Last week I took the train to Stratford-upon-Avon with two of my friends from London. The purpose of my journey was to see a performance of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of the old favorite, Romeo and Juliet. But it wasn’t just any performance. And it wasn’t just any cast. It was an understudy performance in which the cast featured a friend of mine from Hampstead. He was playing Romeo.
We arrived in Stratford after a two and a half hour train journey during which we saw the English countryside blanketed in snow and frost, compliments of the coldest cold front the UK has seen since Richard III’s winter of discontent. Making a bee-line for the nearest pub, which happened to be called the Dirty Duck, we lunched on steak and ale pies while our feet defrosted on the warm wood floor.
From the pub, we walked along the Avon to the theater. The performance was in The Courtyard Theatre, which is down the street from the currently-under-renovation Swan. Tickets were complimentary and seating was on a first-come-first-served basis, so we took the opportunity to show up early and snag some choice seats in the Stalls (Americans: read Orchestra).
The play itself was impressively done, particularly because all of the actors were playing roles they don’t usually play. Oh, and they had never done a single rehearsal in the roles they were playing that day. My friend was spectacular as Romeo, of course, and the woman that played Juliet added a refreshingly strong will and independent spirit to a role that is usually played with all the fiery passion of a wilting Ophelia.
After the show we tried to go for tea, only to find that every tea house in Stratford closes at 4pm. My kingdom for a tea room! Good thing Starbucks and Costa never close. We settled into a table at the latter and discussed the show until our Romeo came by to meet us. He talked us through all the mishaps and botched lines that as audience members and beyond-amateur Shakespeare scholars we didn’t notice, and told us about his experience living in Stratford for the duration of rehearsals and performances. Aside from partying every night till dawn at all the hot nightclubs in town, he said there wasn’t much to do there. He missed Hampstead.
So did we. We hopped on a late train back to frigid London, and I spent the rest of the evening packing my bags for my flight to San Francisco the following morning. That night Queen Mab graced my sleep with wonderful visions of 75 degree weather and beaches like the one Prospero and Miranda’s ship wrecked onto in The Tempest. I couldn’t wait.