I Reckon the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) is a bona fide National Treasure, and something we in the UK should treasure. It’s one of the foremost theatre companies in the world, with some of the most fantastic performers, and indeed world-class expertise in every technical department.
Rachel and I have a long history with the RSC from our time living in Cheltenham in our DINKY years, with dual incomes and proximity to enable us to got several times a year. We saw Toby Stephens in a bloody Coriolanus, Nigel Hawthorne in his final stage role as King Lear, and (perhaps best of all) a stunning Othello starring a 25-year-old Ray Fearon and Richard McCabe as a quite brilliant Iago. For this last show we were in the front of the stalls (see what I mean about dual incomes!) and the tension was unbelieveable…
Our daughters have already had some experience of The Bard, seeing a number of open-air summertime productions (usually comedies), as well as a couple of cinematic adaptations, where they recognised a few of the Harry Potter casts… but last month we took them to Stratford to see their first theatrical production (Much Ado about Nothing).
We’ve been put off seeing shows in London in recent times, as the tickets (especially at weekends or in school holidays when we can actually attend) are prohibitively expensive; usually close to £200 for the four of us, excluding the costs of travel, snacks, programmes, meals etc. But here we took a chance and booked seats in the stalls that were billed as ‘restricted view’. Children only pay half price (a fantastic policy, bravo RSC!), and so the full cost of our four seats came to just £45.
The production was terrific, set in December 1918, with the young men of the play mainly just returned from war and the women mainly nurses in a convalescent hospital. The sets and production design were terrific, and there were several musical interludes that were beautifully performed. We all loved it.
Earlier in the same day Eleanor (our younger daughter, aged 9) attended a workshop for schoolchildren. Called “A Play in a Day”, it claimed to enable the children (a group of around 20, all aged 8-10) to tackle a Shakespeare play between 10am-4pm, culminating in a short performance to which all the parents were invited.
We knew in advance they were going to look at The Merchant of Venice. I had studied this for ‘O’ Level at school (30 years ago!), but we were more than a bit apprehensive about how they would approach the 17th Century’s anti-Semitism…
First, they portrayed the Venetian marketplace, the Rialto, with half the group acting as Shylock while the others crowd around him, calling him names, spitting and abusing him.
This was all really well done, with the children reading lines very clearly, and based on Eleanor’s enthusiastic feedback they’d obviously discussed the complexities of bullying and racism. This was a full-day workshop and yet only cost £20 (cheaper than any child-minding service I can think of!). Fabulous.
Of course the RSC isn’t all about The Bard. We first saw the outstanding (and award-winning) Matilda! at The Other Place theatre in December 2010, since when it has transferred to London, Broadway and Australia.
I look forward to the next time I step inside the RST, possibly weighed down with the hassles and stresses of modern life, and I shall try to remember the song of Balthasar from Much Ado About Nothing…
Then sigh not so, but let them go and be you blithe and bonny,Converting all your sounds of woe into Hey, nonny nonny.