Lining up six Shakespeare plays on successive nights is not easy. Theatres release their programmes at different times, and the popularity of the best productions requires us to gamble on whether or not to commit immediately. We could hardly be happier with the end result.
The tour begins with the Royal Shakespeare Company (‘probably the most famous classical theatre company in the world’) production of Measure of Measure, directed by the RSC Artistic Director, Gregory Doran. This is followed by As You Like It, directed by Kimberley Sykes. Masterful, inventive, dramatically potent, with ensemble playing at its best: success and fame have not blunted the RSC’s capacity for sheer all-round excellence.
Developed by Nick Starr and Nicholas Hytner after leaving their tenure as executive and artistic directors, respectively, at the National Theatre, The Bridge is London’s newest theatre. Nicholas Hytner is directing what promises to be an immersive and wildly amusing production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
The three back to back performances of Henry IV Part I, Henry IV Part II & Henry V are at Shakespeare’s Globe, a replica of the 1599 building as exact as evidence allows. The incumbent artistic director, Michelle Terry works collaboratively with the ensemble of actors to decide who performs which part and how the play will come together. The same cast act in all three productions, following the wayward Prince Hal on his journey to becoming Henry V.
There is another aspect to this tour: the topographical and historical context in which the plays were written. Visits to sites in Stratford and London associated with Shakespeare provide a powerful aid to coming closer to the man and the writer and to understanding the age that shaped him, his plays and poems.
London was where Shakespeare pursued his second career as an actor and playwright, acquired fame, achieved social advancement and made his fortune. But his birthplace of Stratford-upon-Avon remained his home. Fortune has been kind to the fabric of Shakespearean Stratford, less so to his London. But London retains patches of street pattern he would recognise, and there are sufficient physical remains and identifiable sites for an exploration to be rewarding.
Spread over five days, this is an exceptional programme of theatre, visits to related sites, talks and discussions
Stratford. Leave the hotel on foot at 2.00pm. A guided walk around Stratford includes visits to Shakespeare’s (alleged) birthplace and finishes with the beautiful riverside church of Holy Trinity where he is buried. In the evening, dinner, and the RSC production of Measure for Measure, directed by RSC Artistic Director, Gregory Doran. First of two nights in Stratford.
Stratford and around. There is an excursion by coach to villages around Stratford where there are excellently preserved and well-presented houses associated with Shakespeare and his family. The afternoon is free for rest or exploration of Stratford where there remain many sights that Shakespeare would have known. In the evening, dinner and the RSC production of As You Like It, directed by Kimberley Sykes.
London. Drive from Stratford to London. At the National Portrait Gallery a study of the portraits of Shakespeare and other Elizabethan and Jacobean dramatists (our lecturer wrote the NPG handbook on the subject). Then to the Guildhall Library in the City to view some of their Shakespeare documents. Some free time before dinner, and the Bridge Theatre production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Nicholas Hytner. First of two nights in London.
London. A light lunch precedes the first of today’s three performances at Shakespeare’s Globe, Henry IV Part I, or Hotspur. After an intermission Henry IV Part II, or Falstaff. There will be dinner before the final performance of Henry V, or Harry England. All three of the Henriad are directed by Sarah Bedi.
London. After the morning lecture leave the hotel on foot for Bankside where there is a guided walk to this Shakespearean entertainment district with the lecturer. The tour ends at the hotel by 1.00pm.
Dr Charles Nicholl
Honorary Professor of English at Sussex University, Charles is author of the acclaimed biography, Leonardo da Vinci: the Flights of the Mind and numerous other books, most recently, The Lodger, an intimate study of Shakespeare’s life in London in the first years of the 17th century. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and recipient of the Hawthornden prize, the James Tait Black prize for biography and the Crime Writers’ Association ‘Gold Dagger’ award for non-fiction.
Price, per person
Two sharing: £2,210. Single occupancy: £2,495
First category tickets for six theatre performances; accommodation in good, central hotels (see below); breakfasts one lunch and four dinners (all pre-performance), with wine, water, coffee; travel by private coach where specified in the itinerary, and in London some use of the Underground and taxis; admission to museums and exhibitions included in the tour; all tips and taxes; the services of the lecturer and tour manager.
The Arden Hotel, Stratford-upon-Avon: a comfortable, four star, waterside hotel situated opposite the RSC theatres. Grange St Paul’s, London: in the heart of the city, a 5* contemporary hotel within walking distance of Shakespeare’s Globe. Single rooms are double for sole use throughout.
There is quite a lot of walking throughout with most sites and theatres in London and Stratford being reached on foot. With a play every night, there are no free evenings, though morning activities do not begin before 9.15am. Average distance by coach per day: 24 miles
Between 12 and 22 participants.
'The plays were interesting and a varied selection'
'We had an excellent guide for our tour of the Globe – knowledgeable and charming.'
'I always have complete confidence in the organisation of my MRT holiday - in the quality of the accommodation and the expertise of the lecturer.'