In spite of experiencing the worst summer weather since records began London is more crowded this summer than it has ever been. There was the Wimbledon tennis tournament earlier this month and the 2012 Olympic Games begin later this week. There is also, of course, an international Shakespeare Festival: the Proms, the world’s biggest classical music festival is underway. As usual, as well, London offers the largest selection of theatre productions of any city in the world.
All that is creating huge congestion in London’s highways, strains on accommodation and a remarkable fillip for the catering industry, resulting in overcrowded restaurants. I’ve heard horror stories about ticket selling and buying, which has become a very expensive and complicated business, unlike the way things were in Shakepeare’s time. In Sixteenth Century London you simply turned up at the theatre or the bear baiting arena and deposited your penny in the box at the entrance – hence the term box office – and took up your position, standing if you paid only a penny, or seated if you paid another penny, for the theatre. Sometimes you would not get in to a very popular play but you could usually hear the actors if you stood outside.
It’s a lot more difficult now. You can sometimes book seats for theatre, concerts and other events online, though; or you can sometimes queue up at the box office; you can buy tickets from agents and kiosks strewed around the West End of London, and you can even go on to sharing sites like stubhub.co.uk, where you can get tickets from other fans of the performers you want to see.
However, for the big events like the Wimbledon final and the Games, you have to make a major effort and then, having done that, you have to be lucky. There’s generally some kind of lottery. I have not met anyone who, having applied for tickets to the high profile Olympic events, received them. Most people I know have ended up with tickets to volleyball or rifle shooting. Regarding Wimbledon, some of the tickets for the men’s final went for something like ten thousand dollars. Organizations like Wimbledon and the Olympic Games do everything they can to eliminate the black-market but, as we all know, the black-market is one of the most enduring of human enterprises and will always be present.
The times we live in are normal to us as were Elizabethan times to the Elizabethans. Congestion, it seems, is a relative term, and those crowding the entrance to a theatre mounting a popular play, hoping to get in, might have experienced exactly the same kind of stressful feelings as those of us simply dying to watch the world’s top athletes running against each other, desperately hoping that their bid for tickets is successful.
That may be an observation worthy of Shakespeare himself, something about those universal human feelings that have nothing to do with the times in which one lives.