London: Tate Modern, Shakespeare’s Globe

I took in only two attractions today: The Tate Modern and Shakespeare’s Globe. I also did some aimless wandering, but you can pretty much count on me fitting in some of that every day when I’m traveling. Today, I did a little more than I originally planned, but more on that later.

Tate Modern

My first stop of the day was the Tate Modern. It’s an art gallery that displays modern art. That’s not terribly surprisingly considering it isn’t called, say, Tate Antiquity.

My typical initial reaction to modern art, particularly the abstract variety, no matter where I see it is, “What the heck is that?” But then, after lengthy, deep reflection and rumination, I often find my musings shifting to something along the lines of, “What the ever loving heck is that?” It is a subtle, but important difference.

I typically recognize quite quickly the subject of non-abstract modern art. However I suspect the artists usually intend to convey something profounder than, for example, “Well, that’s a pretty/disturbing picture of a woman, isn’t it?” Yet that’s generally all I get out of it.

But, enough about me.

The Tate Modern is spread over two buildings, with a bridge connecting them on the fourth floor. The gallery displays pieces of a wide variety media and forms. There were both three-dimensional and four-dimensional works. Beyond the usual three or four dimensions, one of the non-video creations, a tower of old radios and other audio devices incorporated sound. (Video works did too, but that’s less noteworthy.) The tower represented the Tower of Babel. Or so the nearby placard said. I thought it represented a tower of old radios and other audio devices. I tend to be a tad literal.

Many of the placards beside the pieces, in addition to providing the artist’s name, the title of the piece, and the date of its creation, also described what the artist was expressing. After reading a number of those, I finally got it. After all of these years of enduring everlasting befuddlement over the meaning of abstract modern art, I finally understood it—all of it. The underpinnings of the entirety of the broad body of abstract art crashingly became clear to me. The artists are on drugs; probably industrial-strength hallucinogens.

All of the above notwithstanding, I, much to my surprise, enjoyed the Tate Modern. The spacious rooms drew me in and engulfed me. The pieces, which elicited emotions spanning whimsy to worry, imbued in me a deep, endearing, enduring sense of, “what the ever loving heck was that,” but in a good way.

A few of the pieces appear in the photos below.

Tate Modern Observation Deck

I literally and figuratively topped off my visit to the Tate Modern by heading up to the free observation deck on the tenth (top) floor of the taller of the two buildings. The 360-degree views of London were spectacular.

After taking in the views, I walked downstairs to the lovely ninth-floor restaurant and enjoyed a nice lunch.

Here are some snaps from the observation deck:

Shakespeare’s Globe

Shakespeare’s Globe is a recreation of the original Globe Theatre from Shakespeare’s time. It’s not an exact replica. The current version is slightly smaller and has wider aisles. Consequently, there aren’t as many seats in the galleries, nor as much space for “groundlings.”

The groundling space is directly in front of the stage and is standing room only. The seats are benches behind that in two tiers of well-raked rows. (I was in the last row of the lower level. This was much better than it sounds. There aren’t many rows. And because the seating is benches, only the top row has backs to the seats, namely the wall.)

Attached to the theatre is a museum. You can visit the museum and get a tour of the theatre for a fee. However, when a play is on you can visit only the museum, for the obvious reason that there’s a play going on in the theatre. Duh.

According to Rick Steves’ Great Britain tour book, the museum contains costumes, makeup and such. I wasn’t particularly interested in that, but I did want to see the Globe Theatre. And, if possible, I wanted to take in a play there. However, the Steves book said performances are often sold-out.

Foolishly, I didn’t bother checking performance times before going to Shakespeare’s Globe, which is only a couple of blocks from the Tate Modern. Not imagining there’d be a matinee on a Tuesday, my thought was to go there, take the tour, visit the museum (it’s included in price; so it shouldn’t be a waste), and try to buy a ticket for a performance at another time while I’m in London.

As my usual bad luck would have it, a play was starting ten minutes from when I arrived. Consequently, I couldn’t take a tour.

As my exceptionally infrequent good luck would have it, the play wasn’t sold-out. In fact, there were groundling tickets and both obstructed and unobstructed seats available. I splurged on an unobstructed seat and walked jauntily directly into the theatre to watch The Merry Wives of Windsor.

The Merry Wives of Windsor

A seating rather than groundling ticket turned out to be a good, if much more expensive choice. It was quite hot. The groundling area was open to the scorching sun. The seating galleries were covered—the lower tier by the upper tier and the upper tier by a partial roof. Thus, I was well-shaded. The groundlings weren’t. Na, naah, na na.

There was another reason I’m glad I didn’t buy a groundling ticket. The players interacted somewhat with the groundlings. That sounds like a positive experience, unless you’re an introvert. I’m an introvert.

Plus, there was no warning that the groundling area was a splash zone. But it was. Once, the Falstaff character did a spit-take with a mouthful of beer (possibly only stage beer) that sprayed some of the groundlings. Another time, he splashed some water on them out of a boot after his character had been thrown into the Thames.

I can’t remember having ever seeing or reading the Merry Wives of Windsor, so I can’t say how true the performance kept to Shakespeare’s original dialogue. Much of it sounded Shakespearean, but methinks they updated some of it to be a tad more modern, but not much.

The costumes definitely weren’t replicas of what the players wore in Shakespeare’s time. Many of the wardrobe consisted of fairly contemporary suits, dresses and pantsuits. There were some period costumes thrown in. But I’m not certain they were of the Shakespearean period; just not modern.

A small band performed a small amount of music during the play. The music included some instrumental bars and one or two (I don’t remember) longer vocal and dance numbers. They didn’t feel of a Shakespearean time to me, but rather more along the lines of a classic Broadway musical (or, this being London, I guess a West End musical). The production of The Merry Wives of Windsor ended with a rollicking Broadway/West End dance number featuring the entire cast.

I believe there was another difference between the performance I saw and the ones staged in Shakespeare’s day. I could be wrong about this because I’m not a student of history, but I’m reasonably certain that there were far fewer loud planes flying overhead in Shakespearean times than there were today.

All and all, the performance of The Merry Wives of Windsor was terribly funny and truly great fun.

Wandering Around

Whilst I greatly enjoyed the play, and I’m very glad I took it in, it disrupted my plan for the day. (Notice how I slipped in the British “whilst?” I’m trying to fit in here.)

My original plan was to go on the Globe Theatre tour and then visit St. Paul’s Cathedral, which is pretty much just across a bridge over the Thames from the Globe. However, by the time the play got out (it lasted 2.5 hours, including a 20 minute intermission), the cathedral was closed to tourists. (It was open to worshippers for evensong, but who am I kidding?)

Instead, I did some aimless wandering, including past St. Paul’s Cathedral. I didn’t take many pictures on that stroll, but I posted what I have below.

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