“Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind.”

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 1, Scene 1

William Shakespeare

I thought this was an appropriate quote with which to entitle my blog entry today, since I’m finally writing about my visit to Stratford-upon-Avon! Although, of course, it is a beautiful town and it was actually sunny for our visit which meant that my friends and I went rowing down the river Avon in a boat named ‘Bassanio’ – I was happy with any character except Ophelia to be honest, and as we did bump into her (and I mean literally bump) I think that she must be bad luck in the water. However, what I mean by my title is that even had it not been lovely weather, we still would have enjoyed it because of all the activities we did. I suppose I’d better write this chronologically, as we did so much.

We (the ten of us students and two teachers) arrived in Stratford at about 18.30 – just in time to grab some food before going to the Courtyard Theatre to see ‘Much AdoAbout Nothing’, starring Meera Syal and Paul Bhattacharjee as Beatrice and Benedick. As you can probably tell my their names, this production was set in India, which surprisingly worked really well – the set itself was brilliant, especially the scene in which Claudio goes the tomb to mourn Hero all night; the house fronts moved away to reveal bare trees and small mounds of earth, the actors slowly opened black umberellas and moved forward and then it actualy started to rain. It was really effective at capturing the sombre mood of the scene and contrasted well with the sunny, noisy, happy opening scenes. The cast were very impressive and Beatrice and Benedick’s banter was well played out, gaining a lot of laughs. Amara Karan, who played Hero, was also notable; she was really crying during the scene after her denunciation with Leonato, her father. Plus, my friends and I were thrilled to realise she had been in St. Trinians as one of the ‘Posh Totties’! A special mention also to Darren Kuppan, who understudied Claudio, but played him just as well as I’m sure the original actor did.

Moving on, (I would write more, but I’m sure you don’t want me to go on forever!), the next day we visited Anne Hathaway’s Cottage. After a brief confusion over tickets, we entered a beautiful garden, suddenly bathed in sunshine and filled with flowers, vegetables, and, oddly, a ukele band playing the songs of the Beatles! There was some sort of craft fair going on whilst we were there, so we got to taste freshly squeezed apple juice (and I mean, freshly squeezed – they did it in front of us) and go into a willow cabin, built because of the famous quote from ‘Twelfth Night’: “Make me a willow cabin at your gate, and call upon my soul within the house”. In this cabin, there were recordings of the most famous of Shakespeare’s sonnets (including my favourites 130 and 18) by actors with gogeous speaking voices. We also, of course, visited the actual cottage, and a very informative guide told us all about the origins of phrases we use today; for example, bread used to be cut across not down, as the most hard bit was at the bottom, and so distinguished guests would get the nicest bit at the top – the ‘upper crust’ if you will. They were ‘a cut above the rest’. I have to say, I didn’t learn massive amounts about Shakespeare himself, but the facts about etymology were very interesting.

Next, it was on to Shakespeare’s Birthplace, where we experienced a twenty minute multi-media presentation, which I really enjoyed, although some of my group would have preferred to go around on there own. However, I was especially excited to see a copy of the First Folio during this bit of the exhibition, and I felt the lighting and scenery helped one to really feel what it would have been like at the time. The house itself was very interesting, especially all the names carved into the window and the records of all the people and Shakespeare pilgrims who had visited, including many royals, Charles Dickens, Ellen Terry and Thomas Hardy. An eccentic but very interesting guide related to us Hamlet’s most famous soliliquy: “To be or not to be…” but from the point of view of a cat, which was unexpected to say the least! I’m so glad I’ve actually been there now, and who knows? Perhaps one day, they might be telling hushed visitors of how I came there once! If only…

After that we had a picnic in the crowded park next to the River Avon, and then it was on to our boat ride – I have to admit we got some very odd looks from the locals, as I decided I found it easier to face forward whilst rowing; in otherwise, backwards to how you’re supposed to row. After that relaxing afternoon, we popped in the supermarket to get some food and suddenly spotted Ernest Ignatius, the actor who played Antonio (Beatrice’s father) the night before. He was very kind and chatted to us about the show, and how he thought the Indian culture and the Shakespearean themes had translated extremely well. We had to rush over to the Swan Theatre to see Jonjo O’Neill as King Richard III, which I was already looking forward to, since I saw O’Neill as Orlando in ‘As You Like It’ last year, and obviously wanted to compare this production to that of ‘The Globe’. We were seated right at the top of the theatre, which meant we had to lean over the balcony; not the most comfy of seats, but we didn’t miss anything. I simply can’t choose which production I enjoyed more; Rylance was funnier than O’Neill, but O’Neill had that sinister brutality that Rylance’s lacked, which meant that you didn’t feel so pitying when he died at the end. The Battle of Bosworth Field was excellent in the Stratford production; the stage fighting looked pacy, sharp and believable but personally I preferred Richard’s death in the Globe production because you could see Richard going mad on the battlefield, following the ghosts that haunted him to the extent that he basically handed the dagger to Richmond. However, the actual ghost scene whilst Richard is asleep was done better at the Swan, since the body-bags at the Globe looked so ridiculous, it was hard to keep from laughing. For me personally, Lady Anne (Pippa Nixon, who coincidentally was Titania in the Shakespeare Unlocked series I watched online) was a little too over-dramatic in the Swan production; I felt she never really behaved as a real person bereaving their father and husband would (the scene in which Richard seduces her, pictured above) and she held herself somewhat oddly which wasn’t to my taste. Saying this, although I thought both Elizabeth’s were good, I felt Siobhan Redmond was a little more realistic, especially as Richard was the one to kiss her, not the other way around. Overall, I would say that the I enjoyed the first act at the Globe more, but Act 2 at the Swan Theatre more. After a quick game of ‘Ave it!’ (look it up, it’s an east-end version of zip-zap-bang), it was back to the B&Bs.

On our final morning *sob* we had a tour of the theatres which was great; we actually got to go on the stage the Richard III cast had been on! It was also interesting to hear about the different staging from the different productions e.g. in the ‘Twelfth Night’ that’s on at the moment they have a huge tank of water that Viola and Sebastian appear out of. I also found it interesting that stage blood apparently tastes like ice cream and honey – so tasty to me! Lastly, we went to Mary Arden’s Farm, which is a working Tudor farm. We got to witness the start of a Tudor dinner (which smelt amazing!), pet some sheep, see some owls and try a spot of archery. I’m amazed that the people there act as though they really are living during Tudor times; there was a strict order to who sat where round the dinner table and when everyone was allowed to sit.

Overall, this was a great trip; I feel like I saw so much and learned lots of interesting facts, but it was still relaxing and fun. The ‘Richard III’ performance and its programme will definitely be helpful for my EPQ, since it’s interesting how the same character can be portrayed in different ways, and yet be equally effective. I’ll try and write more soon!

Oh, and a shout out to my friend Sophie, who has finally got round to watching the Pride and Prejudice vlogs I recommended about three months ago and who was on the Stratford trip with me 🙂

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