Stratford 2009

Posted on: 23/10/2009

By Sam Hilton

The English Department ran a trip to Stratford-upon-Avon to see two Shakespeare plays ‘As You Like It’ and ‘Winter’s Tale’ in  September, and a drama workshop run by the RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company).

I preferred ‘As You Like it’ because it was a more uplifting and humorous play, but ‘Winter’s Tale’ is also a dramatic and captivating play.  If you ever see this play, let me assure you that you will fall in love with Orlando, the main chracter, played by Jonjo O’Neill!  He is very, very charming, and you feel for him when he is missing his “fair Rosalind.”  In addition, this play kept you on the edge of your seat to when Orlando would realise that the ‘man’ Ganymede, who was trying to help get over his Rosalind, was actually Rosalind in disguise! Yes, Shakespeare’s plays aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but this was brilliant. With intimate romantic love scenes between Orlando and ‘Ganymede’ aka Rosalind, and hilarious scenes with the court fool, who was played fantastically by the captivating Richard Katz, takes you through all of the emotions.

Yet, some scenes may not be for the squeamish. In one, the farmer brought out a dead rabbit, and started skinning and be-heading this creature in front of the audience. Not pleasant if you in the second row!

For those who know this story of banishment and love, most of the play is set within the ‘Forest of Arden’. In this performance, the most of a forest you see is some ball of twigs that stay on stage for the majority of the time. This simple and effective gesture sets the scene well. Also half- way through the play, the cast are joined by the very-well played melancholic, Forbes Masson. He brought excellent acting to the already amazing cast, but also delivered the world-famous line; “All the world’s stage…” I felt that he had a great connection with the audience, and was a talented musician and singer!

Not many of Shakespeare’s plays have a happy ending, but this had a wonderful ending which was great to watch. When Rosalind reappeared as herself, it was a tear-jerking moment. She came back in an elegant dress, and went running to Orlando. All of the couples got happily married, and there was dancing and singing to be had!

This play was stunning! Great credit goes to Katy Stephens, who played Rosalind/Ganymede. She was a great actress in both roles, and brought the feistiness and sophistication that was needed to present Rosalind effectively. 

We also saw “Winter’s Tale” which was also stunning to watch, not only the acting but the many special effects. This is a darker play than “As You Like It”. Greg Hicks who played the traumatised King Leontes, was a stunning actor and as he portrayed his severe anger, hatred and regret, it was captivating.

This play has the famous stage direction, “Exit all, followed by a bear.” The Bear was simple but very effective. The main theme of this play was paper. For the entirety, two great bookcases stood either side of the stage piled high with books upon books. During one scene, after which Hermione (Queen to Leontes) had collapsed in court, while being charged of having an affair with one of the King’s friends, was declared dead, a great wind started blowing and these great bookcase were pushed over, with all the books that were once standing in their shelves tipped everywhere, and the stage stayed like this for the remainder. A great dramatic effect, which showed the mood of the play, and kept your attention. The bear was also made of sheets of paper that cowered over the stage.

There were also cheery moments away from the court, in Bohemia. These scenes lightened up the mood, and showed effectively what was happening elsewhere. You see Greg Hicks’s Leontes turn from the angry, and bitter King, into a forgiving and new Leontes. When we re-join Leontes back at the court, he has changed once more, and helps the newcomers (his daughter who he banished when she was only a baby).

My favourite scenes, which were portrayed beautifully by the company, were the final ones. This was when Hermione, who had been hiding for 17 years, re-emerged, but as a statue. Credit to Kelly Hunter, she stood in the same position, without moving for over 10 minutes! Though, this scene does not make logical sense now, (isn’t it obvious that she isn’t a statue?, he even talks about how life-like she is) it was a captivating scene, which saw the reunion of Hermione, Leontes and their daughter Perdita (played by Samantha Young).  Great Credit given to Greg Hicks and Kelly Hunter as the main characters, Leontes and Hermione in the play.

We also saw many different attractions around Stratford-Upon-Avon, such as Shakespeare’s birthplace and Anne Hathaway’s Cottage. Overall, it was a great trip!


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