By sheer coincidence, our visit to see my daughter during her semester studying Shakespeare at RADA occurred during the week of the Bard’s birthday, making her class production of All’s Well That Ends Well seem even more special than it already was for us. Even more coincidental was the fact that we had tickets to see King John in Stratford-Upon-Avon on the day that town was celebrating their most famous son, and chanced upon the Globe Theater’s birthday celebration the following day while heading to the Tate Modern! If we had joined a Shakespeare’s Birthday Tour group we could not have planned it better. In fact, I’m thinking we should do this again next year and call it the TBTAM-SBT. Who wants to join us?…
The Bard’s birthplace is a reasonably priced, lovely two-hour train trip from London’s Marylebone Station on Chiltern Railways. Train tickets can be purchased online and retrieved at the station’s kiosk with your credit card. (I bought ours a good three weeks before we left the US.)
At Marylebone, we also purchased a very reasonably priced and delicious breakfast of cappuccino and sandwiches for the trip from one of several purveyors that were open that hour on a Saturday morning.
The train cars have seats with tables, so we ate our breakfast in a leisurely fashion during the train ride while gazing at the lovely English countryside, which was brushed with swaths of bright yellow rapeseed fields,
and the occasional sheep or cattle pasture.
We divided the remainder of the time between napping and reading, and arrived rested and raring to go at Stratford-Upon-Avon. From the station, it’s a short walk along the road into town (just follow your fellow travelers up the low hill), along which we found a lovely little antique store (you see why I want to come back, right?…),
and a Polish grocery and pastry shop.
Then – O my rapturous heart! – we came to Rother Street Marketplace, where the Warwichkshire Farmer’s Market – held between 9am and 2 pm on the 1st and 3rd Saturday of every month, year round – was in full swing. (How ever did I plan this trip so perfectly???)
The veggies were gorgeous
the offerings unusual
and practically every booth was giving out samples.
We tasted the most delicious cheeses, pates, sausages and jams, purchasing gifts to take home and some pastries for later.
To see more photos of the Market, click on the thumbnail images across the bottom of the slide show below. (Click FS to view best in full screen mode, then esc to return to this post.)
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After the market, we headed further into town towards the Bard’s Birth house.
By this time, the town’s birthday celebration was in full swing, with a parade, a live band playing American classic rock songs ala’ Jimmy Buffet (???) and plenty of activities for Shakespeare lovers of all ages. The town center has a bit of a Disney atmosphere, and the price of admission to the Birth house was too steep for our taste. But we did stop for tea at the cafe overlooking the Birthplace gardens, and visited a small museum there for free.
Next we walked on to Shakespeare’s school
where we encountered the locals in full birthday parade regalia.
And then it was on to the Swan Theater
Set in time around the 70’s at a hotel ballroom party (think Bar Mitzvah or family wedding reception), complete with karaoke singing and a perfect rendition of the final dance from Dirty Dancing (we Yanks in the audience went wild – I think the locals didn’t quite get it), this production was powerful, edgy and utterly fantastic.
Don’t let the party atmosphere fool you – there’s a severed head, a child’s death and a full-out war between England and France taking place here. Alex Waldemann (with whom we had a lovely conversation outside after the show) was brilliant as King John. In a magnificent switch of gender roles, director Maria Aberg cast Pippa Nixon in the pivotal role of the Bastard, adding a whole new layer of heterosexual tension into her relationship with John. The Archbishop was also cast a female – Paola Donisatti – who plays the papal representative with an androgynous air, large sunglasses and a real mean streak. The rest of the cast, male and female, is equally stellar. This production should come to New York – I’m sure it would play to sold out houses at BAM.
Having missed the rain shower that occurred while we were in the theater, we emerged to sunshine and decided to walk along the Avon River,
past Wisteria clad cottages
and a small “on the run” production of Romeo and Juliet,
to Holy Trinity Church, a real working parish,
where, for two pounds, you can enter the chapel where Shakespeare and his wife Anne Hathaway are buried.
As we left Holy Trinity, we were serenaded by the screams of Juliet, who, having wandered in with her on the run production, awoke from her drugged sleep to find her dead Romeo in the corner of the main chapel.
Emily now insisted that we needed to have genuine fish and chips, and so we did, at Barnaby’s Fish Restaurant and Take Away just past the theater. I smelled a tourist trap, but it was a charming little place, and we had managed to get ourselves inside the restaurant just as another storm broke yet again, so it was a welcome stop despite what turned out to be a rather mediocre meal.
We were rewarded with a rainbow as we exited the restaurant, a sure sign from the Bard himself that this was truly a day to remember. Soon enough, we were back on the train, where we were washed by the setting sun as we headed back to London. Our ride back was a bit longer than the way out, but no matter. We slept, and read, and dreamed of a city by the river where 448 years ago, a writer was born.
I could just as easily have spent the entire weekend at Stratford-Upon-Avon, and just may if I do the SBT again next spring. According to our cab driver at Stratford, who of course knew the play we had seen, there are plenty of places to stay, and the town is a popular weekend home location for Londoners.
The Globe Theater
The next morning, Shakespeare’s actual birthday, as we headed to the Tate Modern on SouthBank, we were approached by a young woman who offered us free admission to the Globe Theater museum and a marathon reading of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. This was the grand opening of the Globe to Globe Shakespeare Festival, in which Shakespeare’s plays will be performed at the Globe in 37 different languages by theater troops from all across the world. The sonnets were read in those same 37 languages, most of which were represented by at least one or more theater goers in the gallery.
We felt part of this amazing worldwide community of people who have been touched by the writings of one man.
It was magical. Next week, Emily will be back at the Globe, seeing Julius Caesar performed in Italian. I wish I could be with her.
So there you have it
The TBTAM Shakespeare’s Birthday Tour. I couldn’t have planned it this perfectly if I had tried. And while I am sore tempted to try it again next year, I wonder if that is tempting fate? For, as Shakespeare has been quoted to have said (though I do not know from which play it comes) –
Good luck is often with the man who doesn’t include it in his plans.