Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Shakespeare in Stratford Upon Avon

Our first trip outside the city limits of London took us to Stratford-Upon-Avon, birthplace of William Shakespeare. Knowing that the day was a free day (with a recommendation to visit the local public library) and having been to Stratford-upon-Avon before (with Lizzy), I decided to arrange a train trip to arrive later in the day--in time for our tickets to the Royal Shakespeare Company.

I traveled with Jenn and Laura taking the 1:20pm train from London Marylebone into Stratford upon Avon...the trip took just over 2 hours with local stops but time went quickly once we were joined by Reggie (an actor from Penn State) who spent the time chatting up Laura and appealing to Jenn and me for moral support. It was quite pleasant to spend the day with some polite testosterone-laden company.

The train arrived in Stratford and Jenn, Laura and I popped into the health center for a bathroom, then wandered into Stratford city center and came upon Prof. Welsh and Karen near the Shakespeare Birthplace Historic site. We did some shopping and then decided to visit the Stratford Public Library. Housed, as you can see,

in a period era (16th century) building, the library's internal architecture has been modernized. The building, is, as a result, an interesting juxtaposition of new and old: ancient brick walls lined with DVDs for rent being the best illustration of how older libraries manage to balance modern library user needs with the desire to retain architectural cohesion, especially in a place like Stratford where the tourist industry is so essential.

There is little information about the Straford-upon-Avon public library available online--they are part of the larger Warwickshire Library and Information Service which provides general information about opening times and services. One of the library's head librarians stated that the public library recently underwent renovation (within the past 5 years) increasing space for books and making spaces more user friendly.

The result of the renovation is a well-lit, well-stocked library with service desks on all the floors and special areas for research, reading and a separate children's and teen area. The Stratford-upon-Avon public library serves local residents of Stratford as well as tourists. The library stocks best-sellers, books on local interest and, as one might imagine, a large collection of Shakespeare related materials. Tourist traffic in the library, the librarian indicated, had dropped off since the library began charging for internet access.

After taking a look around Stratford, and before heading off to see the RSC's A Winter's Tale Jenn, Laura and I decided on dinner. We stopped into the Garrick Inn Pub, Stratford's oldest pub, and had a wonderful meal of traditional English fare. I had a fish with potatoes and vegetables and a glass of cider, having, once again, reached my limit with veggie and fruit-free meals. Amusingly, we were joined by two other groups of BSP LIS students. The Garrick had a bit of magnetic pull for Library students.

The Garrick inn has been in business since 1595, is situated next to the birthplace of John Harvard's mother, Katherine Rogers, and was named after Shakespearean actor David Garrick in 1760, who organized a "Shakespearean Jubilee" in 1760.

The greatest adventure of the day was trying to find the theatre--thankfully we missed the worst of a downpour that began while we were in the Garrick, but it was still wet and rainy as we walked what looked like Stratford's "bad neighborhood" looking for the RSC's Courtyard Theatre. For a town that thrives on Shakespeare and depends on the Theatre for tourism you would think they would have better and clearer signage--then again we arrived from town rather than on a tour bus so maybe it was our fault for not being touristy enough. Once we arrived at the theatre and took our seats, I settled down (with a bit of an obstructed view) to watch a new Shakespeare play. (nearly always a joy.)

I find this review in the Telegraph sums up my opinion of A Winter's Tale--I loved Leontes and I thought the actress who played Hermione did an excellent job in the scenes of high drama and really enjoyed the use of books as props. I could have done without Autolycus and am reminded that I seldom like the actresses who play Shakespeare's ingenues--in this case, Perdita. Her voice was high, thin and just this side of grating and her delivery all awkward pauses rather than excitement and eloquence. I wonder if men were cast in women's roles not because they thought women on stage were loose, but because men's voices seem to carry so much better from stage--the deeper register, the ability to project without sounding shrill. The exception being Noma Dumezweni whose voice soared through the house with sinuous skill...her voice's depth and tone allowed the language to be the focus making the words substantial, something to be chewed over later, rather than flimsy like cotton candy. All this is my own opinion. The acting in general was excellent, and I enjoyed the mix of tragedy and comedy that is so rare in Shakespeare.

To continue the bus v. subway/train battle: Train wins--Chiltern Railways was wonderful, plenty of space, smooth ride, and spacious, though confusing bathrooms (the person in the bathroom before me did not lock the door correctly, therefore I surprised both us when the door opened when she was still occupied) and for only 10 pounds. Totally whipped the tightly-packed slightly nauseating (already paid for) bus ride home. Note: city buses versus coach buses--city buses rule.

Information on Garrick Inn Pub: http://gouk.about.com/od/stratforduponavon/ig/48-Hours-in-Stratford-upn-Avon/The-Garrick-Inn.htm

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