Once more unto the breach, dear friends…

O! for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention!
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene.

Henry V, Chorus I, Shakespeare

The Opening Ceremony

Did anyone spot Kenneth Branagh? Did you? Yeah, well, I guess that cameo is probably the least bizarre of all the happenings of the Olympics opening ceremony. You’ve got to give it to Danny Boyle – he did a bang-up job. Not knowing what to expect, I think that it was fascinating and cringey in equal measure – and therefore very British.

The parents put on a bit of a shindig for the opening ceremony – a friend was one of the winged cyclists! So it was wine, beer and coronation chicken aplenty, and sloping away to bed at the not unreasonable hour of 1am.

From the chimneys sprouting out of the green pastures – symbolising the Industrial Revolution, and a nod to Danny Boyle’s dad – to dancing through the ages, it was stages of wonderful, impressive and downright weird. Jolts of humour – Bond and the Queen, and Mr Bean at the piano – were countered by some truly masterful and astounding feats; those fireworks weren’t quite up to Beijing standards maybe, but using the entire stadium as a TV screen was.

Voldemort and Cruella de Ville being seen off by Mary Poppins, and a blast of The Archers soundtrack weren’t quite what I was expecting, neither was the modern-day love story, told by the medium of technology (not sure how that was portrayed to the audience in the stadium). But I adored the music sequence (yes, I am a Dizzy Rascal fan, and no I’m not ashamed) – including some timeless classics by The Jam and The Who. I definitely think music is a key piece of British culture, and Mr Boyle showed it with great aplomb.

My absolute favourite bit though (besides my friend on a bike with glowing wings), was the lighting of the Olympic Cauldron. Everyone was placing bets on who it would be – from the Queen, to Chris Hoy to Steve Redgrave, to Gandalf* (this was suggested after someone said that the opening scene of the grassy hill and the tree looked like Hobbiton).

I love the fact that it was no one we expected – that the people (picked by athletes) were simply the next generation of Olympic hopefuls. The London 2012 idea of “inspiring the next generation” in physical form. And whoever thought of that cauldron deserves a knighthood! It’s beautiful… I did cross my fingers and hoped it wouldn’t break whilst watching… but it was beautiful.

What did everyone think of the ceremony? And, for those not of the UK – did you get some of the references?

*For the record – Sir Ian McKellen is a legend and I would have loved to see him light it!

Henry V

A couple of weeks ago, Ana asked if I fancied going to see a performance at the Globe theatre in London of Shakespeare’s Henry V. Well, duh.

About a week ago, we realised that this visit would coincide with the first day of the Olympics. As a very unsporting person, I will hold my hand up and admit I’m not doing backflips over the Olympics – as great as they are – because I simply have no interest in the sports. Therefore, to discover that these sports – which I have no vested interest in, though commend anyone who does – were potentially going to ruin my Shakespeare day, it’s understandable that I was not amused.

Yesterday morning, getting the 9.35 train (leaving myself RIDICULOUS amounts of time to get to the Globe “just-in-case”), I found that although it was the first day of the Olympics, and people wearing various supportive outfits and costumes were climbing on at every stop, it was not an awkward journey. That’s fine, I said to myself, I will no doubt have to contend with the crowds on Waterloo concourse.

Erm. No. Contend with dithering tourists (but no more than usual) and avoiding the clusters of lost Olympics fans that seemed to gather around any Games Maker or police officer in sight, yes. But creep under the legs of thousands of people and praying I won’t get suffocated, no.

As it was a beautiful day, off I pottered to the riverside. I aimed straight for the London Eye (nothing like a giant ferris wheel landmark to navigate with), then turned right. And it wasn’t even busier than normal here! Street performers (including artists, comedians, dancers, magicians, and those creepy statue people), Games Maker help points and pop-up shops and restaurants have gathered along the banks of the River Thames, creating a carnival atmosphere (helped by the many people in fancy dress and carousel with shrieking kids).

I took a picture of the giant Olympic rings out on the water, and soaked up the sun, before Ana and Claire appeared and we had a very indulgent lunch of mussels in a creamy white wine sauce and butternut squash salad (me), linguine (Claire), and bruschetta and chips (Ana) at The Wharf.

But what about the play!? I hear you cry. Well… I really can’t say much about the play, because I’m a loss for words. Outstanding, would be a start. Jamie Parker is a fantastic Henry, and delivers his lines with the right amount of sobriety and fierceness. I have never seen Henry V (or read it) before, so coming to the whole thing with fresh eyes was brilliant. I knew what it was about, of course, but never expected the humour, and so found it all the funnier (and more poignant) when it did appear.

For £5, you can stand in the yard (the main area right in front of the stage) and see some of the greatest plays ever to be written, in the venue that they were written for. Okay, so standing for 3 hours wasn’t fun, and when the sun came over I did burn a bit because there’s not a lot of protection, but frankly I didn’t notice the standing part until the play was finished and broke the spell.

The cast was really strong, and they clearly enjoyed working together. I recognised a lot of faces (but I couldn’t tell you where from) and although the chorus woman felt a bit superfluous sometimes – I know she’s there to carry the story along, but it just got to the point where I just wanted the others back out on stage – there was never a point at which I was bored.

The acoustics (there were no microphones that I could see) were outstanding, and I loved being able to watch the reactions of the people in the galleries because it’s a circular theatre. The actors move through the audience and interact with them, which creates a frisson of excitement every time you hear a trumpet at the back of the stage, or see an actor lean down to the crowd. You want to be involved, you crave the attention of the King, long to be a drinking buddy of Pistol and Nym, and banter with Captain Fluellen.

I once considered A Midsummer Night’s Dream to be my favourite Shakespeare. But, I think Jamie Parker might have changed my mind!

By the end though, we were all exhausted and said our goodbyes outside the gates of the Globe. I decided to walk back to the Eye again; the sun had gone in, but the pop-up restaurants were doing booming business as tourists ventured along the riverside for food. This time I found a Michael Jackson impersonator, a street artist chalking all the flags of the Olympians onto the paving, and break dancers teaching the crowd a trick or two.

The homeward journey was as equally uneventful as the journey in; the only difference being everyone was slightly more sunburnt, the adults a bit tipsy, and the children coming down from sugar highs. The detritus of a visit to the capital – British flags and I Heart London tee-shirts, foam hands and deflated backpacks now devoid of snacks and drinks – dragged along Waterloo concourse, the sun sagging low over the river, and the trains took the passengers home to bed, myself amongst it all, my head full of Shakespeare and tummy full of mussels.

So now I sit here, tired and red and contented. Faced with a blank page of paper, convinced that whatever I will write, will never be as good as Shakespeare, but I might as well give it a go. Because, who knows? A couple of hundred years from now, what I write could be considered the greatest literature of our time, and someone in a blue and white sundress could be walking along the banks of the river Thames with friends, off to see an adaptation of one of my works…

A girl can dream.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead!
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favoured rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect.

Henry V, Act III, Scene I, Shakespeare

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1 Comment

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One response to “Once more unto the breach, dear friends…

  1. Sarah P.

    What summed up the Olympic ceremony for me was the moment when my 4 year old brother Pierce turned to me with wide eyes after watching Kenneth Branagh reading Caliban’s speech from The Tempest, and said in an amazed voice “wow!!”. It was quirky, surreal and amazing. I loved the clips of Michael Fish failing to predict the hurricane, the Queen with James Bond and Mr Bean in Chariots of Fire, and Team GB entering the stadium to Heroes – to me, it was a great representation of British culture. I know a lot of international viewers wouldn’t have understood many of the references, but I kinda like that. I also loved the fact that by including the Brookside kiss in the kiss medley, Danny Boyle managed to get the first gay kiss onto tv in many countries with much stricter television rules than us. I could go on and on; the opening ceremony was one of my personal highlights of the year.

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