Stratford-Upon-Avon Shakespeare trip

By Amy-Lou and Gareth Year 13

Between the 13th and 15th of April 2016, the AS and A2 Theatre Studies class went on a residential trip to Stratford-Upon-Avon, where Shakespeare was born and lived. On this trip we had the opportunity to explore Stratford, visit Shakespeare’s birthplace, participate in a Royal Shakespeare Company workshop, tour the Swan theatre and see a production of Hamlet.

Visiting Shakespeare’s birthplace was a fascinating insight into life in the Elizabethan era and especially the bards earlier years. It was entertaining and informative with the whole place having an atmosphere of theatricality, with there being staff in role who could perform soliloquies on demand, and an expert on glove-making ready to sing a song.

The RSC workshop was an opportunity for us to see how Shakespearean actors train and prepare for performances, whilst also allowing us to understand how some of the subtleties of Shakespeare’s writings can be brought to life. We learnt about the rhythm in the text and the clues that Shakespeare left for his actors through his use of punctuation.

The performance of Hamlet was one of the more interesting adaptations of Shakespeare’s works that we have ever seen. The director chose to update Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy to modern day Ghana (whilst still nominally being set in Denmark, as the script was unchanged). It is notably a mostly black cast, and in a first for the RSC Hamlet was played by a black actor. The talented cast, headed by Paapa Essiedu as an especially compelling Hamlet, along with intricate set, sound (including live drumming) and lighting came together to bring to life Shakespeare’s words in a remarkable performance.

On our last day, we went on a tour around the theatre we had visited the night before. This backstage tour was led by an RSC tour guide who had a fantastic ability to elucidate every detail of how to put on a Shakespearean production in a manner as entertaining as it was informative. The tour took us to the sound and lighting desks, the costume department and behind the very stage Hamlet had been performed on the night before. Rather than destroying the magic of the production it instead made it more impressive to see how a talented ensemble cast and a dedicated crew could come together to make an extraordinary performance of Shakespeare. The whole trip functioned as an effective argument to why we still celebrate and study Shakespeare today, which is rather fitting as we mark the 400 years since his death.