Stratford-Upon-Avon is essentially a Shakespeare theme park town. I say this not to be disparaging, but to insist that you go. There are not enough Shakespeare-themed items in this world, and I would like to caress more of them with my cheek, please. And who can blame the local authorities for wanting to make the most of their most famous inhabitant? I would. We don’t know much about Shakespeare, but we know he was born and buried in Stratford-Upon-Avon, damnit! Tim and I spent two days there last week, and I loved every minute of it with a holy and flaming love.
Firstly, we were there to watch the Royal Shakespeare Company adaptations of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, on successive days. Do you know how much I love Hilary Mantel? Surely you do. I was on pins for these plays, worried that they might not live up to my sky-high expectations, but they were VERY good indeed. The Swan Theatre is small, wooden, creaky and atmospheric (possibly not creaky – that might’ve just been the atmosphere). Ben Miles made a witty and razor-sharp Cromwell, Nathaniel Parker was volatile and vulnerable by turns as Henry VIII, and there wasn’t a weak link in the cast as a whole. We were leaning precariously against a metal pole for most of the six hours – standing tickets only, alas – and I didn’t even notice.
I loved the RSC theatre, too. They’ve done a revamp of the building since I was last here, and on Thursday afternoon we went on a backstage tour. This was fabulously exciting – wig rooms, costume change notices on walls, and lots of fascinating behind-the-scenes information. Our tour guide was brilliant. I tell you what: being part of a repertory company is hard. Only do it if you have a passion for words and wigs.
We sat in the vast, echoey theatre while the stagehands hammered together a new set: a wooden throne stood empty and portentous on the stage, ready for Henry IV to fill it this week. ‘Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown’, he’ll say, so I’m not sure he’ll want to sit there long. (This was the point I decided to stop being so melodramatic.)
On one of the afternoons, just after Wolf Hall had finished, we saw a sweaty Nathaniel Parker come back into the bar while we hunted for my missing scarf. We were lame (and/or considerate) and didn’t say anything to him, and I hope my burning look was enough to communicate YOU WERE A LIFE-CHANGING HENRY, DEAR SIR, AND I THANK YOU FOR IT.
Also, a dressing-up box.
In between all this larking about in the theatre, we ate a lot and wandered around the town, spending the night in a country house hotel fifteen minutes away. We popped out for chocolate ice cream at 9pm and read, uninterrupted. This is what passes for rock and roll living for us these days, but do you know what? It was rock and roll. It was just wonderful.
Go. Enjoy. Try the beef pie at Garrick’s Inn – it’s enormous.
Oh, and just so you know, eleven years pass extraordinarily quickly. But not quickly enough for me to get a new coat, apparently.