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I’ve just got back from Stratford, where I saw the RSC in "Julius Caesar" and "The Winters’ Tale." Also, I read "Anthony and Cleopatra" for the first time in my life and, to be honest, I don’t think it does the fine actors of the RSC any disservice to say that it bowled me over to such an extent it overshadowed the other plays.
What an astonishing, epic love story it is. It’s about being caught between two worlds and having to find a way to live in both but remain true to yourself, even if it destroys you. It’s almost cinematic in its scope, covering about ten years and ranging over half the known world. It presents its characters, including a mature, sexy and powerful woman, in all their contradiction and complexity, and all in some of the most glorious descriptive lyrical poetry in the English language. It combines high drama and romance with a clear-eyed, mature acceptance of the world as it is. I have never stayed up late to read a Shakespeare play before but I did this time around – and it just stunned me. Time and again, I found myself putting down the book, getting a grip on my emotions and then re-reading a passage just to try and get my mind around it.
It’s almost a year since I saw David Tennant in "Hamlet" and fell in love with Shakespeare and Stratford. It’s strange, and a little sad, to pass the Stage Door after a performance now and see it quiet. The fans have gone. But so much remains to be savoured now and in the future. That night was a mountaintop experience for me, but you can’t live on mountaintops. You have to use them to inspire and motivate you, to help you select what really matters in life and go for it with all your heart and all reasonable means at your disposal. Sometimes it takes years to make your dream a reality. Although it seems that I transferred my nebulous desires into the concrete form of an MA course very quickly, in fact it was a dream that had been slowly growing for twenty years and had suffered various setbacks along the way, times when the conjunction of circumstances and motivation and confidence just wasn’t quite right, didn’t add up to enough momentum to make changes.
Stratford is always, to some extent, a magical place, but last summer was unique, and it isn’t always, or even generally, magical in that particular way. I could so easily have gone there and felt sad, but I didn’t. I was able to look back at the journey I’ve made this past year, one which "Hamlet" did so much to shape, and think with excited anticipation of all the challenges ahead of me. I can enjoy Stratford now as a place where I feel very much at home, where I can look up people for lunch, know the right places to go and setle down into – a place where I can relax into the kind of person I always wanted to be.
Yesterday I had lunch with a friend who works for the RSC and we talked about whether knowing too much about how an illusion is created destroys the magic of it. And we both agreed that the answer’s no, at least where great drama is concerned. To learn about his sources, to analyse his language, to explore his world and to dissect the intricacies of his texts has only deepened my love of Shakespeare’s work and my admiration for his genius. I’m an incredibly lucky person. And I can’t wait to get back.