All the World’s atwitter…

26 03 2011

When birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding;
Sweet lovers love the spring.

(As You Like It) 

As the phenomenon, that is Twitter, celebrates its 5th birthday I wonder what the Bird, oops – the Bard of Avon would have made of all this tweeting business? I guess it would have been just up his stweet and no doubt he would have been swanning around giving Stephen Fry & co a run for their money.   

It could be argued that Twitter  has its origins in Elizabethan England (the first one that is) and Will was a Tudor tweeter, but with pen and parchment rather than a second generation Ipad. His pithy comments, for more or less every situation, always packed a punch and with Will power he could always nail it in 140 characters or less.

He had plenty of camp followers too, albeit most of them couldn’t read, and I’m sure, never averse to a bit of self-publicity, Will would have been all over Facebook too (complete with the latest etchings). As the man said, All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players…” (As You Like It – again)

As it happens we were in Stratford-upon-Avon briefly last weekend, a first opportunity to view the recently renovated RSC Memorial Theatre. There have been major structural changes but I was pleased, simply for nostalgia’s sake, to see that much of the 1932 red brick exterior remains. I wish I could have said, “it beggar’d all description” (Antony & Cleopatra) but it never was a raving beauty!

It has been some time since we took in a performance. The last time was in the winter season of 2004 for a production of ‘All’s Well That Ends Well’, in the adjoining Swan Theatre, a more intimate Elizabethan style venue, in the round. Star of the show was the inimitable Judi Dench, playing the Countess of Rossillion.  

As it was a Friday night performance, at the end of a busy working week, we overnighted at the hotel across the road. The following morning wandering down, bleary eyed, into the reception area there was need for something of a double take; standing there, nursing a take away ‘Starbucks’ and psyching herself up for a book signing session across the road, was Dame Judi herself!

Off stage she is a surprisingly diminutive figure. I recalled we had bumped into her on a previous visit to Stratford many years previously. She had been in town doing a bit of pre performance shopping prior to a 1976 matinée of ‘King Lear’.

Those were the days when you could buy unreserved standing tickets on the day of the performance, which we did. Three and a half hours on your feet is probably not the best option for watching KL’s descent into madness. Donald Sinden took the title role while Judi, a young rising star, played his unsympathetic daughter Regan.

My first encounter with Shakespeare, at Stratford, was on a school trip to see ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ (October 1968) and to be honest, for me at that time, it pretty much was. I’d tagged along largely because a day out of school had taken my fancy, as had one of my female classmates who had also signed up for it.    

It’s fair to say I wasn’t a great lover of Shakespeare back then, although I was ‘studying’ Romeo and Juliet for O-level. Somehow or other I was even allowed to take English at A- level too, and it was in the 6th form that I began to develop a belated interest in, and love of, the works of England’s greatest ever wordsmith.

Whilst I remember something of that first visit Stratford experience, I recall little of the performance (well nothing actually) so out of interest I Googled the RSC archives to peruse the cast list. It was directed by Trevor Nunn (hey Nunny no) and the lead roles of Benedick and Beatrice were played by RSC luminaries Alan Howard and Janet Suzman, who was shortly to become the first Mrs Nunn. Interestingly the current Lady Nunny- no , the lovely and talented Imogen Stubbs, was but 8 years old at the time.    

What surprised me more, however, where some of the lesser lights treading the boards that day: Helen Mirren (Hero), Ben Kingsley, now Sir Ben, and Patrick Stewart (Conrade and Borachio – followers of Don John). I was totally oblivious to the fact that I had been in the presence of the future Queen, Gandhi and the captain of the Starship Enterprise. What an awesome combination     

Apparently when Patrick Stewart took on the unlikely role of Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek the Next Generation (1987-94) he made the tongue in cheek observation:

The fact is all of those years in the Royal Shakespeare Company — playing all those kings, emperors, princes and tragic heroes — were nothing but preparation for sitting in the captain’s chair of the Enterprise.”  

Stratford and its town have provided many happy memories over the years. When Chris and I first hooked up, as Birmingham students in the early ‘70s, one of our first dates was an afternoon out in my old Triumph Herald (poser or what?) to Stratford, on a cold but bright afternoon. We bought a sliced loaf from the supermarket to feed the ducks and sat by the fire eating toasted teacakes in Anne Hathaway’s Tearoom, which is still going strong.  

To borrow from Will, or was it David Essex? It might only have been a Winter’s Tale, but we must have enjoyed each other’s company – it’s our 33rd wedding anniversary this weekend!

I recall some years later, shortly after we were married, working and living in Solihull, having friends over for a meal. The wine was flowing and we finished up talking ourselves into a challenge to walk to Stratford the following Sunday morning!

Setting off around six o’clock in the morning we were supping our first pint in the Actors’ Bar at the ‘Dirty Duck’ just after opening time. Luckily we had arranged a lift for the return journey!    

Some years later (in the mid to late 80’s) I was called to interview for a headship in Stratford and somewhat bizarrely found myself being interviewed by a school governor who in her working life takes the part of  Radio 4 soap character , Kathy Perks from the Archers. To be honest I don’t follow it so I wouldn’t have known. Needless to say I didn’t get the job, it was something of a shoe in for a local candidate; anyway I didn’t know enough about Ambridge!       

Having just unearthed a pile of old RSC programmes from the study, flicking through them has been a trip through the Who’s Who of the best in British stage and screen.

1976: Years before his knighthood and still firmly in the closet, Ian McKellen played along side Francesca Annis – critically acclaimed star crossed lovers in Trevor Nunn’s R&J

1977: ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ – an enterprising performance from Patrick Stewart as Oberon King of the Fairies, while Richard Griffiths made an ass of himself as beefy Bottom the Weaver;              

1982: Derek Jacobi and Sinead Cusak were booked in as B&B in Terry Hands’  ‘Much Ado…’

1984: Adrian Noble’s ‘Henry V’ with the dynamic young, upwardly mobile Ken Branagh in the title role, supported by the brilliant booming, bearded Brian Blessed (Duke of Exeter) and Patricia Routledge, keeping up appearances, as Mistress Quickly

1996: ‘As You Like It’, with Niamh Cusak stirring the odd heartbeat, as Rosalind, and David, ‘the Doctor’, Tennant materialising as jester Touchstone

1998: ‘The Tempest’ (my favourite Shakespearian play) with David Calder’s aging Prospero orchestrating events on his isle “full of noises, sounds and sweet airs…” where nothing is quite what its seems…      

1998: The ever versatile Robert Lindsay on tour, ‘in the winter of our discontent’, as Richard III but alas no ‘Power to the People!’      

1999: The late Alan Bates, for me a screen star and ill at ease on stage, as Anthony sparring with the excellent Frances de La Tour’s Cleopatra, certainly no Elizabeth Taylor  in the looks department,  but a performance that rescued the production from a severe case of rising damp (She’ll always be Miss Jones to me!)   

2000: ‘Time Lord’ Tennant again, this time as a Romeo suitably  full of passion and angst

2004: The formidable talent that is Anthony Sher, a brilliantly Machiavellian Iago, stirring up ‘the green eyed monster’ within Othello.         

I’m afraid that whatever else Robert Lindsay does he will, for my generation, never shake off his 70s sit-com role as ‘Wolfie’, Citizen Smith, urban guerrilla and revolutionary leader of the Tooting Popular Front. Whenever I visit Gem, in Balham, I have to stop myself from raising my arm in salute shouting, ‘Power to the People!’ as I emerge from Tooting Broadway station.    

Lindsay was born and raised in Ilkeston, not too far from my starting point in life but significantly distant i.e. over the border in ‘Rams’ country. I’d never realised until now that Citizen Smith wears a black and white scarf; clearly a case of a Wolfie in Sheep’s clothing!

Time doth move on apace. Just a quickie on the sad demise of the legendary Dame Liz Taylor; not a great actress, though probably under rated and she did pick up a couple of Oscars along the way, but certainly the last great Hollywood star of her generation. She was certainly drop dead gorgeous in her younger days and, perhaps unfairly, will probably be remembered more for her eight marriages, including going for a Burton twice, and an extremely public private life.

No doubt, the great man would have tweeted thus: “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more; it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” (Macbeth)

So, at last, ‘tis time to bid thee farewell; parting is such tweet sorrow…







2 responses

27 03 2011

Congratulations – on the Blog and the day! G.

14 07 2012

Your RSC programmes brought back a lot of happy memories for me. Always thought Robert Lindsay was a marvellous actor. Long live Tooting!

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