Dispatches from London Programs Past

Attention all globetrotters, theatergoers, and bibliophiles: the 2020 edition of the annual London Program is still accepting applications! Professor Constance Walker is leading the program next Winter, and students joining her can expect to see two to three theater performances a week, discuss London’s portrayal in 19th century literature, and explore the city’s global and historical streets on foot. If you’re still on the fence (and the prospect of a non-Northfield winter hasn’t swayed you for some reason), we’ve got some testimonials from former London programmers sharing their experiences and memories below! Check them out, and don’t forget to apply by Monday, May 13 if you’re interested in joining the program!

Bonnie Lindgren, London 2016

Most of our plays have been in the evenings, and there is a sort of euphoria that follows. Sometimes it’s everyone gushing about how incredible it was- “DID YOu seE ALL the CANDLES,” “SO GOOD,” “AHHHHH.” Sometimes we walk in speechless numbness after a particularly intense production: “I just…I just…what. What just happened. What. Why. Why.”

But there’s something magical about walking into the theatre in the evening, the sun only just dimming, and to walk out after seeing the world to find that night began while you were away.

We’ve been to the National Theatre more than anywhere else these past few months, and the walk home across Waterloo Bridge has come to feel like a familiar evening ritual. I remember so distinctly making our way there in the very first week- stepping out onto the bridge and getting such a fantastic view of Westminster Abbey and Big Ben to one side, St. Paul’s on the other. Walking home this last time, I want to take everything in. Wind rustling jackets and long hair. People laughing. Buses speeding past us, grinding to a halt- we overtake them- they load new passengers and speed away again, gaining on us and eventually, inevitably, passing us and disappearing down the road.

Some productions need to be followed up by chocolate ice cream. Sainsbury’s obliges.

It makes sense that there will be good days and bad days, days we look forward to, days when some of us barely make it to the theatre. But I think it’s impossible to be unmoved when walking through London at night. Be it sadness or euphoria, the city amplifies it: the lights and the buses, people passing, everything happening, splendidly, in unison.

Jenan Jacobson, London 2016

After our trip to Dennis Severs’ house, the group split up and went their separate ways. Some of my roommates and I decided that a thorough browsing of the nearby Spitalfields Market was necessary. Entering the giant covered market was like stepping into sensory overload. Lots of people ranged about, musicians played in the center of the market, inviting people to come and dance, and the smells of food wafted along the corridor of food stalls. Before we indulged our rumbling bellies or tapping toes, we decided to conduct a thorough inspection of what merchandise the market had to offer. Several stalls jumped out at us, and we spent many minutes gushing about the cards that had 3D paper cutouts on them and the records that had been carved to represent the band’s cover art, or a portrait of a famous artist. These were not enough to have us reaching into our purses, however, and it wasn’t until we’d moved on further into the market that we found a stall that gave us pause. The woman was selling jewelry made from leaves covered in a fine layer of metal—the veins of all the leaves were highlighted beautifully in gold or silver, captured forever at their prime. After many minutes that had us comparing necklaces and types of leaves and color of the metal, with occasional commentary provided by the woman running the stall, we picked our necklaces. With our grand purchases made, we were ready to check out the dance floor. I watched on proudly as my roommates, Emma and Mikaela, swung about the dance floor, laughing and quick stepping. They held their own amidst the crowd of elderly couples, and I took as many pictures as I could to commemorate a moment of joy.

Brandon Fabel, London 2017

Last week our group traveled back in time and experienced Shakespeare’s Globe (not the original of course) when we saw Nell Gwynn, a comedy based on the actual life of English actress and mistress to King Charles II Nell Gwynn, directed by Christopher Luscombe. It was an amazing experience, placed along the south bank of the River Thames, giving The Globe beautiful views of London. Going up the steps into the courtyard outside The Globe one can feel the electricity in the air—people talking, drinking, and shops offering food, rain ponchos, and seat cushions. The thatched roof was what ignited my imagination; it took me right out of the hustle and bustle of the city to a time of days past. This electricity sets the atmosphere for the play.

Then you enter the theatre—an Elizabethan style playhouse set in the open, with room for people to sit (as our group did, protected from the elements) or to stand in the open and up close to the action. The seats reminded me of a high school football or basketball game: flat, bleacher-style benches. I was lucky, I had a seat in the back row so I could rest my back against the wall, but others were able to get seat cushions or seat rests. Then there were a large number of people who stood in the standing area in front of the stage, which I think was a genius idea. Not only does it offer a cheap option for people to come and experience the plays in The Globe, but also it takes the electricity and buzz created outside of the play and brings it into the theatre. With a play like Nell Gwynn, this buzz complements the play and in turn makes for a great night out (just remember to check the weather forecast, and pack accordingly).

Proud Chanarat, London 2017

The Charles Dickens Museum, located at 48 Doughty Street in London, is the Victorian family home of Charles Dickens. At this home, he wrote Oliver Twist, Pickwick Papers, and Nicholas Nickleby.

I was very eager to visit the museum, especially because Dickens’ Great Expectations is my favorite book; I went with a hint of the intention of finding Miss Havisham’s wedding dress.

The museum is very accessible. The closest underground stations to the museum are Russell Square and Chancery Lane, and there are signs on the streets pointing towards the direction of the museum. Bedford Place, the place in London in which I live, is only a 10-minute walk from the museum (which I am very happy about).

What stood out to me was how the museum linked Charles Dickens’ life to the development of his characters and to moral and social commentaries in his books. The nursery room and the servant’s room revealed a lot about Dickens’ life. Both rooms are at the very top of the house. During the Victorian times, house owners did not want their guests to see infants, children, and servants; keeping those rooms at the very top of the house guarantees that these individuals will be out of sight of guests.

For Dickens fan or yet-to-be fan, I highly recommend visiting Dickens’ London home and museum. Although in the end Miss Havisham’s wedding dress was not present, my 2-hour visit is one of the highlights of my stay here in London so far, and I am determined to return at least once more to collect intricate details that I may have missed before I leave London.

Cece Lasley, London 2018

In almost every other theatre we have visited this term, audience members all sit in a dark theater and watch a play illuminated by artificial light. However, at Shakespeare’s Globe, audience members can either pay to sit on wooden benches or to stand in the yard between the seats and the stage. Standing tickets are only 5 pounds, keeping up the historical tradition from Shakespeare’s time of charging a penny for standing entry (or the modern London equivalent). If you stand, you become what is called a groundling. Standing tickets are only 5 pounds, and it’s first come, first serve for the best spots closest to the stage. On Monday, the day after we had gotten back to London from our weekend in Stratford-upon-Avon, James S., Brynne, and I went to see the Globe’s Touring Company’s production of The Merchant of Venice. In order to try to get good spots in the yard, we arrived at the theatre about an hour before the Groundling Gates opened. We sat against the outer wall of the Globe’s terrace and read some. At 7pm, the gates opened, and we filed inside to wait a little longer on the terrace before being able to enter the theatre. Our patience was rewarded though, and we got spots almost right up against the stage!

On Friday, James, Brynne, and I went back to the Globe – this time joined by Jacob, Kathleen, Izzy, and Lauren. We were all going to see either The Taming of the Shrew, The Merchant of Venice, or Twelfth Night. You might be wondering, “How did they not know what they were going to see?” However, we didn’t know which of the three shows we were going to see because it was a “Voter’s Choice” night. This means that the entire audience votes on which show they would like to see and then the company puts it on. We arrived at the same time James, Brynne, and I had on Monday, but were rewarded with even better spots right up next to the stage.

Voting is done through the highly technical means of shouting as loud as possible. The loudest show wins. The seven of us were all hoping for Twelfth Night. I was a little bit worried that one of the other shows would be picked, but I was encouraged by people we had heard talking in line and by the roar when it was introduced before voting began. Twelfth Night did end up winning, and as amazing as Merchant was, this show was even better. The costumes were much more elaborate than they were in The Merchant of Venice, but they all were still centered around the base costume. Feste’s music was entrancingly beautiful, and the entire company did an amazing job of finding the humor in the text while still making you feel terrible for Malvolio.

I had so much fun at both shows, and I am so glad that we went. Being a Groundling is such a fun and special experience. Attending these two shows at the Globe as groundlings was definitely two of my favorite moments from the program. I would highly recommend being a Groundling to anyone who is visiting London, likes (or loves) Shakespeare, and is able to stand for several hours.

Pavana Khan, London 2018

Covent Garden is full of flowers, tourists, fancy shops, talented performers, pigeons, food and fun. It has recently become one of my favorite London spots. I love sitting on the steps near the flower carts and watching  spectacular magic shows. Most of the shops in the area are quite exorbitantly priced, yet fun for window shopping.  The market place itself has quite an array of interesting articles- fluffy toys, fragrant handmade soap, exquisite tea boxes, paintings etc. There are delicious chocolate coated strawberries sold in one of the food carts. My favorite place for a sweet treat is B Bakery, which has the cutest decor and the best cupcakes. Covent Garden is also a hot spot for afternoon tea and it is delightful to sit outside and enjoy scones and clotted cream while someone is performing live in front of you. The place is always so vibrant and full of life, and I am going to miss it when we leave London!

Brynne Diggins, London 2018

It’s the last day of classes here in London and as I look back on my ten weeks abroad, I am happy to realize just how much I will miss this city. I have never lived in a proper city before so I wasn’t quite sure how I’d adjust, but I have taken to London life and am grateful for all of the experiences I have had here. Here’s a small compilation of the many things I am grateful for in London:

  • The transportation system that can get you anywhere, pretty quickly (the tube! the trains! the double decker buses!)
  • Carrot cake at the Syrup of Soot
  • The Wellcome Collection library (even if it was closed this past Bank Holiday as I had to write my final paper)
  • The Camden Comedy Club (they have cheap shows every night of the week!)
  • The V&A’s vast collections
  • Waitrose peanut butter
  • Walking across Millennium Bridge to get to the Tate or the Globe and looking back and seeing St. Paul’s looming at the other end
  • People saying “cheers”
  • The river Thames and all of the greenery in the city

I could go on much longer about everything I am thankful for having seen and done here. I am happy to return to Minnesota and will think fondly of London.

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