Shakespeare died 400 years ago this year. He’d have been 445 if he was still alive, you know.
Just THINK how many plays he’d have written by now – we’d have needed an infinite number of zoos, each with an infinite number of monkeys to type all that lot.
However, to commemorate the fact that our greatest English-speaking playwright would have been 446 this year, Stratford upon Avon is having a great year, and you should really try and join them if you can. We were asked if we would like to by Shakespeare’s England and since Stratford is only 90 minutes away we felt it rude not to.
There are ALL sorts of things to do in Stratford upon Avon and, coming from London(ish), there’s a lovely feel to the town.
From two hour town walks (£6.00 a head – more of this later) to ghost walks, to tours of the RSC (be warned, they can be a bit……..luvvy), to boat trips up and down the Avon.
But the star of the show is the town – it’s full of Shakespeare memories: the font he was most likely baptized in, the knocker (fnarr) he grasped (ooh err) while entering the church (oops, behave now) to the bridge that was there from before Shakespeare’s time and still stands, carrying people safely across the Avon.
There are many buildings linked to old Will such as the church that has his bones, as well as the best likeness of him that probably exists – commissioned by his family just a few years after his death.
This is our second recent literary excursion (see Jane Austen’s house) and the two sites are very different – Jane Austen lived in a few places and, although Shakespeare obviously travelled to London where he achieved great fame, he was born and died in Stratford, so has a lot of different links to the place. He also became pretty famous while alive, so places that *were* linked to him were quickly recognised and preserved. And Stratford was more of a town, river-port and key point on the tram link between Birmingham and Moreton-in-Marsh.
We thought the best way to find out a little about the town was to join one of the daily Town Walks. They do a guided walk every day, even Christmas Day, whatever the weather. We learnt of the flood waters, the Mucky Duck, the origins of the town’s name, lots about the theatre and about Shakespeare. The walk is highly recommended, and John our guide was a wealth of knowledge, humour and common sense. Very rare for a Yorkie! 😉
We ate very well and drank a tiny bit, visiting Cafe Rouge (4/5), The Falcon (4/5), Carluccios (3/5) and The Fourteas Tea Bar (4/5) for a cuppa on our last morning. We didn’t get to The Church Street Townhouse, or The Opposition, two places we’ve added to our must-do list for next time.
The Opposition was highly recommended by Mr B’s Mum (The Real MummyBarrow) so it was a great shame we had to cancel our reservation, but there was a strange sequence of events that took place during the day. To explain this, we need to travel back in time, to another place (London) a long long time (12 months) ago.
Mark Watson was running a 27 hour comedy marathon, ably assisted by a star cast (Emma Kennedy, Susan Calman, Tim Minchin, Adam Hills, Jennifer Saunders, Russell Brand, Miranda Hart, Alison Moyet, Tiernan Douieb and……Rufus Hound).
We went, had a ball, bought a fabulous piece of art of the said Rufus and have badgered him on Twitter many times since. T even got a snog when she bumped into him outside the BBC at another Comic Relief event.
Fast forward 12 months and we’re on a tour of the RSC premises (no pictures, all ever so slightly stuffy, if I’m honest) and we loiter by one of the dressing rooms. “This is where David Threlfall, Sandy Grierson and Rufus Hound change – no-one gets their own dressing room”. You could hear the cogs whirring, dear reader.
As the tour ended and people drifted aimlessly away, T and I ran (ran!) to the box office to ask about tickets to Don Quixote. “There are some returns” we heard, and before we knew what had happened, we had front-row* stalls seats for the evening’s show.
*ish. Ok, Row D.
T hadn’t heard of Don Quixote, so I gave her a 2 minute precis of the story. I hadn’t read it or seen it, so my precis was almost completely inaccurate, but it didn’t seem to matter as David Threlfall’s Quixote was beautiful and poignant, and Rufus Hound’s Sancho Panza was…….well, just Hound, really: mad, funny, anarchic, irreverent and, at times, very moving.
This is an adaptation by James Fenton and is a great show. If you have a chance to see it, I really recommend it. It brings Spain to life in Stratford, complete with evil nobility, well-meaning peasants, mischievous actors and windmills.
And a hawk.
But possibly the greatest thing we learned that weekend was about the floor at the RST. We can let you into a little secret, dear reader… The old stage from the original theatre was to be replaced, and rather than bin it, it has been re-laid in the foyer, just by the cloakroom and across the balconies. So you can visit, look down and as soon as you hit the wooden bits, you can proclaim to have trodden the boards at the RSC and realise you are now part of history.
See, history doesn’t have to be boring. Stratford on a spring day is a magical place and really brings history alive.