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The London Logs: Stratford Survival Tips

The Author By Kelly Hayes-Raitt | July 15th, 2012 | Comments No Comments

I’ve had the privilege of experiencing some exquisite theatrical moments: Elizabeth Franz’s Tony Award-winning performance opposite Brian Dennehy’s Willy Loman on Broadway, Christopher Plummer’s Iago squaring off to James Earl Jones’ Othello in Washington’s National Theater twenty years ago, Tony winner Cherry Jones as Sister Aloysius in Doubt at LA’s Ahmanson.
Bard on a Stroll
But, the Royal Shakespeare’s Richard III was the singularly most intense three hours of theatre I’ve experienced. The staging was minimal, Swanscostuming was modern-dress. The drama came from the actors, the lighting and the live music. During the dream sequence when King Richard is visited by his murder victims, Richard lies crumpled at the front of the stage while the “ghosts” hoist his former mate, now murdered, on their shoulders. When the ghost stretches out his arms, the lighting is so harsh, the dramatic shadow behind him looks like Christ on the crucifix. I will see Richard III again next month at the Globe Theatre in London, and I am eager to see how that staging will differ.

Such is Shakespeare’s endurance. A recent production from Iraq staged the play in Arabic with Saddam Hussein as King Richard massacring the Kurds. Sue and Simon, my hosts at Adelphi B&B, saw the production in the language they don’t speak and were nonetheless mesmerized. The World Shakespeare Festival is celebrating a variety of international productions in conjunction with the Summer Olympics.

TIP #1: Before you arrive, visit the Royal Shakespeare Company’s web site (royalshakespearecompany.com) to buy advance tickets. The theatre looks huge on the site, but in reality, it holds only 1,000 people and is quite intimate. I bought one “restricted view” ticket (£12, about $18US), a front-row seat (£34, about $52) and a last-minute, top-tier, last row seat (£18, about $27US) for Richard III (in the adjacent, smaller Swan Theater). The latter was my favorite seat. The front-row, surprisingly, was my least favorite. The front row is actually below the stage, so my sightline was even with the actors’ feet. I was so taken by the actors who were stationed within my arm’s reach – even when they weren’t part of the main action – that I missed the basic story line! But, the top tier, last row seat in the very intimate Swan Theatre felt as if I were hanging over the stage.

TIP #2: Book a B&B; the breakfasts will fill you for a week! I stayed at the lovely Adelphi B&B (www.adelphi-guesthouse.com), recently purchased by Sue & Simon. I was proud to be their very first guest! Stratford is quite small and walkable, and the Adelphi is conveniently located around the corner from the train station. The large English breakfast was included in the reasonable price (£40/night for a single – about $60US). Other B&Bs (as well as a town map and guide to the sites) are listed at www.stratford-upon-avon.co.uk/soaaccx.htm.
shakespeares-grave.jpg
TIP #3: Take the Stratford Town Walk (www.StratfordTownWalk.co.uk) early in your stay. david-the-tour-guide.jpgIt’s a great overview of the town and a thorough rundown of Shakespeare’s life. For £5, you get a 2-hour tour and coupons for discounts at restaurants and other attractions – including Shakespeare’s birth house – which pay for the cost of the tour.

TIP #4: On the train to or from Stratford, sit with a stranger. Upon leaving Stratford-upon-Avon, I happened to sit next to a man from Mexico. Between his English, my Spanglish and his Spanish lessons, I learned Hector is one of 6 actors from Mexico brought to Stratford to perform as part of the World Shakespeare Festival! Of all the gin joints…

TIP #5: Thank an English teacher. My 4 high school English teachers dragged most of us students kicking and screaming to Shakespeare, but they made The Bard come alive by giving us an appreciation for poetic language, theatrical pacing and teenage lust! Without Joan Caruso, Lorna Penny, Penny Deakin and Margaret Ruckman, I would never have come to Stratford and would never have attended 3 Shakespeare plays in as many nights. Without them, I would have lost the most extraordinary 3 evenings of my life. Thank you, ladies!
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