You may recall from my first blog I mentioned that one of my other interests is Amateur Drama. I am involved both front and back stage with a couple of drama groups but my main involvement is as Edinburgh District Secretary for Scottish Community Drama (SCDA) an umbrella group supporting amateur drama across Scotland. In fact my partner has often commented that he has never yet figured out how I could fit work into my life, as since I retired he has seen less of me than when I was working (cheeky so and so).
To explain the background a little: as part of the Cultural Olympics, the Royal Shakespeare Company has been running the ‘Open Stages’ project to work with amateur companies all over the UK and SCDA has been involved from its inception. Many SCDA clubs participated during 2011 & 2012 and a representative of the National Theatre Of Scotland attended all the productions on behalf of the RSC . RSC/NTS also provided workshops to support the groups. The goal was to be invited to take their production to the RSC’s Courtyard Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. You must admit – that was some goal!
I had seen Edinburgh Theatre Arts’ (ETA) production of ‘Macbeth In Scots’ when they performed it in May at their tiny venue, St Ninians, and was highly impressed by it, so it came as no surprise when they were chosen. Can you imagine the excitement? Performing Shakespeare at the RSC is far beyond most professional actors’ dreams and amateurs have never before had this opportunity. It was a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience.
I had planned to go to Stratford under my own steam to support them so was thrilled to be invited to travel with them. Hence I found myself on Friday 13th July on a coach with the ETA cast, crew and other ‘groupies’ on our way to Stratford. ETA were not due to perform until 9.30pm on the Saturday so I knew I would have a fair amount of time to explore and photograph the area but, to my camera-mad partner’s dischuffment, I didn’t take my ‘proper’ Canon camera with me – just my Kodak point-and-shoot. Och, it’d daefine.
We started off at 9am but, thanks to a massive hold-up on the M6, we didn’t arrive until 6.15pm – just in time to dump our stuff at the Premier Inn and hurry along to the Courtyard Theatre for a wee reception before attending ‘Baba Shakespeare’ – the play being performed that evening by a group from Islington, England. ‘Baba Shakespeare’ was based on the Kendal family’s theatrical group touring Shakespeare plays in India in the sixties. It was extremely well acted and well worthy of being there, but some of the scenes could have benefitted from being cut a bit and the “millions” of scene changes were unecessary, especially when they were for scenes lasting no more than a couple of minutes. It was a smashing introduction to the venue and expectations were very high for the following day.
Imagine the thrill of seeing your own show advertised in massive posters outside the RSC!
ETA’s cast and crew were due at the theatre for technical rehearsals and a run-through the following morning so after breakfast some other ‘groupies’ and I went on a bus tour. They got off at one of the first stops but I wanted to take the full tour before deciding where to go next, so stayed on. I decided against taking photos from the bus because the driver didn’t slow down enough – preferring instead to wait until I walked around later. However, this is one shot taken on the move – of the back of Shakespeare’s birthplace.The next photo was taken out in the countryside when the bus had stopped because the driver thought he had a water problem (or the bus had!) and is where the Forest of Arden used to be. Apparently the forest covered miles but was all chopped down to make houses, furniture and ships. They reckon it took 2000 oak trees to make one ship! No wonder it is so barren and bleak now.
Eventually the bus made its way back into town. I still had lots of time to explore and I took the opportunity to wander around the town, like many other tourists and devotees of the Bard. Like so many places, Stratford is very tourist orientated nowadays but one can still allow oneself mentally to time-travel and wonder about what the world was like for the first folk to walk these streets. Here, in what was a large village in Elizabethan times, was born one who would change the world with his insights into human nature and leave such a marvellous legacy to the world of theatre, where words have power and powerful words can move an audience to tears, laughter, horror and joy. His stories are often far-fetched, (especially when it comes to mistaken identity plots), but the language is beautiful and he invented so much of it too. For ‘Macbeth In Scots’ Shakespeare’s Elizabethan English has been translated into the Old Scots language – but the beauty of the words is still there. To quote the publicity tagline ‘The Scottish Play has come home’
Images of Stratford
The front of Shakespeare’s birthplace.
So many of the buildings are ancient.
This claims to have been newly built in 1595.
This in 1490…
The next one is Shrieve’s House, the oldest inhabited building in Stratford, and claims to have been a house on the site since 1190. It is now home to “Tudor World” (I looked down the side of the building but didn’t go in.)
I loved the little Holy Trinity Church where Shakespeare was christened, married and buried. According to the sign, there’s been a church on this site since 713.
Shakespeare’s grave complete with the curse he added in his will. Other members of his family are buried alongside him inside the church.
The curse is the Bard trying to protect himself against being moved – he succeeded then eh?!
This alabaster bust was erected while Shakespeare’s family were still alive, and apparently his wife approved of it, so it is assumed to be a good likeness.
While on my walk I came across a young (14 to 21) group from Liverpool just about to perform A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a free show in the RSC garden . The youngsters struggled to cope against the noise of a helicopter and traffic but all in all did well.
They handed out rugs for the audience to sit on too – which was a very nice touch.
I walked along the riverside twice – once from the RSC garden down to the canal (which joins the river), then back on the other side, which was starting to be flooded.
I loved the weeping willows.
My anticipated trip across the river using the ferry was cancelled due to too much water. (sic!)
Holy Trinity Church seen from across the river.
The river invading the land and starting to cover the paths as well.
Holy Trinity Church again (second time around).
The weather stayed fine all day and I had a lovely time snapping away.
I went back to the hotel for a wee rest before geting showered and changed for the evening. My room mate and I had a nice meal then proceeded to the theatre.
The first play was from Northern Ireland and was Julius Caesar set in the Shankhill Road in modern times. The young cast had very strong NI accents and spoke Shakespeare’s lines at one heck of a pace at first, but the storytelling was very strong, the main characters clearly understood and the violence horribly realistic. I was extremely impressed and another groupie who had attended the RSC’s ‘Tempest’ (the professional production) the previous evening said she far preferred the Julius Caesar.
Then it was ‘our’ turn. I’m not kidding – I was only in the audience but the adrenaline was pumping! ETA were amazing and seemed totally unfazed by appearing in this prestigious place. They raised their game by so many notches and it was tremendous to start with! They used the large thrust stage to great advantage (which is something the other two teams had not done) and had the audience in the palms of their hands. There was not a single weak link – I cannot find anything to criticise. They could be heard clearly and although it was a strange language to most of the audience (being old Scots) their storytelling was so strong they held the audience spellbound. The acting was superb and the direction inspired – I so wished I could have bottled the experience!
Lady Macbeth sleepwalking. (publicity image – I didn’t take any in the theatre)
The death of Macbeth and The Weirds
(Taken from ETA’s Facebook page. )
We were all buzzing afterwards and initially went to the Black Swan pub, aka The Dirty Duck, but eventually most of us decanted to the Premier Inn’s bar instead to finish off the evening by reliving the experience.
I was honoured to be made so welcome by the team and so immensely proud of them. As the posters inside and outside the Courtyard Theatre and the Open Stages programme all declared – ‘Ordinary People, Extraordinary Performances’. Definitely feeding the drama soul.