Tis a Pity — My last night in London

My favorite moment in London came my last night before flying home, when I went to see Tis a Pity She’s a Whore by John Ford at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.

The playhouse alone is fantastic. Associated with the Shakespeare’s Globe replica, it has been built according to the plans for a 17th century style indoor theater. The theater is small and the stage performances are candlelit, making it feel intimate.

Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
Interior of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse as pictured in the program.

In addition to the amazing setting, Tis a Pity She’s a Whore was one of the best performed plays I’ve ever seen. The play, which I read in college as part of a Shakespeare’s contemporaries class, is about a young man who falls in love with his sister. When he comes to her to confess his love, begging her to kill him or love him, she matches his love and the two begin an incestuous affair.

Meanwhile, the sister is being courted by three different suitors. As the tale unfolds and the desires of each of the characters overlaps and conflicts, several plot lines of revenge evolve and unfold into bloodshed.

The play was funnier than I remember it being in college, as dry reading on the page bears less life than what was brought to the stage with these amazing actors and well planned direction. The result felt like a 17th century version of a campy horror flick with plenty of well punctuated humor and pools of blood puddling onto the stage. Though no campy horror flick could have featured the resonance and complexity of this story, which presents an even handed look at the brother and sister’s relationship. Although, I found the concept disturbing, I also found myself wanting the brother and sister to be protected from the doom coming for them.

The candle lit atmosphere fit the story perfectly. The playhouse had candelabras that could be raised and lowered during the performance, allowing changes of setting to be indicated and at one point for the candle light to be doused entirely to present a night scene, at which point the actors lit themselves with handheld candles.

Though the play was three hours long, it never once dragged. I left the playhouse feeling elated, having seen an amazing performance.

Tis a Pity She’s a Whore featured a scene with nudity.

The program was also the best put together booklet I’ve seen, providing not just a synopsis of the play and a list of the actors, but also a look at the influences of the play when it was written, a biography on John Ford, a critical analysis of the storyline, and a historical look at house incest was perceived in the 17th century compared to today. It also provides information on the historical style of the playhouse and how the modern replica was built. The program was worth every penny of the four pounds I played for it.

I would almost travel back to London just to see another performance at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse — it was that good.

Blood Swept Lands and Seas – Poppies at the Tower of London


During my trip to London, I was fortunate to be able to visit the Tower while the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation of ceramic poppies was on display. Each of the 888,246 poppies that fills the moat represented a British military fatality during the WWI.

The view of the poppies pouring out of one of the Tower windows and filling the moat with bright red is inspiring, whether you know the meaning or not. It’s an installation to make passersby stop and take pause, and it’s no wonder that every walkway surrounding the Tower was thick with people doing just that.

The moat has since been emptied of the poppies and I am grateful for the lucky timing that allowed me to witness this spectacular remembrance of fallen soldiers.

Continue reading “Blood Swept Lands and Seas – Poppies at the Tower of London”

What makes a story a story and other thoughts at the Tate Modern

Untitled Painting by
Untitled Painting (1965) by Michael Baldwin

As I was walking through the Tate Modern, I came upon “Untitled Painting” (1965) by Michael Baldwin, which is a work with a mirror attached to a canvas. The description noted that historically painting has often been referred to as window to the world, a perspective captured within the frame. However, the mirror in this piece shifts the gaze of the window, revealing the viewer in the act of viewing rather than an image the artist made themselves. In addition to being the viewer, you also become the subject of the painting as well.

As I stood observing myself, now the living and temporary subject of the painting, I started to think about the nature of art and the artists who create it. Since it’s been years since I’ve taken an art history class and I don’t tend to speak critically of art, bear with me as I may misinterpret some things.

Continue reading “What makes a story a story and other thoughts at the Tate Modern”

Imaginary Architectures

When I walk through an art museum, I seek out works that move me, pieces of art that resonate in some way or in some way make me stop in my tracks and consider it further. The art that moves me is not always the most famous or most popular art. It may capture my imagination, sending me off into a story, or it may provide and emotional gut check.

I especially look for this in modern art museums, such as the Tate in London. I’m drawn more to modern art (much of the older art prior to the 18th century can sometimes all look the same to me no matter how beautiful), so local modern art museums are always a must when I travel .

The Tate has many great works of art in a variety of styles, from cubism to minimalism and everything in between. There are a few Picassos there among other well known artists.

However, one set of pieces that stood out for me were the imaginary architectures from the Projects series of Alexander Brodsky and Ilya Utkin, which presented dreamlike architectural imagery in old style etchings that had me imagining steampunk landscapes and Victorian industrial and fantastical cities. I would love to post some images of the art here, but I’m not sure what the copyright rules are. You can see one of the intricately detailed images on the Tate Modern website.

More can be found posted here.

Both artists are “paper architects” who created seemingly impossible designs out of paper. I plan to follow up and learn more about both of these artists and their work. But in the meantime, I think I’m going to have to go back to the Tate later this week and buy a print from their Projects series for my wall.

St. Michael's a jerk and other paintings at the National Gallery

The National Gallery in London holds oodles of amazing paintings across many centuries, from the medieval religious works (including a piece by Leonardo Da Vinci) through to Renaissance to some expressionists (with some works by Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gough). But here are a few paintings I found amusing beyond the quality of the art. I admit that this post is partially inspired by Women Having A Terrible Time At Parties In Western Art History, which is far more hilarious than I am capable of being.

Saint Michael Triumphs over the Devil (1468), painted by Bartholomé Bermejo, in which Saint Michael comes off as something of a dick.


Continue reading “St. Michael's a jerk and other paintings at the National Gallery”

All the World's a Stage

Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

It’s been a busy day in London, visiting Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, the Tower Bridge Exhibit, and the Tower of London (including just about everything but the armory exhibit in the White Tower); taking Thames River Cruise; walking by Big Ben, Westminster Abby, St. James Park, and the Buckingham Palace; and then finishing up at London Bridge Experience.

My Favorite Bit of the Day: The Globe.

The Globe is as close of a replica to the original Globe theater as possible, considering there is not much beyond the information provided except in the travelogues of visitors. This is actually the third Globe. The first burned down only fifteen years after being built due to the genius idea to fire a cannon out of the attic as part of a special effect, which causes some of the burning cotton to set the roof aflame, though no one died. The second was rebuilt and closed down about 30 years after it opened, when the Puritans finally succeeded in closing all of the theaters.

This, the third Globe was rebuilt by Sam Wanamaker only 200 meters from where the original stood. Before starting the tour, an exhibition provides some background on the history of the Globe and how the replica was built, as well as including modern costumes designed to look like Elizabethan originals and recordings of famous monologues from Shakespeare’s plays.

Standing in front of the stage, learning about the tricks and understanding by being present really enhances how I feel about Shakespeare’s work. As the guide was speaking, just at her normal level, I could hear her voice reverberating off the rafters — the acoustics are amazing. Being there made me want to pick up and read some of his plays that I haven’t read before, or maybe just binge watch some of the movies.

The Globe is a working theater, too, putting on performances in (mostly) the old style with no electrical audio enhancement or special effects. The only lighting used is during evening performances, but it is used merely to allow the stage and audience to be lit to simulate the daytime experience, in which the audience and actors can see each other. In addition to Shakespeare’s plays, modern plays are also performed.

I would LOVE to have been able to see a performance at the Globe, but since it’s an outdoor theater, performances are only in the summer.

Fortunately, as an alternative, there is also the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, which is designed to be like an indoor, candle-lit Elizabethan playhouse — where they will be playing John Ford’s Tis a Pity She’s a Whore. Ford is a contemporary of Shakespeare and this is a play I read in college, which makes it doubly exciting. Tis a Pity is a story about incest between a brother and sister, which ends in a terrifically violent and bloody fashion in true Jacobean manner. Should be uncomfortably fun.

Side view of the Globe, showing where the groundlings stand and other audience members sit.
The heavens above the stage, where there’s a trap door for gods to descend.
A happy traveler and Shakespeare lover.

The next leg of my travel will be work involved in an industrial city nearby and, thus, in a sense, slightly more mellow. So, I’ll be using the next few days to catch up on my London posts.

A post about London


I was un prepared for how crowded and busy London was going to be, but it was a good kind of crowed and only certain spots. I mean, I was a pain to maneuver a suitcase or an umbrella down the sidewalk sometimes, but it was also wonderful to be able to listen to the many different languages (French, Spanish, and other languages I couldn’t name).

Tonight when I came out of the National Gallery, the rain was falling heavy. I pulled out my umbrella, but my shoes and pants were still getting wet. I was cold and could feel the water wanting to seep into my shoes, but I stopped worrying about it and just loved the rain. It felt like London blessed me (even though I know it rains here all the time).

Later, as I walked away down quieter streets to the hostel, with the lights reflecting off the wet streets, I was struck again by the absence of people after the earlier rushing crush of bodies.

And that’s about all I have the energy for in this post. I visited the National Gallery and the Tate Museum today, both of which had me thinking thoughts (one particular set of thoughts likely to turn into a very long post), but at the moment, the jet lag and exhaustion have caught up with me.

Good night.

The post in which I'm waiting at the airport


I am at the airport. Waiting for my flight to London via Chicago.

Will be boarding any second now. Any second.

Excitement is present beneath the tedium. I’ve never been to the UK (Well, actually, I spent three days in Ireland, so that’s not entirely true). First time in Britain.

Since this will be a work trip, I’ll have just a little time to visit and check things out. In the day and a half I have in London, I plan to visit:
– the National Gallery
– the Tate Modern
– Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
– a Thames River Cruise
– the Tower of London
– the Tower Bridge
– the London Bridge Experience (a horror history tour)
– and walk around a whole lot, seeing Buckingham Palace with the changing I the guard, Big Ben, and plenty of other stuff, I’m sure.

I’ll have another half day after the conference, but I haven’t planned that out yet. Expect many London posts over the next week.

So, yeah, still waiting.

I should pull out my laptop and Nano for a bit, because I promised myself I would use the waiting while traveling to write.

So, here I go: waiting and writing.