immersion in the bard 101…

It’s a long journey from St. Ives to Stratford-upon-Avon, but the 7 hours on 3 different trains passed very quickly. The original intent had been to gather a group of friends in SUA over the course of several days, do various day trips, see the Royal Shakespeare Company perform, and relax. The group diminished from 6 down to 3 for a variety of reasons but still ended up being a lovely way to end my trip.

Shakespeare birthplace

Shakespeare birthplace

Friends Al & Allan arrived about 1.5 hours before showtime on Thursday night. The Courtyard Theatre has a nice cafe with good food so we had a quick bite to eat and then took our seats in row G (seven rows back from center stage). The Courtyard, similar to the Globe in London and the Swan (under renovation here in SUA), is a thrust theatre – the stage thrusts into the audience. The actors in SUA often walk/run on and off stage through the raised aisles next to the seats or down a couple of steps directly into other aisles. This style allows for more interaction – you could easily reach out and touch! (And sometimes, the actors did just that!)

This particular evening featured a “Talk Back” after the show with members of the cast & a couple of the crew. ***SPOILER WARNING*** The asst. director explained costuming choices – all characters were in Elizabethan costumes except for Romeo wearing combat boots, sweats, and a hoodie & Juliet with her converse tennis shoes, denin leggings, a shirt from the GAP (or you-pick-the-chain)  –  Romeo first appeared on stage taking pictures with a digital camera and with a headset listening to an ‘audio tour’ of Verona – both Romeo and Mercutio rode a bicycle on stage.  A couple of the actors talked about the freedom they had to interpret their roles, including the wonderfully funny, and sometime vulgar, Mercutio. When asked ‘what do you do when something goes wrong’, Juliet mentioned that one night, during her death scene, she could not find the dagger she needed because Romeo ‘died’ on top of it.  She ended up pretending she had one in her hand and did the deed.

I also did the free version of the backstage tour. The paid one, all of 5 pounds – is only offered a few times a month (at least at this time of year). It was fascinating to hear about the decisions regarding the renovation & expansion of the RSC home & the Swan down the street; how the Courtyard was set up to be temporary, which is why it has a more unfinished look; possible plans for the Courtyard when the new space opens at the end of this year; use of the ‘crawl’ space under the stage; the limited space behind the stage where sets for the other show sit – sometimes they do 2 different shows in one day! We couldn’t go into the dressing room/staff area – darn! We got to watch crew work “flight ops” for the fall production of Matilda – they were adjusting the height of and testing (with the performer) a trapeze swing that was 30 feet off the floor.

The “talk back” on Thursday and backstage tour  on Sunday were two highlights of the RSC part of my week in addition to seeing Romeo & Juliet (including getting Sam Troughton’s autograph – a story unto itself)  and Antony & Cleopatra.  I wasn’t very familiar with that play so I did read a synopsis before I went, which certainly helped me follow the plot. The actors were great, the sets, sound effects, and costumes were excellent. I particularly enjoyed the swinging moods of Cleopatra, which changed about as often as her costumes!

holy trinity church

Holy Trinity Church

I also toured Mary Arden’s Farm, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, the Shakespeare Birthplace, Hall’s Croft, Nash House and New Place, where there is an archaeological dig underway, and the Shakespeare burial site at Holy Trinity Church. I think my only complaint is that I wish all these places had more live guides to enhance the experience. You had to read a lot of placards, stand and watch video in a couple of places. Of course, most of the spaces aren’t very large, so leading a group around and trying to talk might be difficult. There were live guides at a couple of the sites, so it was nice to learn a bit beyond what was on signs. Of course, the fact the homes were built in the 16th century  – the church is older – and are still standing is just incredible.  Oh – there is no house where Will lived at New Place – the mansion (22 rooms) was demolished in the 1700s. The diggers have uncovered remnants of a foundation that dates back only to the 1700s so far but they have unearthed pottery, a fob, and other fragments dating back to Will’s time.

I’ll tell you about castle hopping with Al & Allan in a separate post…


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