Monday, April 23, 2007

Thank You Mr. Shakespeare

Apart from being St. George’s Day, today is thought to be not only the date of the birth of William Shakespeare in 1564 but also the day upon which he died in 1616. As some of you will know I am a great lover of Mr. Shakespeare and his plays so I've decided today to acknowledge this with my recollections of some of the most memorable performances I have been privileged to see. The ones where I sat enthralled, almost unaware of my own existence; the ones that left me feeling as if Ihad been touched by magic; the ones that filled me with joy and the ones where I left the theatre floating on air.

My very first experience of Shakespeare was the BBC’s 1965 production of the Wars of the Roses, seen in black and white on a small TV screen. I remember staying up late to watch with my fingers crossed that there wouldn’t be a power cut, I was beside myself with happiness then, I lived and breathed every word – I was a teenager and my family didn’t understand. My first visit to the RSC's theatre at Stratford was to see Coriolanus with Ian Richardson in the title roll. Perhaps not the best play to start with but once I’d taken that initial step I returned again and again – I was hooked.

There are many memories of countless performances but those I remember without even searching through my programme collection are as follows. A gloriously joyful The Comedy of Errors at Stratford with a cast including Judy Dench and Michael Williams. The cast came out into the audience at the end and we all joined in the final song. A stirring Henry V, again at Stratford, with Alan Howard in the title role. Nottingham Playhouse in the early seventies two equally stunning performances of Hamlet, one with Alan Bates as the Prince the other with Ian McKellan. A stunning Richard III at the National Theatre again with Ian McKellan. A dreamy and colourful Love's Labour's Lost with Ian Charleston, Alan Rickman, Richard Griffiths and David Suchet. I remember sitting through three productions in one day when the RSC at Stratford presented The Plantagenets. We sat through it all again at the Barbican in London. Last but not least a magical amateur production of A Midsummer Nights Dream on midsummer's eve at the Stamford Shakespeare Company's open air theatre at Tolethorpe.

Thank you Mr. Shakespeare for some wonderful memories.


  1. Rosie, I can remember us going to those two wonderful productions in Stratford, Comedy of Errors and Henry V, in fact we went twice, the second time taking Robert with us. I particularly remember Robert's booming laugh at all the jokes in Comedy of Errors, which made all the members of the audience around us laugh as well.

    A few years later we went to see The Merry Wives of Windsor, not a play I knew at the time, but I enjoyed it immensely. In fact I'm rarely disappointed by live theatre. There's something about being in the same space with actors as they take on the persona of someone else entirely that fires my imagination the way that cinema never does, much as I have enjoyed a great number of films.

    The plays which have absorbed me the most are often those with a minimum of sets and props, as in that wonderful Henry V with Alan Howard. I still remember vividly the grey cloth, which represented the countryside of northern France, suddenly being hauled up by a series of wires so that the underneath, painted in gold and blue, became a canopy at the French court, emblazoned with the fleur de lis. I think that the cloth, a wagon which carried arms and armour, and a tilted part of the stage doing service as the walls of Honfleur were the only props during that production, so there was nothing to get in the way of communication between the actors and the audience.

    Having said that, there was a very elaborate set for Comedy of Errors and I loved that production as well, so perhaps I should stop twittering on and join you in paying tribute to the Bard who was of course, in addition to being a genius, a Midlander!

  2. Oh, yes, I remember:) I remember also staying in the hotel which was where M&S is now,The Red Lion rings a bell. Both 'Comedy' and 'Henry' were super productions weren't they? Not Shakespeare related but I also remember that hot summer was it '75? The streets of London were so hot our feet felt burnt and we saw Tom Stoppard's 'Travesties' and also 'A Little Night Music' was that Sondheim? One of them we saw on my birthday but I can't remember which one:) I agree, there is something very special about live theatre - in fact any live performance.

  3. Yes, it was Sondheim and I think we also saw a play by Alan Ayckbourn, The Norman Conquests was it? We certainly packed a lot of theatre-going activity into those few days. I also remember, with aching feet, the very high-heeled sandals which I wore to walk round London - ouch! Now it's very flat cork-foot-bed sandals which are so comfortable, but hardly elegant. Ah well, tempus fugit and all that.

  4. Rosie,
    An American institution which will remain unnamed is granting Literature degrees to students without the students ever studying Shakespeare...!
    How can you justify a degree in Literature without the Bard??@!

  5. sissy, that is such a shame but it is happening here too, in his own country which I think is incredible. The study of Shakespeare has been dropped from the syllabus being deemed 'too difficult' for students - I think it is very shortsighted - and they just don't know what they are missing.