Three Latter-Day Musketeers
Stratford-upon-Avon, again – but by car this time.
There is a history to certain gatherings: twenty years ago a first sisters-and-cousin liaison took place somewhere in the Cotswolds (Chipping Norton, actually, prior to its days of fame as Cameron and Clarkson country…)
In 2023, with two decade-changing birthdays to mark, plans were laid to re-convene, this time in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Last year in 2022 ‘The Coven’, aka ‘The Famous Five’, had gathered in Crickhowell in Powys. This year straightforward transport links (from Inverness by train via Birmingham for Scottish Sis) along with easy access to shops and attractions in a medium-sized town determined Stratford as the chosen venue.
Creating plans, making contingency plans, cancelling plans, revising plans – all have become a feature of the post-pandemic years. When two of the Five had to withdraw from the arrangements three were still up for the Jaunt. Hence it was The Three Musketeers who converged on Stratford, starting their treats at the FourTeas , the forties tearoom on Sheep Street. After a good lunch there was some star treatment when Scottish Sis gained an autographed menu…
“I can’t believe I’m here,” breathed Scottish Sis – it was if a powerful magnet drew her towards the Box Office ticket desk. Deep was her conversation; close was her examination of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre’s seating plan. Then, trembling with anticipation, she approached the other two: tickets for As You Like It tonight, same day discount meant a £25 charge for a ticket normally priced at £52 – and the seats were in an easily accessible, excellent position.
Worry not that this was to be a performance in modern dress, nor that the young lovers at the heart of the play were to be played by actors in their seventies…
It was an astonishing concept, the performance opening in a drab rehearsal room where the cast are gathering for a first rehearsal of their 2023 As You Like It production, the majority of the cast having played these roles together in a 1978 show…
The magic of Shakespeare’s language takes over and the audience finds it entirely credible that Geraldine James (born 1950) can play Rosalind the young lover, disguised as a young man Ganymede, opposite Orlando (played by Malcolm Sinclair, also born in 1950). The settings move between court and forest, the production aided by live music; questions are posed as to what is the better way of life. The resolution at the end of the play is presented against a magical and colourful backdrop – as ever the RSC provides a fresh and engaging take on a play first performed over four hundred years ago. (And, on a buy-on-the-day ticket, seen at less than half the usual price!)
Pre-booked some weeks ago for the group was a RSC Backstage Tour. Though both the auditoriums were inaccessible due to an understudy rehearsal in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and set building for the new production in The Swan Theatre, the tour group was guided into the Stratford Costume Workshops. It was a Saturday so the sewing machines were still and the staff absent: nonetheless the costume and wig workplace makes for a fascinating tour.
Shakespeare as portrayed in 65,536 LEGO bricks!
Walk through the RSC Gardens on a Saturday in high summer and you might come across live outdoor theatre – this was The Tempest, as performed by a cast from Yorkshire, the storm scene assisted by members of a Ukrainian group.
Not every single Three Musketeers’ moment was spent down in the RSC building or gardens. There was a trip out to nearby Charlecote Park (home for over eight centuries of the Lucy family). Key events in the estate’s history are noted on a River Avon timeline… See, Queen Elizabeth I stayed here!
There are five ground floor rooms open to the public in the house. Impressive as the rooms were, (portrait of Sir Thomas Lucy and family, c 1625) information was hard to come by and all left the house feeling slightly disappointed. In outer buildings the kitchens, laundry and brewery were worth a look and over in the park fallow deer could be glimpsed.
Back in Stratford there was a Back to School session. What a fascinating place… Here visitors can sit in the schoolroom used by William Shakespeare and learn how the education of Tudor boys was done via transference of knowledge from pupil to pupil. (See video here: ) There is an opportunity, too, to practise handwriting skills with a quill and ink (and later to scrub the ink from one’s fingers!) It was in this building that Shakespeare is likely to have watched performances from travelling players, notably Leicester’s Men.
In what proved a suitable finale to The Three Musketeers’ Stratford Experience, a half hour boat trip on the Avon was a joy indeed. Joined by the Captain (a Fourth Musketeer?) the boat left from just beside the theatres to cruise silently (an electrically powered boat) along to the Holy Trinity Church and Trinity Lock, then to turn, avoid the chain ferry and head about a mile upstream under the Tramway (pedestrian) Bridge and the Clopton (road) Bridge before turning again and heading back to base. How familiar were the views for the Cleddau crew… How engaging were they for those less familiar with these waters…
And so the Stratford Gathering of the Famous Five the Three Musketeers came to an end: all Scottish Sis (centre) had to do was face the latest wave of train stoppages and get back to Inverness (she made it!)
Missing from the Famous Five register: Sisters 1 and 4; well before Christmas may there be one mended left wrist and one successfully replaced right hip…
Road transport provided by The Captain.
River miles by trip boat: 2