Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Hubble, Bubble (VFTA No 3)

I've been away from the garden for a few days due to very inclement weather and a trip to the theatre.  So I thought I'd continue an occasional series on my blog called 'A View from the Audience'; this gives my impressions of any events gardening or otherwise that I attend over the year.  it is occasional as I don't get away from Holly Grove very often!  The views expressed are only my opinions, so here we go:

In what feels like a previous life I lived in various villages and towns in Warwickshire; initially in Stratford-on-Avon, then in the village of Bidford-on-Avon and finally in the small town of Alcester (pronounced ALL-STER). Both my sons were born in Leamington Spa and we spent our first formative family years in the lovely Warwickshire countryside.

Recently I had the opportunity to visit Stratford-on-Avon again with two friends for the prospect of an evening at the newly opened Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) theatre. We had booked a pre-theatre dinner in the rooftop restaurant and then had tickets for Macbeth (or should I say 'the Scottish play').

We arrived in Stratford in the early afternoon and had a wander around before taking afternoon tea in a small teashop at the top of Henley Street. And how the town has changed – though it is over 20 years since my boys and I left Warwickshire - why was I so surprised! The main shopping streets look like any other town in the UK with all the usual suspects – shame! However the river walks, the canal basin and the Old Town remain very attractive and the tourists (me amongst them now) continue as a constant feature.

It was strange to be in place so familiar and yet unfamiliar at the same time. Memories of my twenties came flooding back, almost all really good reminiscences; paying my first salary into my first cheque account from my first teaching job, buying my first kitchen wares for my first flat, my Mum visiting and sleeping on the sofa as we had no spare bedroom and she refused to take our room, The Windmill Inn – our local hostelry, bringing home my first son from the hospital to our little flat and then wondering how I was going to get him and the pram down 3 flights of stairs, walking down to the river and the swing park with the boys and their grandparents, boats and ice-creams on the river etc, etc.

So how was the theatre? Well the restaurant had lovely views across the river and the table settings and linen were as you would expect from a good quality restaurant, the service was pleasant and the food was fine but not great.

From the fixed price menu we all had the same starter: chicken and black pudding terrine (black pudding is appearing on menus everywhere – why?); then I had sea trout with samphire and my companions had Old Spot pork loin with crushed potatoes – any other vegetables were extra; for dessert, two opted for the cheeseboard and I had strawberries and clotted cream (or as described on the menu - Evesham strawberries with honey and curd).

The portions seemed quite small but the meal was filling and the prices were what I would expect to pay in a theatre restaurant for a fixed price menu. The layout of the restaurant meant that most tables were quite a route march from the 'ladies' so I would suggest a trip prior to taking your seat in the restaurant.

With a bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc the meal came to £94 for the three of us - the food was a pleasant affair but nothing to rave about. The conversation during the meal however was superb!

The rebuilt theatre is interesting, the auditorium resembling a modern version of the Globe theatre. It feels surprisingly small and intimate with the stage projecting out into the audience. This makes life more difficult for the staging of the production as the actors have audience on three sides and sometimes when the actors had their backs to us it was difficult to hear what they were saying. There are also LED screens on both sides of the theatre just below the circle seats. During the performance we attended these scrolled the dialogue continually and were quite distracting. The corridors at the back of the auditorium are incredibly narrow and getting out to the bars etc in the interval was a squash; I wouldn't want to try this in any kind of emergency

Then the play: well, this was the fifth production of Macbeth that I have seen, the first being nearly 40 years ago at the Citizens' Theatre in Glasgow as part of my studies for my English O level qualification. I have to say that this was the poorest of the five.

Jonathan Slinger was not my idea of Macbeth, he was more whinging politician than bloodied warrior and Lady Macbeth was equally disappointing as the 'power behind the man' turning very quickly into an emotional wreck. In the banquet scene where she dissolves into hysterical laughter I thought she more resembled Queenie from Black Adder than the manipulative Queen of Scotland.

And where were the witches? Replaced by three children lowered from the ceiling on wires and hooks…not very atmospheric or prophetic for that matter. Banquo was big on physical presence but lacked charisma and it was difficult to feel for him when he was betrayed by his comrade in arms, Macbeth.

There also seemed to be a lot of running on and off stage, not clear what that was supposed to suggest?

I really didn't engage with any of the characters, who seemed to be very two-dimensional, until late in the play when Macduff receives the news of the murders of his wife and children; the emotion with which this scene was played stood out as the high point in the play for me and my companions. I've no idea who played this part as I can't find a cast list on the RSC website – but it raised the stakes in what, to that point, was a very pedestrian version of the Scottish play.

All in all a missed opportunity in the production of a great play. So a good day for memories, lovely to spend some time with friends, plenty of conversation around the experience in the car on the way home; just a pity the play didn't live up to expectations. Will we go back for another experience? Absolutely – who can resist the prospect of the theatre!

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