Perched within the encompassing glow of a Costa cafe, itself bound by an architecturally Tudor shell, I found my bearings. Plugging my destination in to Googlemaps to ensure I wouldn’t wander off on too much of a tangent, I sipped my coffee, readying myself to commence a solo exploration of Stratford, and search for the infamous RSC (a daunting prospect for someone with an increasingly questionable sense of direction. Even with a Sat-Nav. And a navigator).
Unfortunately, as a result of bouncing off the walls in excitement the night before, a slightly insomniac haze had settled over me. My excursions were conducted in a relatively dream-like state, enjoying the adventure by perceiving specific eccentricities in a wash of visual white noise. Running on caffeine, and having left my jacket behind (*face-palm*) I bounced from doorway to doorway with a scarf held tight to my head like a Russian doll.
My first utterance of excited surprise came from the discovery of a CHRISTMAS SHOP, called the ‘Nutcracker’, which sells Festive paraphernalia and plays associated jingles all year round. For someone like me, this find could do nothing but elicit an infantile squeal of delight.
The next stop along the rainy road to the RSC was a Shakespearean gift shop, selling any manner of bard-related bits you could imagine. One such example was a Yorricks’ Skull mug… Alas, poor Yorrick… I couldn’t take him home because I own too many novelty ceramics already (dagnabbit). After settling for a ‘Titus Andronicus’ post card, I padded about in the rain for a circular ten minute stretch, before finding myself peering up at the entrance to the Swan Theatre. Wide eyed. Wet-through. Ceremoniously de-scarfing myself, I felt like I’d reached some sort of forgotten Mecca.
I spent the remainder of the afternoon exploring the delights of the RSC’s free costume exhibition “Into the Wild”, a display of costumes associated with Shakespeare’s development of natural imagery within his work, and how this was reflected in the costumes used in various RSC productions from the 1950’s onwards. (Check back soon for a more detailed account of this…)
The interior of the Theatre looked like it could be the exterior, with the curved red-brick casing of the auditorium looming large and round like the distended base of a great chimney. I wondered how many bricks there’d be if I tried to count them all.
I didn’t on this occasion. Aside from wishing to avoid going cross-eyed, I was preoccupied with gathering my thoughts over another steaming coffee, this time in the Riverside cafe. I couldn’t tell whether I was shaking with cold; sudden caffeine intake; or excitement. The atmosphere was palpable. The weight of history hung close despite my contemporary surroundings.
What I’d seen of Stratford that afternoon was a fascinating mix of contrasts and oddities. Wide pathways; narrow walkways; plentiful benches; open spaces; intimate spaces; new shops in old exteriors; eccentricities. It strikes me as a perfect destination for the inquisitive mind with a love of history, most specifically Tudor & Elizabethan. Obviously Shakespeare’s presence is inextricable from the town. As the proud, authoritative documenters and vendors, whom, along with the RSC lovingly govern the modern reception of the Bards’ work and origins, Stratford’s retail sector can be forgiven for being commercialised in places. But this is easily avoided by resisting the lure of too many a gift-shop bearing intriguingly shaped ceramics.
Next time on catl3yscrux: The RSC ‘Into the Wild’ exhibition, and ‘Titus Andronicus’, the review.