Friday, September 16, 2011

Stratford upon Avon: Birthplace of Shakespeare

Having recently attended the critically acclaimed show of Richard III at the Old Vic Theatre featuring Kevin Spacey, we thought it would be most appropriate to pay homage to the birthplace of William Shakespeare. Just over 2 hours on the train from Marylebone station, Stratford-upon-Avon makes for an excellent day trip from London. Quaint little Stratford boasts some elegant Tudor and Elizabethan
buildings along the High Street and a picturesque riverside filled with local pubs and restaurants. A visit to Stratford-upon-Avon affords you the opportunity not only to visit Shakespeare's childhood home and his final resting place, but also the historic homes of most, if not all of his family members.
Start your walking tour at Shakespeare's Birthplace on Henley Street, where the Great Bard was born on 23 April 1564. You can purchase a special combination ticket for £12 which gives you access to all three Shakepeare sites in Stratford, but not Anne Hathaway Cottage or Mary Arden's House. The original half-timbered house was divided into two parts, allowing Shakespeare's father, a successful glover, to operate his business from the family home. At the age of 18, Shakespeare married the 26 year old Anne Hathaway when she was 3 months pregnant and together, they had a daughter, Susanna, and twin son and daughter, Hamnet and Judith. For an extra fee, you can also visit Anne's childhood thatched cottage about a mile away.
Continuing on the walking tour, next visit New Place on Chaple Street, the final residence of the Great Bard until this death. Whilst the house no later exist, you can visit the garden of New Place and the Nash House owned by his granddaughter's husband. Next stop by the Hall's Croft, a lovely Tudor home once occupied by his daughter, Susanna and her husband Dr. John Hall, before visiting Shakespeare's resting place at the nearby Holy Trinity Church where he died on his birthday in 1616.
 Shakespeare's literary work requires no introduction as most of us read the brilliant work of the Great Bard in high school English or saw one of his famous plays. A trip to Stratford-upon-Avon would not be complete without watching a theatrical show at the famous Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), which reopened in November 2010 after three years of renovation. Since we have tickets to see The Tempest starring Ralph Fiennes next month, we were in the mood for something besides Shakespeare. Luckily for us Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming was being performed by the RSC during our visit so we made sure to book ourselves in for a matinee show.
Unsettling and tense, the storyline is meant to conjure negative emotions from within, and for this reason the execution by the cast was impeccable and the audience was left feeling confused, awkward, and disturbed exactly as they were meant to. Typical of a play in the tradition of the “theatre of the absurd”, the storyline explored through intense symbolism and subtle artistic expression, elements of sexism, class divide, alienation, and the thin line between stagnation and impermanence.
The use of the color red in both stage design and in lighting throughout was effective in driving home overarching themes of anger, jealousy, shame, and hatred acted out by the characters on stage. Well worth the two hour and twenty minute running time, The Homecoming is Samuel Becket meets Mad Men meets David Lynch and is, much like many of its contemporary existentialist dramas, a literary work to be appreciated for its critique on gender, family and class issues.

Another fantastic day trip from London for the opportunity to pay homage to the most prolific and famous playwright in literary history and a nod to the Nobel Prize Winner, the late Harold Pinter.

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