My London-Stratford-London diary in pictures!
Everything began last January, when I noticed these two tweets by the theatre expert Terry Paddock:
I booked as soon as I could manage a new holiday, I wouldn’t have missed the occasion, even if the two plays got an alternate schedule and I had to think about my booking accurately! RSC Oppenheimer’s actor Oliver Johnstone (an actor I’m following for some time) was going to play two opposite characters, one good person and one villain, Edgar and Iachimo. Edgar is my favourite character in King Lear! While I was new to Cymbeline, we didn’t have it in our bookcase, yet, so I bought the book in double language and read it.
I know that isn’t very popular to say so, but I immediately liked the cheeky Iachimo on paper, more than Posthumus, Imogen’s soulmate. I have the impression that William Shakespeare himself didn’t root for this love story, while the sneaky bedroom scene is maybe the best one he wrote in the whole play.
I don’t like Cymbeline (and his wife and step-son) either, another selfish king in the Bard’s long bibliography, who causes his own ruin, as often happens in Shakespeare. While Imogen is lovely and bold, as well as her servant Pisanio, Belarius and his two sons, who are actually the king’s sons. I found the gender changes in the RSC production intriguing.
I also liked the idea of seeing the two plays in Stratford-Upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s birthplace, on the year of the 400th anniversary of his death. I hadn’t visited the city before.
Since I had to travel via London and to stay a few nights there, I took a look to some more plays to watch.
So, here my diary of that new UK adventure.
TUESDAY 6 SEPTEMBER
I went to London via Bologna airport. The day was splendid in Italy, so I could see the surface of my beautiful country from above! I was particularly impressed by the shapes of the San Luca mountain near Bologna and of the Lake of Garda! Pity I didn’t think to take photos, but maybe I enjoyed the view better, with my mp3 player on. While, approaching the UK, the weather went cloudy.
At Heathrow, I changed my booking with two train tickets to Stratford. At my hotel on middle afternoon, I had only to wait for the night to come.
Hobson’s Choice, the play with Martin Shaw and Bryan Dick (an actor I admire and I want to see on stage whenever I’m able) in its cast, was announced at the Vaudeville Theatre after the UK tour. I booked for it on that first night in London. It was a very enjoyable show, I wrote my report there. It was great to be back at that gorgeous theatre to see it!
It was also a real pleasure to meet Bryan Dick at the stage door after the show: he was very lovely, hugged me and signed my programme with a nice dedication! He writes my name right, that’s even nicer! Not common in my experience, haha!
WEDNESDAY 7 SEPTEMBER
On the morning, I had an appointment with the National Theatre Archive to see a recording of War Horse, before to go to Stratford. I saw the 2013 and 2015 cast at the New London Theatre already, but consulting the archive online, I noticed they had some recordings of previous cast. At home in Italy, I exchanged some emails with a member of the staff: I asked her if it was possible to watch it again, with Luke Treadaway or Jack Holden in the role of Albert Narracott. It looked like it was possible, she told me I could watch the one with Holden, plus I could consult the script and the programme. I was very happy! I saw some scenes with the actor on the NT 50th DVD and in the 2012 trailer and I was curious to see that performance!
So scheduling my holiday, I posponed for some hours Stratford while booking and I decided to take an appointment at the NTA for that morning. But once at the archive, the woman apologized she thought I could watch the one I wanted, but the NTA put away those recordings, so only the newest are now available to watch there. I was disappointed, but I didn’t protest… too much. The recording was the 2013 one with Sion Daniel Young as Albert, so I decided to watch it again, also because I loved Ian Shaw’s performance as Friedrich Müller. But the programme was the 2015 one, so I didn’t consult it, as I have it at home. I don’t blame the NTA, though. I saw some great recordings, there, so I can’t complain.
Once I left the NTA, I took a walk along The Cut, because it was a bit too early to get to the train station. So I took this photo of the Young Vic, in appreciation of them putting these two flags on their balcony:
I had my train for Stratford on early afternoon. At Marylebone, a poster of Cymbeline was waiting for me:
It was the first time I was on train in UK, if we don’t consider the one I took sometimes from Gatwick to London, so I was excited but worried at the same time I could take the wrong train or do something wrong changing it at Leamington Spa. But getting to Stratford was quite easy and I arrived around five o’clock.
I found my b&b Stretton House the office of tourism suggested me by email, a lovely house not too far from the station and the theatres. The owner was very welcoming and gave me a map of Stratford, explaining me the best way to get to the RSC theatres and Shakespeare’s famous places. It was good, I should remember not to trust entirely the Google maps I print, it’s better to ask to hotel’s owners!
I took a walk to the theatres and I was immediately taken by the modern/ancient building from far!
I visited the bookshop of the RSC and bought the two programmes in advance. I also noticed some stuff I would have liked to buy the following days.
The first of the two plays with Oliver Johnstone, King Lear, was taking place that night.
It’s hard to say if I was more curious to see Oliver playing Edgar, a wonderful character, or Iachimo, the sneaky Italian, a fellow countryman of mine then, who tries to seduce the chaste Imogen. I can say he performed both the men in a wonderful way!
But let’s tell things in order.
On the night, I was sitting at my place inside the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. It was a very good seat at one side of the stage, on the front row. I didn’t dare to take a photo, but the atmosphere was exciting. A full report on the play will be posted there soon. The whole cast was terrific! The RSC always chooses well!
After the show, I wanted to meet Oliver at the stage door to say congratulations to him for the wonderful performance, but also to tell him I was going to see Cymbeline the day after. That because I read the cast speak Italian, French and Latin in the play, so I wanted to see if he could say any comment about it, knowing I was Italian.
He was very nice and asked me from which part of Italy I came. Then he exuberantly explained that Iachimo is from Siena, while I replied I thought he was from Rome (I didn’t remember that detail from the book). I also told him that I wanted to see him playing such opposite characters and he told me that, yes, they are two very different roles to play, but he finds it stimulating.
I thought that Oliver’s performance was very physical and reminded me of a figure from a painting of Caravaggio. I was right, as later, browsing the programme, I found a page mentioning the painter!
I had a great night.
THURSDAY 8 SEPTEMBER
After a delicious English Breakfast, on the morning I decided to visit Shakespeare’s grave first. It was due to pay homage to the Bard!
With my precious map on my hands, I reached the Holy Trinity Church, a beautiful church with original Gothic architecture. Photos were allowed, so I could take several pictures inside and outside. It was a great emotion to me to be there! Here the gallery with the description:
Outside the historical complex, the garden overlooks the Avon river and the view is stunning. You can see the RST tower from far. I took a walk along the river through a passage in the party wall. Definitely, this city is still focused on Shakespeare, as you can see from the gallery (see the pavillion’s photos, for example):
In my walk, I found by chance the famous The Other Place, the RSC mentions often on Twitter and I wanted to visit. I bet that, if I was looking for it on purpose, I wouldn’t have find it so soon! I liked that place. If I only think that inside there rehealsals take place!!
They use the walls as a glorious gallery of the RSC productions, so I couldn’t help taking pictures. You’ll see why:
I also had a delicious cappuccino at the bar.
Then, I continued my tour along the river and around the RST. I had the whole morning.
I took some stuff for my theatre collection at the bookshop and then I came back to the b&b to get ready for the other play, Cymbeline. You can well see why I wanted this calendar…I don’t think I’ll move the page any further, when I’ll find the one with Oppie….
There, a bad news: my mobile didn’t charge! Gosh. I had just the time to text my friend Chris time and place for our appointment on the evening, before the battery abandoned me.
I run to be at the theatre in time for Cymbeline. This time, I had a seat in front of the stage, first row. I was very curious to see if detractors of the play were right. They weren’t. Apparently we saw a different show. I greatly enjoyed the play, it was dynamic and funny, played not in a classic way. A full report on the play will be posted there soon.
Meeting Oliver at the stage door again, he smiled at me and told he hoped his Italian was okay and looked glad that I thought so. I can’t talk for French people and I didn’t study Latin, but I think that he did well. Actually, he spoke the best Italian in the cast and I told him so. I have to admit I didn’t understand some lines from the others actors during the scenes taking place in Rome and I had to read subtitles in English on screen, oops! But it was just the languages, because I really enjoyed all the performances!
I would have liked to ask Oliver how he manages two different performances day after day and where did he learn Italian and French, but I felt silly and I left him with his acting secrets.
He also asked me when I was going back to Italy and if I planned to see other plays in London. I replied that I had booked for Pride And Prejudice and Groundhog Day, he told me he was hoping to see GDay, too, once in London. Unless he saw the play on one of the last two Sundays, I’m sorry he will be disappointed, as the play ended last Monday, 19 September! I didn’t notice, or maybe I could have told him. What a pity for him, that musical was great!
I also got the occasion to ask for the autograph to the lovely Bethan Cullinane, I told her I loved her performance and that she and Oliver were my favorite in the cast. She said me smiling that they went to the acting school together, so I told her that I knew that last Summer they made together Young Bloods, a RADA play about Waterloo, too.
They both cheered my day up! Cheeky me, I looked for these two actors at the stage door only, as I think they stole the play.
I was in Stratford just for a short holiday, it’s a pity I could see each play only once, I’d need to focus on details! Who knows if I can make the London season at the Barbican, but looks like tickets are selling fast! So I hope that the RSC will edit the two plays on DVD, next year!
I will always regret I didn’t make an effort and didn’t go to Stratford before, to see Oppenheimer at the Swan Theatre! I found Stratford and the Royal Shakespeare Theatre gorgeous and I greatly miss them already!
On the evening, I had an appointment with Chris, an English friend I met through Twitter. We had dinner together at the RST restaurant. It was a lovely way to end the day. Courses were delicious and a pleasure for the eyes.
I found bizzarre the changes that have been made inside the building, as Chris explained me. They left just three seats on the wall to show where the old circle of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre ended. And posters.
After dinner, we walked around to see the city by night. Chris suggested me a shop where I could ask to check my phone in the morning. Pity I couldn’t take photos of Stratford by night, as my camera card was full already and I couldn’t use the phone. The atmosphere outside Shakespeare’s house was magic.
FRIDAY 9 SEPTEMBER
Another lovely English Breakfast. I had my train for London around 5 pm, but I had to renounce to visit to some Stratford places as I planned, for I had to fix my phone problems and I couldn’t leave my luggage at the b&b for more than few hours, as they apologized they had a last-minute commitment on the afternoon. So I took another long walk through the city, but it was nice.
Then I stayed around the RSC theatres and I sat on Ian Richardson’s bench. What a honour!
But I had enough time to visit the RSC’s free exhibition “WELL SAID, Favourite Shakespeare Quotes” inside the RST. Lines by Shakespeare were chosen by actors, like Ayesha Dharker, Hiran Abeysekera and Paapa Essiedu and inspired new artworks made by some artists.
After that, walking around the ground floor, I noticed that big photo Tom Morton-Smith tweeted about some months ago. Looks like at the RSC are still proud of that wonderful performance by John Heffernan! Oppie is still there! I can’t blame them!
I didn’t want to leave the RSC palace too soon, so I decided to have another lovely cappuccino and a slice of cake at the bar. The British now how to prepare them!
Later, I visited the Guild Chapel, another amazing Gothic church in the city. There are some ancient affrescos in need for restoration, so they’re collecting money. I really hope they can make it.
And around the city there still are some amazing buildings of the time of Shakespeare, fortunately the city saved fro the passing of time. Is part of their cultural heritage, no?
I would have liked to stay in Stratford more days, but I had to leave. I took some last photos at the train station.
I had no plays to see in London in the evening, so I enjoyed an episode of Law & Order: UK on TV. It’s always a pleasure to see James Steel on screen!
SATURDAY 10 SEPTEMBER
I started my day going to The Cut again. In my schedule, I didn’t think I could excange my ticket for Groundhog Day at the Old Vic on Wednesday. Oh well, it was also an occasion to do my ritual: walking along the Southwark, which for me is like throwing a coin into the Fontana Di Trevi to get back to Rome!
Waiting for the Old Vic’s box office to open, I went to the bar of the Young Vic, where I know they do a good cappuccino. It was fun, because the barman asked me if I was there for an audition. Haha! I told him that I wished I was! Then he asked me if I was seeing Yarma, but no, unfortunately.
I took my ticket for GDay and then I went to the Southbank. Everytime, I have to go inside the National Theatre for their bookshop, where I bought a copy of The Stage, and then inside the BFI, where I use to visit the exhibition they set on the mezzanine. This time it was “Recent acquisitions to BFI special collection“. I took with me a programme of the incoming Film Festival, too. I wish I could have attended to it.
I was nervous and excited for the afternoon. I was going ot the Open Air Theatre for the first time, to see Pride And Prejudice, but the weather was cloudy, so I feared it could rain. I was right. As I wrote in my report there, I was able to see just few minutes of it, then the staff interrupted the play! I was so disappointed! For the second time in that holiday, I couldn’t see a play I planned to see!! I just took some photos around.
But I took consolation on the evening, as Groundhog Day was indoors and very enjoyable! My report there.
SUNDAY 11 SEPTEMBER
A brief visit to the British Library to buy a present for one of my two brothers, who celebrated his birthday the day after.
And then, on my way back to Italy, sigh. End of another great holiday! Looks always too short to me! Haha!
I hope you liked the gallery, I had to share how beautiful Stratford-Upon-Avon is!
Perhaps this diary matters just to me, really…
I took many other photos, but I posted here just the more interesting.