A portion of the massive fees we paid to Royal Holloway as study abroad students was allocated to “free” trips for us. We were given a pre-arranged coach ride into London with a Blue Badge tour guide who took us around to the usual tourist sites and told us all the stories he had. Our guide was a charismatic man who backpacked his way around Europe in his 20s and 30s working various restaurant jobs and learning the basics of quite a few languages. Then, after earning a degree in English and German literature he started leading tours.
Saturday night was the night of the big match between England and Australia in the rugby world cup. Our tour guide was, obviously, an avid England supporter and any time we walked past anyone in Australian jerseys he would stop the tour to wish them well, and to ensure them that England was going to win. At one point, he even stopped our group and lined us up in a scrum formation to explain how the beginning of a rugby match goes down.
We stopped by Westminster Abbey, grabbed some coffee, and then went off to the British museum, which was the last stop before returning home for most of the group. I, however, have a friend from Oregon State who is studying abroad and living in a flat right around the corner from the museum. So, I thanked our tour guide, departed from the group, and went off to find my friend.
Me, the cavalry, and an ancient string instrument with its description from the British Museum:
My friend and I weren’t very prepared for Saturday and neither of us are particularly decisive people so we spent some time wandering through the city. Eventually, we decided we would check out the Tkts booth for discounted theater tickets but it was a little too late by that point and even the discounted tickets were a little too much. Leicester square is a hub of shows itself, though, being the site of most movie premieres. We eventually decided we would just see a movie and try for a show the next day. We quickly agreed that we should see The Man from U.N.C.L.E. since it was so highly acclaimed and looked all around hilarious. It seemed like it was a fun movie to produce because they got to do all these throwbacks to the quirky 1960s spy film shooting and editing styles and the music added to the hilarity of it all. After seeing the movie, we went to a diner called The Breakfast Club, for nachos and milkshakes.
Sunday was planned out much better. In the morning, we booked tickets for a Jack the Ripper tour and researched brunch places. I’ve learned that in London, everything must be booked beforehand, even your meals. Thankfully we woke up early enough to find the brunch place 20 minutes before they opened. We loitered a bit outside and resorted to playing on a playground until they opened. I’ve also learned that not everything has to be booked if you arrive early enough. We were able to get a table in this cute little tropical themed restaurant with wicker chairs and those stereotypical white tropical vacation fans (If you don’t know what I mean just google “tropical white fans”). After french toast and bottomless Bellinis, we walked back to Leicester square to get tickets to Showstopper! The Improvised Musical. While waiting for the show, we hit up an old favorite of Vince and mine, The Forbidden Planet, a nerdy trinket, book, and graphic novel store.
I mentioned a bit about Showstopper! on Facebook but it really was something that you just can’t describe. It was a group of three musicians (piano, woodwinds, and drums), a director who broke the fourth wall and asked the audience for suggestions throughout the show, and a group of six actors who listened to things the director said to form the story. Audience suggestions for a setting ranged from Middle Earth to a busy airport, to PM Cameron’s college dinner party (the director steered the audience away from that one). We stuck to current events and decided that the opening setting of the show would be the English rugby team’s locker room after the loss the previous night. The show was called “Balls!” We suggested musicals including Wicked, Cats, and West Side Story to give the actors song inspiration. As a result, there was a Wicked duet between two women involved in a love triangle with one of the rugby players. There was a Cats style inspirational duet between two of the main rugby players. Through the intermission they took suggestions on twitter as to how the second act should start and the most popular suggestion was that it should take place four years in the future at the next world cup for the rematch between England and Australia. The director read out tons of funny twitter responses for us to enjoy and for the actors to get more ideas to incorporate. One was from an Australian audience member who suggested we see more of the Australian team where everyone is named Bruce. When the three women came out on stage in hats calling each other Bruce, the director paused the show and said “see what you have done!” The second act included a West Side Story showdown between the English and Australian teams, a scene in iambic pentameter, and a Billy Elliot-style nightmare sequence. That is one of the songs where I remember the chorus. In the second act the English coach had gone to coach Australia and he felt like he had betrayed his team so he had rugby nightmare, the words of which went “rugby nightmares, the worst of all. Rugby nightmares, all filled with balls!” Of course, the musical had a happy ending. England won and the characters were all paired up in relationships by the end. The chorus of the finale was “To be a winner, to take it all, you just need a team and you just need some balls!” After that show, I’ve decided that I like improv musicals much better than written musicals because they are just not predictable at all, and they’re hilariously ridiculous.
At some point in the day, there was a problem on the tube lines and half of the trains in the city were way behind schedule. We had the time and the willpower to walk from the Apollo theater (basically Picadilly circus) to the East End of London. We got there early and had a nice chat with a Welsh couple and our tour guide. I say, “nice chat,” but we did end up on the topic of how awful Donald Trump is, which is a talking point everywhere apparently. Once he was into character, our guide took us on a spooky tour around East London telling us the story of the six innocent women who were brutally murdered by the never-discovered serial killer, Jack the Ripper. He was equipt with a portable projector to show us 100-year-old photos digitally overlaid onto modern photos of the murder sites. He was also accompanied by a friend who kept stumbling in drunk and telling us what life was like in 1888 and how he feared for his girlfriend’s life. We learned by the end of the tour that his girlfriend was, unfortunately, the final victim of the Ripper.
This morning I caught the train back to Egham and now it’s back to university life for another week, until the next adventure.