Cervantes & Shakespeare died with eleven days of each other in 1616. The 400th anniversary of the death of Britain’s most celebrated playwright is marked with a vast timetable of events around the country, which you can read more about here. Cervantes is arguably best known as the writer of ‘Don Quixote’ and so it seems apt that a production by the RSC of this fantastical comedy, newly adapted by James Fenton, has opened to rave reviews in Shakespeare’s home town of Stratford Upon Avon. And what a production it is. The brilliant David Threlfall (probably best known as Frank in TV’s “Shameless”) plays the knight errant as a sword-wielding Spike Milligan meets King Lear, twinkling eyes that convey a man at the tipping-point of madness who refuses to give up on his quest, no matter how many slings and arrows rain down upon him. He provides many of the (many) laugh-out-loud moments in this vibrant and energetic production which blends puppetry, dance, music, song and, from Rufus Hound’s hilarious Sancho Panza, stand-up comedy. Quixote stands alone as the hero of his own story, with the supporting cast inviting the audience to join them on the journey – addressing us directly in places. One highlight involves Rufus Hound requesting that the audience cheer wildly when they hear mention of a certain place later in the play. And when we do, it works brilliantly. A simple trick that for a moment breaks down the fourth wall and brings audience and cast together. I knew very little of the story before seeing the show, other than the stuff involving windmills (another stand-out moment!) and Terry Gilliam’s ill-fated movie, which ended up as the subject of a fascinating documentary on a movie that was never finished. But in the hands of the RSC the story is told in such an engaging and entertaining way that you can’t help but be swept along with it.
The Other Place has just re-opened in Stratford and one of its many functions is as host to a fascinating guided tour entitled ‘Page To Stage’. The Other Place was the RSC’s third venue for many years, beginning life as a tin shed rehearsal room before, in 1974, becoming a home for the company’s more experimental works & new writing. Actors loved the space – intimate, with no fixed seating and always within touching distance of the audience. One of the many landmark productions held here was Sir Ian McKellen’s Macbeth, with Dame Judi Dench as his Lady M. The venue was the brainchild of Buzz Goodbody, the RSC’s first ever female director at just 20 years old, whose idea it was to make this rehearsal room into a performance space. Goodbody tragically took her own life shortly after her production of Hamlet opened in 1975, which The Times’ Irving Wardle described as “an astounding revelation of the most excavated play in the world, ranking with Peter Brook’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream as the key classical production of the decade”. It starred Ben Kingsley in the title role and also featured Charles Dance & Bob Peck in supporting roles. Photos of Buzz Goodbody feature prominently and fittingly in the foyer and café.
The venue became The Courtyard Theatre for a short while, providing a temporary home during the RST’s redevelopment work. Now it is open again & encompasses several huge rehearsal spaces and a studio theatre which can used by the community and amateur theatre groups as well as the RSC itself. The building will also house the costume store, where thousands of pieces from past productions will be available to hire. Our tour guide Robert did an excellent job, providing a perfect blend of information & entertainment. He took us through the process involved in bringing an RSC production to the stage, from choosing the play (sometimes 2 or 3 years in advance), selecting a director, marketing, casting, rehearsing and right up to opening night. The tour also provides a (literal) window into one of the rehearsal spaces where you can see the company at work. If you’re looking for something with a little more insight than your bog-standard backstage tour, then this is it. Recommended.
I always come home from a good theatre trip feeling inspired and excited about the future of the club and heading in new directions. The question now is – when shall we hire The Other Place and take Huntingdon Drama Club to the birthplace of Shakespeare? Watch this space… !