Shared Journeys: The Ups and Downs of Touring Together

Tourists at the Tower of London

I like my own company. Me, myself and I make a happy team. We’ve been to the theatre, just us, to the cinema solo, holidayed alone and thoroughly enjoyed it. You do what you want, when you want, how you want. Fancy spending an hour simply gazing at the sky? No problem! Want to idle in front of Monet’s Water Lilies for half a day? Just do it.

Lovely, but if there’s one thing better than journeying alone it’s sharing the experience with a like-minded companion. For example, my Mum and I have just one guide wherever we go and whatever we do: Spontaneity Rules!

I can’t count the amount of weird and wonderful food we’ve tried, the top tickets we’ve acquired and the amazing times we’ve had all over the world – and at home too! – from being spontaneous. Fantastic!

But how about if we include more people on the journey? Not just two or three friends but a proper group tour? I’ve worked as a tour guide and workshop leader for many years so I’ve had lots of experience leading tours. I’ve lived in London for most of my life so have seen hundreds of tours passing through the tourist spots. And I’ve also been on several group tours myself. Here are some of my highlights…

My 10 favourite group tour moments:

  1. Getting chosen to be one of the tasters on the Jameson Whisky Tour – and getting rewarded with another drink as a thank-you! Such a great experience and I even have a certificate to prove it.
  2. Taking groups of 7-11 year olds on tours through Darwin’s Garden at Down House and seeing the ‘lightbulb moment’ when they clocked Natural Selection in action all around them! (BTW I can recommend the OpenLearn course on Natural Selection if you’re a bit woolly on this…followed by a visit to Down House of course!)
  3. The backpacks/heavy walking shoes/vast picnics/huge range of clothing you see groups with in central London. Seriously folks, it’s a city, not Mount Everest.
  4. Seeing people’s thrilled faces every time I managed to take a group on the Olivier Theatre stage when leading a National Theatre backstage tour
  5. …and seeing people’s amazed faces when they saw the size of the construction workshops at the National Theatre. You’d never believe there was a whole factory hidden back there.
  6. Not very enjoyable at the time but now I look back and laugh…I worked weekends at Madame Tussauds during my degree and people used to make up ‘fake tour groups’ by collecting individuals from the queue and forming an impromptu tour group so they could get a group discount. Showed initiative but there was always a fuss about having to pay together, not being able to re-enter, people changing their mind and going back to the other queue leaving too few people to be a group, etc, etc. Chaos often ensued.
  7. A walking tour of Jerusalem with a great guide and a very interesting group of people – including my spontaneous Mum! (The whole holiday came about rather unexpectedly but that’s another story…)
  8. A tour of the cellar, winery and museum at Castellriog including of course tasting the delicious cava and lovely local food. Cava is sooo much nicer than prosecco!
  9. A tour of Brighton sewers – there’s an entire world hidden away down there! Utterly fascinating.
  10. Going backstage at Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre – I first saw that show at just 6 years old so it was like magic going back! Even though I now work in theatre and have seen all kinds of backstage, they all have their own particular magic and I’ve loved every theatre tour I’ve taken!

Shared journeys…they have a certain je ne sais quoi…

 

 

 

 

Shakespeare’s Globe: Theatre Tour

 

Wednesday 7th June 2006 Titus 010
Shakespeare’s Globe

Where? Shakespeare’s Globe, 21 New Globe Walk,  Bankside, London, SE1 9DT

When? Tours run every 30 minutes, all day every day (except 24/25 December). Check opening hours on their website.

What was on? Can’t remember. Probably Shakespeare!

How? Just rock up on the day to the exhibition entrance (rather than the theatre box office). There are some really useful FAQ’s here.

Cost? £15 for adults, £13.50 seniors, £12.50 students, £9 children -15, free for children under 5. Includes free entry into the exhibition

Duration? 30-40 minutes

Founded by the actor and director Sam Wanamaker, The Globe is a wonderful building as well as a terrific working theatre. Completed in the mid 90’s, it’s a ‘best guess’ replica of the very first Globe Theatre from Shakespeare’s time, built in 1599. Today’s Globe also has special permission to have the only thatched roof in London for hundreds of years – they were banned after the Great Fire of London. The very first Globe actually burned down during a performance of Henry VIII when a canon was accidentally fired into the roof after someone forgot to tilt it upwards (I wouldn’t like to be that guy.) Happily, even without modern health-and-safety rules everyone escaped unharmed. One gentleman’s britches were set alight but the flames were dowsed by his quick-thinking friend with a bottle of beer. The second Globe had a more prudent tiled roof but Shakespeare never wrote for it (although he may have acted there) and those killjoy Puritans closed it down with all the other theatres in the 1640’s.

globe_theatre_-_second_globe_theatre_-_hollar27s_view_of_london_-_1647
The second Globe Theatre – check out the tiled roof. By Hollar’s View of London (1647). [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Over 350 years later, we got Globe number three and as well as being an amazing place to see a play, it’s a valuable resource for researchers and fascinating for anyone who has seen Shakespeare in Love and fantasized about literate goateed Elizabethan men with 21st century hygiene. (Incidentally SIL was not filmed at the Globe – the theatre scenes are located in a purpose built ‘Rose Theatre’)

 

sir_walter_raleigh_painting
Sir Walter Raleigh – good looking and rich enough to change his linen daily. Alexisrael (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

So, naturally, the Globe is incredibly popular. Unbelievably popular. It’s world-famous, and on the list of almost every visitor to London. To ensure that everyone gets a chance to visit, they need to run a lot of tours and the tours need to have a lot of people on them. You don’t get the most personal experience on a tour, as they have to cater for a wide variety of different visitors but it’s incredibly convenient being able to just turn up on the day instead of booking way in advance. The focus is on the history of the building and how the current Globe came to be here. Generally it’s a good overview of the theatre scene in Shakespeare’s day and the guides are engaging (and will always give an infinitely better tour than an audio guide ever could!!!)

Verdict: It depends how much time you have. I’d recommend watching a play and reading a bit of the history of the Globe rather than taking a tour if you have the time. I’ve seen some fabulous productions here (only a couple of duds) and you can get a standing ticket for just £5 even now which has to be the best bargain in London. (And for heaven’s sake don’t just pop in for 10 minutes – stay the course and see the play!) However, if you’ve only got an hour or so to spend, it’s worth taking a tour to see inside this magical theatre. You’ll never see Shakespeare in the same way again.

For more information visit the Backstage Theatre Tours website