Monday, 27 May 2013

Shakespeare, Culture And Stratford-Upon-Avon

This bank holiday weekend, Tracy and I took a trip to Stratford to see the RSC production of Hamlet.

We arrived a early in the afternoon and took the tourist trail around the beautiful town of Stratford. The sun was shining and the sky was blue! I think that the two days we were in Stratford may be the entire of the summer for 2013...

Street performers are around every corner in Stratford, including this human statue of William Shakespeare who is happy to bow in return for a few coins.

The tourist highlights of Stratford are the sites owned and managed by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. There are five sites in the collection:

  • Shakespeare's Birthplace
  • Nash's House And New Place
  • Hall's Croft
  • Anne Hathaway's Cottage And Gardens
  • Mary Arden's Farm
Shakepeare's Birthplace is a great place to start. This contains a sequence of rooms with displays and video and audio commentary. This location gives a good grounding and context for the other sites around the town as well as a good overview of the life of Shakespeare.

Next on the list is Nash's House and New Place. This is a nicely preserved Tudor house which has a good tour sheet which you can read as you walk around and a very pretty little garden.

In between the first two sites, we visited Bamboodle which is a very nice little asian restaurant hidden away in a corner of the town. We had the spare ribs, a sumptuous aromatic duck and king prawn. Yummy!

After visiting two sites and lunch we were ready to go back to the MacDonald Swan's Nest hotel. The hotel was fine and reasonable value for money. The receptionist was a chap who was in a different time zone to the rest of us! Asking even a simple question seemed to result in a ten second processing delay! The room was cold, but large enough and we didn't spend too much time there. Breakfast was an extra £15 at the time of booking, but is only about £10 if you pay cash, so don't bother booking it in advance.

On Saturday night we visited the Royal Shakespeare Theatre to see Hamlet. The performance was fabulous! The stage protrudes significantly into the auditorium which gave the actors the odd comic opportunity to interact with the audience (passing Yorick's skull around was a personal favourite!) The comedy of Hamlet was stressed more than one might expect and brought a welcome relief to the intensity of the rest of the performance. I cannot recommend highly enough this play to anyone seeking Shakespeare this summer.

The next day we finished our Shakespeare tour by visiting Hall's Croft and Anne Hathaway's Cottage. Hall's Croft is a another well-preserved home. This time it is the Jacobean home of Shakespeare's daughter who was married to Dr John Hall. Again, the tour sheet is excellent and the house well thought out. In particular, the "medical" observations made by John Hall are contained within a book presented in the house and make most entertaining reading!

Our final location was Anne Hathaway's Cottage (we didn't get to Mary Arden's farm). This may be the jewel in the crown of the trust. The house is spectacular and contains all kinds of antique furniture and fittings that are contemperaneous (or near-contemperaneous) with Shakespeare. We found the 450 year old kitchen floor that had certainly borne the footsteps of Wil and Anne most fascinating.

Anne Hathaway's Cottage also boasts the most lavish and largest garden of all the sites. In particular the sculpture garden and woodland trail were great fun! We ran into a young couple who had lost their maze. Apparently they had got engaged the year before in a maze in the garden that has since been removed!

Finally, the rich vein of humour that runs through Stratford should be mentioned. From the human statues to the "husband creche" (where harassed wives can leave their spouses in comfort and safety), there is a lot of fun to be had. Our favourite was the Jaws Amity Islands notices which were there for the safety of bathers...