more money to pay for defence in Guyenne, Henry's focus (and money) being at that time largely focused on Normandy and the north of France. The English letters regularly refer to the French Dauphin as the 'Dolphin', which always cracks me up. It seems that the history deliberate mispronunciation of French words and names is a long one!

After the performance, I went for a walk along Bankside and through Southwark, which is an interesting mix or somewhat-seedy 17th-19th century buildings that bear witness to the area's shipping and merchant past, and brash glassed monuments to the finance industry. There are some lovely old pubs in the area, like The Anchor (built in 1615), but unfortunately most of them seem to be run by the same big chain and offer exactly the same menu of 'classic' pub grub (i.e. fish and chips or pie and mash). Instead, I found a nice little restaurant right on the waterfront and dined on pissaldiere with reblochon cheese while looking out over London Bridge and the Tower (I'm batting 5 for 5 on choosing good restaurants completely at random). As the sun went down, I raised a glass to the ghost of Sir Simon Burley and all those many others like him, 'beheaded next the wall on Tower hill'.

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