Saturday, August 2, 2008

A Picnic and a Ghostly King

The theater before the production began

Curtain Call

Thursday last saw the entire Breadloaf contingent (minus a few desperate paper writers) once again boarding two coaches headed for Stratford, this time by way of a few Cotswold villages. En route to the Royal Shakespeare's production of Hamlet, we learned that the Cotswolds made all their money in the wool trade, and we saw several of the lovely yellow-colored stone "sheep churches" that their residents used that money to construct more than eight hundred years ago.

Once in Stratford, some friends and I peeled off to walk along the river and find a picnic area on which to spread the feast items we had packed into backpacks, purses, and carrier bags for the trip. Near Stratford's official "Brass Rubbing Center" we found a black stage plopped somewhat randomly in a field and discovered our own riches. From Dan, prosciutto and mozzarella sandwiches, from Rebecca, scones, double cream, and chocolate teacakes, from Heather, raspberries, blackberries, and tomato salad, and so on and so forth, each according to their tastes. We enjoyed quite a pre-performance feast, then headed into the temporary theater the Royal Shakespeare Company is currently inhabiting, while they renovate their old one into what they hope will become the premier Shakespeare theater, outshining even The Globe. 

This particular production, Hamlet, had been sold out for months, due to the overwhelming fame of the actor playing Hamlet. He also stars in a British children's television series called Dr. Who, and tickets for the sold-out production were actually, if you can believe it, going on E-bay for 215 pounds, or about four hundred thirty dollars. If only I had known... 

The special actor attraction for me, however, was not Dr. Who, but rather Patrick Stewart, who I grew up watching as the steely eyed and courageous Captain Picard on Star Trek. He played both Hamlet's uncle and the ghost of his father, and to great effect, if you ask me. The production choices in general were reminiscent of those of A Midsummer Night's Dream, which the RSC is also performing this summer, and which we saw in June. In each, the company has chosen to modernize the dress and social rituals of the Shakespeare plays, rather than mount the expensive and sometimes alien productions which sport full period dress and no nod to the 21st century. The Dream production was a bit edgier, using strange doll puppets as fairy spirits; Hamlet went no further into experimentation than a gunshot which produced the appearance of a giant shattered piece of moodily-lit glass on the back of the stage. I liked it that way. 

The wonderful food and straightforwardly good production made us a happy group on the way home, late though it was. I fell asleep listening to Bulgarian Language lessons unit #4 and woke up on unit #17 as we rolled back into Oxford. Perhaps some of it sunk in, mixing with my memories of Hamlet's duel with Laertes and fruit scones eaten by the river...

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