All the World’s – a Book…

I hope you had a happy, bookish World Book Day 2011!

I started writing the following post yesterday, with every intention of posting it on the actual ‘Big Day’ – but… time and events had other ideas… So, here’s the finished article; a day late – but hopefully still topical (may whichever day you happen across this post, be a bookish celebration wherever you are in the world!)

Here’s what I wrote on 3rd March 2011:

My son has gone into school today dressed as Harry Potter, his wheelchair wheels sprinkled with wizardly magic (how he would love to be able to fly that NHS wheelchair, broomstick fashion, at Nimbus 2000 speeds! There would be no stopping him; he’d be airborne faster than you could say ‘snitch!’)

As I write this, my daughter will be paying homage beside Shakespeare’s grave. I hope she is passing on to Will a special moment of remembrance from her mum…

Later, she will spend a couple of hours at a workshop with the RSC – followed by a trip to the recently re-opened Royal Shakespeare Theatre, to see Rupert Goold’s production of Romeo and Juliet; a school trip beyond the wildest dreams of my own teenage years!

She’s beaten me to it as first member of the family to experience the new theatre at Stratford upon Avon. For the past few years, I’ve periodically watched its gradual rebirth, gazing across the River Avon at the original red brick façade, imagining the ghosts in its walls stirring, gathering up the memories and poetry of the soul of the theatre as it settles around the new stage and waits for new magic to happen.

My September 2008 trip to see the RSC’s truly riveting, unforgettable Hamlet (David Tennant, Patrick Stewart, Penny Downie – directed by Gregory Doran) saw the RST redevelopment looking like this:

My birthday treat in February 2009 (to see Antony Sher and John Kani in a deeply moving production of The Tempest – its African heartbeat throbbing with the strange magic of the play) – took place in a mysterious, mythological world parallel to these scenes:

And, in June 2009 – another trip to Stratford upon Avon revealed these changes in the theatre:

…all bound up with memories of the truly visceral drama of the assassination scene in Julius Caesar, which I watched through tears of shock and pity, my emotions wrung by the electric, skilful interplay of confusion, betrayal and human frailty moving like a lonely, cornered animal amongst the characters on the stage.

In August 2009, my daughter and I were gifted a very different mood of fun, frolics and superbly handled mayhem in the Young People’s Shakespeare production of A Comedy of Errors – and in June 2010, my friend and I were back in ancient Rome, following Darrell de Silva to Egypt, as he and Kathryn Hunter sparked and sparred in a crackling production of Antony and Cleopatra.

In beautiful August evening sunshine, 2010 – after my daughter and I had been treated to a wonderful Young People’s Shakespeare production of Hamlet – in which Debbie Korley delivered one of the best, most heartbreaking Ophelias I’ve ever seen – I took these pictures of a near complete new RST:

…And also took these commemorative pictures of the Courtyard Theatre, the RSC’s temporary performance space (and template for the auditorium of the RST rebuild) with sad, fond nostalgia in my heart. How I love that ‘big rusty shed.’ So full of memories…

But now, anticipation of my first visit to the transformed RST in June awaits new memories in the making. My tickets – little paper portals to actually be there when Jonathan Slinger, directed by Michael Boyd, inhabits the skin of Macbeth – are tucked away safely and at the ready. My excitement about this production is simmering at heart leaping levels already – it will be the first live performance I’ve seen of  ‘The Scottish Play’ since Peter O’Toole was beguiled by siren witches in the infamous Old Vic production of 1980!

Macbeth is special to me – the first Shakespeare play I ever read. I first opened its pages when I was about the age my daughter is now, and it awakened in me a passion for the Bard that has continued to deepen, grow and embed itself ever more firmly in the fabric of who I am. Now, I see the same process at work in my daughter…

For these reasons, and more, I can hardly wait to see Macbeth come alive on stage in what promises to be an electrifying production – and I can’t wait to get inside the new RST. Tonight though, the magic of the place will be brought home here in the sparkle of my daughter’s eyes, and in her tales of her experiences there. This World Book day, she is caught in those heady, early stages of falling in love – as I was when I first read Macbeth – with the book that truly belongs to all the world:

Just a few World Book Days ago, she too went into primary school dressed in the Gryffindor cloak my son wore today (she was Hermione – big hair included!)

Not long before I first read Macbeth, I was tucked up in bed riveted by Jill’s Gymkhana or avidly following Bilbo Baggins ‘there and back again’ (well, I still am sometimes…some things don’t change… 🙂 )

From Ron Weasley to Romeo, from The Hobbit to Hamlet – there’s no telling where a journey through books will lead…


3 thoughts on “All the World’s – a Book…

  1. Thanks for those reminiscences of Stratford. I have particularly fond memories of the place. We spent our honeymoon driving around the heart of England (Warwickshire, Oxfordshire, Cotswolds). On the night after we were married we were in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre watching Sean Bean and Niamh Cusack as Romeo and Juliet (although Michael Kitchen stole the show as a mercurial Mercutio). That sounds very romantic, but there’s a less than romantic story behind that: when I had phoned up the Royal Shakespeare Theatre to ask what was on that week (we didn’t have the internet in those days, of course) I was told that they were doing Romeo and Juliet and The Taming of the Shrew: and I was so very anxious for our marriage to get off on the right foot….)

    My first visit to Stratford had been a few years earlier, back in the summer of 1978, when I and two friends spent a few days there, trying desperately to get over the profound disappointment of Scotland’s dismal failure in the World Cup a month or two previously. We saw superb performances of Love’s Labour’s Lost, and Measure for Measure. The former was directed by John Barton, and was the most perfect evening’s theatre: Michael Pennington and Jane Lapotaire played Berwone and Rosaline, Michael Hordern was Don Armado and the supporting cast included then unknown actors such as Alan Rickman, Juliet Stevenson and Richard Griffith. Michael Penningon appeared again in Measure for Measue as te Duke, while paola Dionisotti and Jonathan Pryce were superb as Isabella and Angelo. And John “Bergerac” Nettles turned up as Lucio.

    We still go over to Stratford quite often, as I do love that place. Somewhere amongst or photo collection, there’s me standing next to the statue of Falstaff. Falstaff, as you know, is holding a tankard, presumably of ale: in this photo, I am keeping him company with a can of beer. As I remember, we had quite a conversation together.

    • Many thanks for your really lovely reminiscences. What a wonderful area to spend a honeymoon (I love the story behind your diplomatic choice of play! Your newlywed anxiety only adds to the romance I think, Himadri!)

      How I would love to have seen all those productions you mention; all those fantastic actors! What a wonderful, rich store of theatre memories to look back on. My first experiences of the RSC were when I was about 18 and then later in my twenties, when my brother treated me to two separate birthday trips to the Barbican – one to see The Merry Wives of Windsor (so Falstaff was on the loose!), the other to see a production of The Comedy of Errors. The latter left us all literally crying with laughter; the comic acting and timing was so superb…

      Then came the wildnerness years, when trips to the RSC seemed like a far off dream amongst the tumbleweed – until I woke up with a sudden realisation that Stratford upon Avon was not really that far away from where we now live – and a friend and I decided to head up there to catch Hamlet in 2008… and we’ve never looked back since then, making it a yearly trip – with other visits in between with my family.

      It is, as you say, a lovely place. Last time we visited, it was so hard to drag ourselves away. Sitting in the evening sunshine, eating cake outside the RSC cafe, watching the world and the river go by, contemplating the magic of the play we’d just seen… I think we could quite happily have taken root there! My daughter came back from her school trip as sparkly as I’d predicted she would in my post… the workshop got a definite thumbs up – and watching Romeo and Juliet she laughed, she cried, time flew and she became lost in the world of the play. Her overall verdict: “Amazing!” (= highest possible praise on her own personal word-ometer!)

      Next time I visit Stratford, I’ll pass on your regards to Falstaff – (and maybe share a beer with him myself – with a toast in your honour, of course!)


      • As a footnote, we have our 25th anniversary coming up in August this year, and we have booked tickets at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre (the two of us, naturally, plus two teenage children) to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the sister play, in a sense, of Romeo and Juliet.

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