Sunday, July 03, 2005

A Midsummer's Night Roadtrip

Drove up with the girls to Stratford-upon-Avon yesterday to see a Royal Shakespeare Company production of A Midsummer's Night Dream. It was a pretty drive (especially with Mary doing the driving) up the M40 past Oxford and Blenheim Palace. It would be nice to do it again with time to linger at some of those places. Stratford-upon-Avon is a tourist trap, but a pretty one with lots of nice Tudor buildings. We unfortunately didn't have much time to tour around before the show. The RSC theater, I have to say, is perfectly dreadful. It was built in the 1920s, and was just awful: hot and sweaty, cramped, awkwardly laid out. From the outside it looks like a failed Robert Moses housing project. The audience has to wind its way through narrow hallways to reach their seats, which, if you are in the upper balcony as we were, were mere feet from the rafters. Apparently, the backstage is even worse, with the actors having to run outside round the back of the building to switch sides of the stage. Plans have been in the work for a new theater for ages, but with no result yet.

The production was great though. It was a mixture of rather modernist starkness (particulary in the Athenian context) and then busier, more fanciful sets for the fairy bits. The Athenians were dressed in contemporary clothes, and the fairies were all punked out in grunge garb. There was some slightly eerie puppet work--Titania's fairy attendents were a flock of plastic baby dolls held aloft by actors, and her boy page was a knee-high puppet being guided from behind. In general, it is a pleasure to watch some very well-trained Shakespearean actors do what they do best.

Beforehand we had a pleasant dinner with one of Mary's classmates and her mother, who live in Sheffield. One of the facts of my time here is that I never actually have much interaction with real live British people. Mary's close friends are Americans, and there aren't really many other opportunities to meet people. My main contact with them is dodging the endless stroller-wielding yuppies that plague the Barnet High Street. So it was actually really great to talk with two intelligent, non-stroller-wielding Brits.

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