My first day in London was a delight. It was a glorious day in London and I walked for over ten miles in visiting different landmarks. London is not simply a gorgeous and inspiring city but it is filled with people who are eager to help any lost tourist and simply to chat on the streets. I have yet to meet a single Londoner who was not incredibly cheerful and helpful.
After buying an “Oyster Card” to use the Tube for a week, I was able to visit different parts of the city. I am staying at the Shangri-La in the iconic Shard building. I will be doing a review of the hotel later but it is in a perfect location in Central London with unparalleled views. (My room looks out on the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, and the HMS Belfast is directly under my window).
We started the day with a breakfast at the Frontline Club (the club for war correspondents) where I met with my family friend Ed Vulliamy. Ed’s father and my father were very close friend and our families have maintained the long relationship. Ed has spent much of his life on dangerous assignments from Bosnia to the narco-wars of the South America.
We then walked to Hyde Park and made our way over to Trafalgar Square, Westminster, Big Ben, Buckingham, and Parliament. We then walked over to the Globe across the Thames to watch the new production “King John” — one of the least well known play of William Shakespeare. It seemed the perfect way to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta signed by King John.
Hundreds still stand as they did with the original Globe theater. We were seated (and you can rent a pad to sit on for one pound which is worth the money). The play starts with the immediate aftermath of the death of Richard the Lionheart and the rise of his brother John to the throne. The French are threatening King John’s reign with an alliance with his nephew, the young Prince Arthur. Director James Dacre does an inspired job in setting this play visually and efficiently for the audience. With a relatively small cast the play casts a long shadow. The play has its hilarious moments as King John (played brilliantly by Jo Stone-Fewings) adopts the Bastard, Philip Faulconbridge (Alex Waldmann), a wonderfully opportunistic figure who offers cutting narratives through the play. Tanya Moodie plays Constance, mother of Arthur with a passion and range that stands with the best of her craft. All of this occurs with musical elements that are haunting and mesmerizing with Medieval instrumentals, chants or prayers. (One critical note for the musicians would be to avoid reviewing the musical numbers with white plastic binders in an otherwise lovely stage set up. It was a jarring disconnect when two different players pulled out the notebooks at different points in the performance. It was not that the performance was entirely historical given the accordion in the band but the note books took away from the actors standing a foot or two away).
The play has many overlooked brilliant moments and lines like Arthur’s mother wailing: “Here I and sorrows sit; Here is my throne, bid kings come bow to it.” Perhaps my favorite line is “Life is as tedious as a twice-told tale; Vexing the dull ear of a drowsy man.”
This play is a must see for Shakespeare lovers and should be particularly appealing with this anniversary. Many of us have been repeated productions of classics like Hamlet or King Lear or Macbeth. King John is worth your time and the Globe theater does a masterful job in bringing it to life in full glory. Better yet, you can enjoy this wonderful theater and wonderful production with a pint of good English beer. What is not to like about that? If you are in London, go and see King John. It is a rare opportunity to see this play performed by the very best cast in the perfect setting.
We then walked around the Thames for a great evening stroll as the sun went down on an incredible day.
Here are a few images from the day: