What Travel Writers Say

Best seat in the house at the new Royal Shakespeare Theatre

© By Tom Douglas
RST From Clopton Bridge - Peter Cook

"  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.

RST Auditorioum Audience - Peter Cook  RST Auditorioum - Peter Cook  Romeo And Juliet At RSC  Romeo And Juliet At RSC  Greg Hicks As King Lear

     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: http://tomdouglas.typepad.com/tom_douglas/books/

Photo Credits
Courtesy of Royal Shakespeare Company

If you go
This destination
as seen on
RSC box office: call 0844 800 1110 or check the website at www.rsc.org.uk.
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stratford_Upon_Avon
Wikitravel: http://wikitravel.org/en/Stratford-Upon-Avon
About.com: http://gouk.about.com/od/uktraveldirections/qt/Lond2StrafordAv.htm
Churches & Synagogues: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=57021
Fiction: http://shakespeare.mit.edu/ ; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Shakespeare
Accommodation: If the trip's primary purpose is to take in an RSC production, the best place to stay is right across the street at the recently refurbished Arden Hotel - www.theardenhotelstratford.com.
You can dine in the Waterside Brasserie, relax in the Champagne Bar or gaze out at the Avon River from your suite.
Golf: look into staying at the Menzies Welcombe Hotel, Spa and Golf Club - www.menzies-hotels.co.uk - a converted 19th Century estate set in 157 acres of woodland about a 10-minute drive outside the town.
Further details: www.stratford-upon-avon.co.uk or www.visitengland.com.

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