" Thou art a boil, a plague sore, an embossed carbuncle in my corrupted blood. "
All you wanted was to rest your tired feet after climbing three flights of stairs to look out at the English countryside and while sitting there relaxing, somebody calls you an embossed carbuncle! Although you hate to leave the comfortable chair, the good folks at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre were thoughtful enough to provide, you get up and look around to see who's calling you names. There's no one in sight so you sit down again.
" Out, you mad headed ape. A weasel hath not such a deal of spleen as you are tossed with... "
Congratulations - you have just become the latest object of ridicule of The Insult Chair. This ornate piece of wooden furniture with a red leather seat is voice-activated and spews out Shakespearean insults whenever an unwary visitor sits on it. The abuse was recorded by various members of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and the chair is moved around the building to maximize the number of hapless victims.
It's all part of the revitalization of the building
on the banks of the Avon River that the RSC has called home for the past 50 years. Make that 46 years because the complex was closed for four years for a £112.8 million ($180 million Cdn) upgrade to make the two theatres it contains The Royal Shakespeare and The Swan - more user-friendly. The age-old show-must-go-on tradition was maintained during this hiatus by holding performances in a temporary building called the Courtyard Theatre.
After four years of hammering, sawing and painting, on Feb. 23, the revamped edifice got its first tryout with the inaugural performance of King Lear in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Thunderous applause greeted the actors.
The RSC had hoped to have Queen Elizabeth II wield the scissors at the opening ceremonies on or around April 23, the date traditionally celebrated as William Shakespeare's birthday. However, Wills and Kate's wedding took precedence and the ceremony was moved to March 4.
A major part of the renovations focused on the creation of two thrust stage auditoriums, the 1,000-seat RST and the 450-seat Swan Theatre. The idea was to bring audiences and actors closer together in the best possible setting to experience live theatre. And it works. Sitting in the fourth row during the opening-night performance of Lear, one could see every nuance on the actors' faces - giving new meaning to the expression up close and personal.
You don't have to be a lover of the theatre to get enjoyment out of the newly refurbished complex. Many local residents and tourists alike are flocking to the recently added 36 metre high tower that offers a panoramic view of four counties - Warwickshire, Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire and Worcestershire. RSC tour guides cheerfully point out a variety of local landmarks, such as the church where William Shakespeare is buried and the house where The Bard was born.
The theatres and the tower are very hands-on. Tourists can go behind the scenes on a one-hour tour to learn more about what makes the theatres tick. With a tower visit you can ascend the three floors by elevator or take the winding staircase where wall recesses contain large photographs of past productions. The RSC has plans to eventually fill these alcoves with costumes from past productions.
For theatre aficionados, an ideal evening might include a sumptuous dinner in the tower's Rooftop Restaurant and then a pre-performance visit to the ground-floor gift shop where Shakespearean memorabilia and Stratford souvenirs make unique gifts for the folks back home.
One word of caution though for anyone whose self-esteem has been taking a bit of a beating of late. If traipsing all over the new theatre complex brings on a bout of fatigue and it becomes necessary to sit down for a few minutes, it might be wise to avoid that high-backed wooden chair with an inviting red cushion seat that is just waiting for its next unwary victim.
Tom Douglas is an Oakville-based entertainment columnist, travel writer and author. Check out his books at:
Courtesy of Royal Shakespeare Company
If you go