One of my courses for this semester is called Theatre in London: An Introduction. The premise is simple; every Tuesday night for nine weeks, the whole class had tickets to see a play in a different part of the city. The following class period, we discussed what we liked and didn’t like, and prepared for the next show. The class is very small—five people, including the instructor—so it’s fairly casual for us all to meet at the different theaters every week. I was already a theatre-lover before arriving in London, but even the non-theatre fans in the class have enjoyed seeing something new and different at each outing. One classmate and I have come up with a ritual for our Tuesday nights. After our last Tuesday class, we travel together to the theatre, hours early, to explore the area. We get dinner and drinks nearby, then sit in the theatre lounge before the show. On my best weeks and the weeks when I’ve been racked by homesickness, these are the nights I most look forward to.
I have seen shows that I’ve never heard of and shows that have been on the West End for years. I’ve been to neighborhoods across London and ones walking distance from the IES Abroad Centre. I’ve also gotten to try some truly incredible food. There were some highlights, of course, I have to share.
My favorite show of the semester was Much Ado About Nothing at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. I am a Shakespeare fan, so I understand if this isn’t as popular of an opinion, but Shakespeare or not, this was the most fun show we got to see. The set was beautiful, and the actors were hilarious enough to break through the barrier of Shakespearean English. I’ve found that truly great actors can make Shakespeare accessible in a way that an amateur or high school production just can’t. The unique thing about the Globe is that, in addition to seated tickets, they sell standing-room tickets for only five pounds. It’s not the most comfortable, but perhaps the most exciting way to watch a show. The standing room is directly at the edge of the stage. I was feet away from the actors on stage and could touch the set pieces at the edge. The actors definitely played for the standing area as well, often pointing us out and interacting with us. The aching feet at the end of the night was worth the experience—I’ve never been so engaged with a production before.
A close second to Much Ado About Nothing was Cabaret at the Playhouse Theater, which has been re-branded as The Kit Kat Club for Cabaret’s run. The Kit Kat Club was such a unique experience compared to all of the other theaters we saw. On arrival, you get a Kit Kat Club sticker to put over your phone camera. The signs around read “Keep it at the Kit Kat Club.” You walk down a narrow, almost ominous-looking hallway down to the first level, which explodes in neon and live music. There are three bars in the Kit Kat Club, each serving different drinks. Each has actors and performers singing, dancing, interacting with patrons and each other, and creating an atmosphere of entering a 1930’s cabaret in Berlin. The show itself is brilliantly performed and choreographed, and was overall the most immersive production we saw.
These theaters and productions were some of my favorites I’ve seen in my life. You don’t have to be a theatre student to enjoy the London theatre community, but choosing this course is the best decision I made in my entire study abroad planning process.
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Hello! My name is Emma Hughes, and I'm a junior studying Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Iowa. I'm visiting London to study public relations and explore the arts and theatre communities in the UK. I love theatre, creative writing, game nights, and movies. This fall, I hope to have lots of new and exciting experiences in London, and that sharing them with you helps you get the most out of your time abroad!