This is slightly off-topic for a costume dramas blog, but I just wanted to say that I had a great time in Stratford upon Avon – we were actually staying just outside in a small village, which was probably just as well, as Stratford itself is rather overwhelming! Since I was a tourist myself I’m clearly not in a position to complain about the tourists (though I did briefly live in the area as a child, in Henley on Arden, so maybe I can claim a local link), but the sheer numbers made it difficult to get around the town at times.
I didn’t actually look round the Birthplace Museum, as the queues were enormous, but my husband and daughter, Charlotte, did brave it while I took my son to a local butterfly museum, which we thoroughly enjoyed. Charlotte thought it was too focused on audio-visual items rather than letting her stop and see the First Folio, but the gardens were nice and they enjoyed watching a couple of actors putting on an al fresco show.
We also saw several people in Stratford putting on performances as living statues – they stood there looking just like golden or silver statues, then suddenly moved, much to the amazement of passers-by who had assumed they really were statues! Charlotte and I enjoyed our visit to the Shakespeare Bookshop, where we were tempted to buy some RSC editions of plays as well as the DVD of Twelfth Night which I’ve just written about - but the biggest hit in Stratford for my son, Max, who is keen on wildlife, was an elaborate nest built by a proud pair of coots on the River Avon.
We saw two plays during our visit – at the Courtyard Theatre, since the main RSC theatre is out of action at the moment for major rebuilding work. The first play we saw was The Winter’s Tale. This had a minimalist set dominated by some enormous bookcases, which crashed down at a key moment at the end of the first half, with the books falling across the stage. The pages of the wrecked books were then used as snow in the second half of the play. I found this a powerful production and was especially impressed by the tragic first half – Greg Hicks was tremendous as Leontes, speaking the verse wonderfully. Kelly Hunter was also very moving as Hermione. I really liked the bear in this production, a giant puppet creation. The one sequence which puzzled me somewhat was a satyr dance, which seemed slightly out of place in my opinion, though I suppose it added some visual spectacle.
I also liked the Michael Boyd production of As You Like It. I hadn’t booked in advance for this, but Charlotte and I were lucky enough to get some “restricted view” seats – we just had to look round a thin pillar, which was no problem at all! I had recently watched two movies of As You Like It, which may be the reason that I enjoyed The Winter’s Tale slightly more. For me Katy Stephens gave the stand-out performance as Rosalind, making the character bewitching, humorous and vulnerable - and she was reasonably believable as a man, too. The set for this production was fairly minimalist again, as with The Winter’s Tale. We were sitting in the Circle and it was an added thrill when some of the actors climbed up ladders right next to us at some points.