Stratford on Avon Theatre Tour

The skies were grey and there was a chill in the air as we set off from Marlow but the sight of blossom, daffodils and lambs as we made our way to Stratford were reminders that it really was a spring day. John Pritchard, our leader for the day, had efficiently divided us into three groups and put all our tickets for the day in individual envelopes together with a useful town plan of Stratford. Each envelope was marked with our appropriate group letter, which meant that as soon as we arrived in Stratford we could assemble ready to meet our guides. Our guide was a young girl by the name of Matilda (she seemed to have rather a lot of merchandise in the gift shop – but Roald Dahl could have had something to do with that). She was very enthusiastic and, as you would expect from the RSC, her delivery was excellent – although she was not in fact a ‘resting’ actress. My group’s first stop was the auditorium of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. The Theatre was opened in 1932 and designed by Elizabeth Scott who was the first female to design a public building (architecture was in her blood, being related to George Gilbert Scott and Giles Gilbert Scott). It was built next to the site of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, which was built in 1879 and burnt down in 1926. In 2010 the Theatre closed to undergo major renovation works, which included replacing the proscenium arch with a thrust stage, more appropriate to Shakespeare’s day. All the work had to take place within the walls of the original Theatre, which is Grade II listed. Whilst we were sitting in the auditorium they were carrying out sound and lighting checks for the current ‘Roman’ season – Antony and Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, Titus Andronicus and Coriolanus. If you fancy seeing any of these and can’t get to Stratford they are all being shown as live screenings over the coming months at local cinemas. Next stop the tower, 32 meters above street level with stunning views over Stratford. The tower was built as part of the 2010 works and was inspired by the water tower of the original Memorial Theatre, which was destroyed by the fire in 1926. The tower provided an opportunity to view the rows of cottages opposite the Theatre owned by the RSC and rented out to actors. Apparently one actor was once spied from the tower sunbathing in the nude but the temperature on the day of our visit was not conducive to such things. Our final visit of the morning was the Swan Theatre created in 1986 from a former rehearsal space on the original site of the Memorial Theatre. A more intimate theatre used for new plays and works by Shakespeare’s contemporaries. After a break for lunch we were able to visit the exhibition The Play’s the Thing - a display of costumes and other production items, with the opportunity to play Hamlet and visit the digital dressing room to try on costumes. The latter was great fun, with most of the group having a go and taking a picture in their favourite costume, which they could then email to themselves – the Marlow area must have received a complete Shakespearean cast of characters. To finish, some facts from the A-Z of the RSC Theatres: I the Theatres sold 87,494 ice-creams last year L lychees are the fruit that make the best fake eyeballs P porridge oats, coffee and water are used to make stage poo U 300 umbrellas were left at the Theatres last year. Thanks to John for a very interesting day and to Darren for driving us safely there and back.