By Jonathan Dryden Taylor
It’s 9am on the morning of our final show in the US and I’m sitting in my hotel room in Wyoming looking out over the stunning Bighorn Mountains and the glorious, endless sky. With five hours to go before we present King Lear to an American audience for the last time (thank you, THANK you, Sheridan College, for scheduling our final show as a matinee- it’s lovely to have an evening to wind down and let go) there’s time to take stock of this extraordinary experience.
It’s impossible to sum up in a few words what I’ve learned over the last eleven weeks, so instead here’s a stream-of-consciousness list of the things I’ll remember.
– ‘Similar but different.’ That’s the phrase that has reverberated around my head for the whole tour. There’s so much about this country that feels like home, but every day there are a hundred little differences to trip you up- whether it’s mundane things like crossing the road (what do you mean, they’re still allowed to turn right?) to the pronunciation of global brands (you’ll never believe how these guys say Pantene/ Persil/ Elvive/ Marriott…) or larger differences such as the position of religion in public life or the availability of weaponry. The genuine delight with which our British accents were greeted, especially outside the big cities, was charming, but always also served as an inadvertent reminder of otherness.
– On that note, the generosity and curiosity of pretty much everyone we met. People in this country, generally speaking, have a natural warmth and friendliness. It’s almost off-putting at first, especially with people in the service industry- ‘is this person really this nice or is it artificial?’ – but once you relax into it, it makes every day easier.
– Man, you people know how to do a catchy jingle. Oh, oh, oh, Ozempic. Liberty Liberty Liberty… Liberty. We are Farmers, dum diddy dum dum dum dum dum. Earworms for life.
– Portion size. I am not a skinny man, but I was regularly surprised, delighted and slightly intimidated by the sheer amount of food placed in front of me. While we’re on food, we need to talk about Cheetos. Back in the UK all we know about them is that they’re used in jokes about a certain politician. But my word, they’re brilliant and awful. They are sort of gross but also I can’t stop eating them. Someone get me some Cheetos.
– Complexity. Brits and Americans tend to assume, I think, that we know all about each other. But this is a much more complicated country than I had ever imagined. Maybe every nation paints itself internationally in primary colours, and you really need to get under the hood to find out what’s really happening. I’m aware of, and enjoying, what a mixed metaphor that was.
-Traveler’s tip- if you spend a lot of time in American hotels, then find an episode of Forensic Files to watch. It’s always on, and there’s something weirdly soothing about finding out how a bad guy was caught because of the way his boot broke a blade of grass.
– The universities. Once you’ve seen an American campus, any other looks half-hearted in comparison. They’re so… campus-y. And I do wish that the system of major and minor degree subjects existed back home. Our university degrees are so specialized- it’s great to see science or psych majors in English or theater classes.
– The sheer unfathomable size of the country. The space. Wyoming, for example, is larger than the entire UK but has the same population as the London Borough where I live (and there are 32 boroughs in London). Admittedly, Wyoming is the most sparsely populated state, but the numbers are still dizzying. It’s changed our attitude to distance, too. The other day Fred decided that the easiest way to sort out a delivery problem with some speakers he had ordered online was to drive to Billings, a round trip of over two hundred miles. The idea of driving, say, from London to Bristol in similar circumstances back home would be absurd, but here it was just… admin.
– The snow. I had to mention the snow. It made a cameo, or a starring, appearance in six of our ten weeks…
I can’t get my head round the idea that I’ll be in my flat in London in 48 hours time. There just remains that one last performance, in the magnificent Whitney Center For The Arts (theatre is in safe hands in this town, though, when we leave- we were privileged to see a rehearsal of Aaron Odom’s production of FIVE WOMEN WEARING THE SAME DRESS with his theater students, which opens next week, and it’s going to be cracking) and then it’s just packing, goodbyes, airports and home.
The next time we speak these lines will be in London, in front of an audience full of family and friends. That will be a more familiar experience, but the wonderful treat of this tour has been to embrace the unfamiliar.
I said in my first blog that King Lear is a play about everything. Thank you, United States of America- you have been everything, too.