I remember discovering when I first arrived in Oxfordshire that Stratford upon Avon was only about 45 minutes away and how I could visit it often… Shamefully that was getting on for 18 years ago, and it has taken until yesterday for me to make the journey. I have been to the RSC Royal Shakespeare Theatre before, on more than one occasion, with my mum and dad when we would make a pilgrimage their from seeing Ros and Ned in Lichfield. Thanks to Lucy and Luke’s very generous birthday present to Emma, yesterday we finally put that error in my ways behind us.
Despite having been to the theatre their many times – most memorably to see Kenneth Brannagh doing Hamlet uncut (and discovering in the process not only how many very famous quotes actually stem from the play, but also how funny it is, or can be – I remember being subsequently disappointed by his 4-hour uncut Hamlet movie for its Hollywoodism) – I have never looked around the town. It is, we discovered a very nice town, and still thrivingly busy in the depths of winter. I dread to think what it might be like in high summer!
We had lunch in very nice tea shop with fine china that was fashionably not of a piece, before seeing a bit of a town, including Shakespeare’s grave in a very pretty church down by the river.
We then wandered back up Sheep Street and to a museum that we had only heard about just that very morning on BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Live, only recently opened as an alternative to all the Shakespeare-related activities, MAD: the museum of mechanical art and design. Full of steampunk inspired goodness to get lost in. Absolutely fantastic…
Following our MAD day out, we found a nice little, inexpensive meal doing pre-theatre food, before heading back down to the Swan Theatre. In all the time I’ve been to theatre in Stratford I’ve never been to The Swan, but what a nice little theatre it is. We had seats at the side, front rown of the lower balcony for James Fenton’s adaptation of the 16th Century Chinese play, The Orphan of Zhao. I knew nothing about the play other than the little on the website before going. I had feared it might be long, and complicated, and um… tough. It wasn’t far from it. It was poerful and emotional story of revenge – they say its a Chinese Hamlet – and I think they are right. With a simple but effective stage set we were transported to the Chinese landscape, particularly in a scene where one of the characters comes out of the rain into a simple room. There was a lot of death and killing and this was well done, with stylistic red petals falling to the stage over the actor. If you get a chance to see it, do, you won’t regret it.