Stratford in bloom.

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The newly-reopened Bancroft, looking towards the bridge and the boathouse.

Back in Stratford. Effects of the recession: we are getting a Lidl, parking has gone up (70 pence for half an hour), and everyone who graduated without a law-conversion-training-contract is on Job Seekers’ Allowance. Unemployed at the start of last summer, I passed the time filling in my little dole book & trying not to weep over the kind public sector workers who told me that, what with my double first in English Literature, I should keep from setting my sights too high, and aim for retail. Having been turned down by Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer and (you-bastards-the-money-I-have-spent-in-you) Waterstones, I got the best job of my life at the Royal Shakespeare Company, and the issue of crippling penury was solved. Now, however, loud sing cuckoo, and I am even a little bit sunburnt – spring is here, so summer soon will be, which means a) I am going to have to Leave Oxford, and b) I really, really need to find a job.

Rad Cam & old Bodleian, seen from Exeter Fellows' Garden
Rad Cam & old Bodleian, seen from Exeter Fellows' Garden

Worse, this time I am actually leaving Oxford – whereas last year, there was the word-made-flesh possibility of a First and my Masters (mercifully realised), this time I have not applied for DPhil and so definitely shan’t be returning. I never intended to apply this time round, but it turned out that not even my best friend believed I would stick to it,  and instead assumed my reiterations of ‘but darling, I shan’t be here next year’ were just another form of mental torture. Considering our past relations, etc.

At the moment, I have three job applications current, three possibilities for work experience (one incomplete, one under consideration & one offered but logistically difficult!), one begging letter sent off and another to write. I have a chapter of my thesis due in next Friday, but did manage to spend today partly on the river. Stratford is beautiful – the air is much cleaner than Oxford, as I keep remarking – and since blogging, email & facebook keep me in touch with my Oxford friends, it’s possible to have the best of both worlds.

Stratford – despite the profusion of unemployed twentysomethings largely indistinguishable from holidaymakers, the unabating frothy fury of the local press, and the Tories – really is blooming. We even have a new community radio, with whom I hope to do some work over the next year (quick plug: presenter Debi Ghose, Friday mornings > anything on Radio 1). If I am going to be in Stratford for a while, I want to find out all the cool stuff that’s going on – there must be stuff I missed when I was at school. As far as religious feeling goes, I am apt to be indiscriminate in attaching it to churches, theatres, and libraries; Oxford in summer does look a lot like Heaven, and lamp-lit twilight in Radcliffe Square can be as sacred as anything in the college chapels. The morning after Barack Obama’s election, the Cowley Road Methodist Church (just down from where I live – I was there last Sunday!) changed the Scripture on its noticeboard to the first line of Psalm 19: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims His handiwork”. It was perfect, perfect; perfect for a perfect day and a fact, a single proof of human goodness in appetite and action, that still makes me happy, five months on. The new RST building is taking shape, and the actors performing in the Courtyard now are those who’ll take the stage on the new theatre’s opening night. When I was home at Christmas and in February, the site was still a mess; now, the scaffolding’s shaping a building and not a building site. There must, surely, be new jobs and renewed tourism when the site is finished, for some people, at least. It was great to be back with my friends, on an accommodating river, in a suitably battered boat. And to me, the emerging theatre looked like a symbol of hope.

The RST, seen from the river.
The RST, seen from the river.

P.S. Happy Easter, to those who are celebrating!

RSC & The Oliviers | Tennant on DVD | British Library II | essay essay essay

Photo: Ferdaus Shamim/Getty Images
Photo: Ferdaus Shamim/Getty Images

This week has been a very tough week, but I’m using this post to focus on the awesomeness, MUCH OF WHICH is contained in the photograph above: the RSC Histories company winning THREE Oliviers. The photo is ridiculous in some ways – only Chuk Iwuji, as my friend pointed out, seems to know how to wear a suit in the accepted fashion, and why is Jonathan Slinger (Richard II and Richard III, for god’s sake) on his tiptoes at the back – but it’s also great, and hilarious, and I’m so glad they won. In rather less awesome news, RSC Sources (a really posh way of saying ‘Kath, with whom I  used to work, who is on Facebook, and lovely’)  say that the news that the David Tennant Hamlet will be put on DVD may have been a bit premature… which is a shame. I’ll be sad if the story’s false, but hopefully it will still happen sooner or later… in incredibly exciting Shakespeare news, the Cobbe portrait may (or may not) be another ‘life portrait’ of the writer. I hope it is, although I always imagined him milder and not so Elizabeth I about the nose and throat. But really, who has a portrait (I nearly typed ‘photo’) of a balding, long-haired Elizabethan with aesthetic tendencies on their walls for 300 years without considering it might be him? I suspect the Cobbes need their roof doing.

Today, I was back at the British Library, dealing with mercifully more helpful staff and a significantly more important manuscript. Even if the preliminary conversation (the gist thereof reproduced below) was like a sort of German farce:

Me: I am here for a manuscript. Look, my card.

Her: We know you not.

Me: I think you do.

Her: There is no manuscript here.

Me: It is quite an important manuscript. I had to get letters of approval. Please give me my manuscript.

Her: [indicates with look, word and gesture that she thinks my ever being approved to look in a mirror is unlikely] There is no manuscript. When did you order it.

Me: Two weeks ago. Let me speak to someone else.

Him: OH MY GOD, you want to see THAT MANUSCRIPT? It’s in a SAFE. A safe with LOCKS. Are you SURE, are you sure you won’t just VOMIT on it or possibly COLOUR IN WITH CRAYONS?

Me: I am quite sure.

Him: !!!!!!!!!! You need a LETTER FOR THAT.

Me: You are holding my letter. I can read the heading and the Brasenose logo through the paper.

Him: This is quite true. [gives] Where are you sitting? Oh my GOD, you’re sitting THERE? You want to look at that manuscript while SITTING THERE? As if it hadn’t just COME FROM A SAFE? Are you sure you aren’t just HIDING CRAYONS in your NON-EXISTENT CLEAVAGE?

Me: I need to write 11,000 words quite soon.

And so forth. All in all, though, a successful day; for the price of a 36-foot yacht, I was able to purchase the most delicious sandwich I’ve ever eaten, and further destabilise the methodology of a leader bibliographer (at least two of us are now writing essays the theme of which is primarily ‘[Bibliography X] is full of lies‘. But THEN, dear readers, after I had drawn big smiley faces over the priceless artefact completed my research, I went downstairs and into a room that was casually displaying the Magna Carta (I list this first not because I care but because I gather one is meant to), the LINDISFARNE GOSPELS, BEOWULF (ACTUALLY BLOODY BEOWULF, THE ONLY ONE, OMG), Sylvia Plath MSS, all sorts of sacred texts from world religions, GOWER, and PERSUASION. Sylvia Plath had writing like a cheerleader, the Magna Carta was clearly made by robots (and looks like a map of the desert), and if it’s medieval and came from the Cotton library, it probably had its edges burnt off during a fire in 1731. The exhibition doesn’t seem to be listed on the British Library website, but it’s free (like the rest of the library), so go, go in, and bear to the left.

Also, I went swing-dancing this week. My calves. My calves.

(other sustaining things here in OX4 – Jenny, Chloe, the fail king, my MCR, custard creams, using the word ‘torrid’ unnecessarily in my bibliography essay, implying Wilde had yet more boyfriends, Jay, m’boy, theselby.com and my new Primark habit. Yes, I know goods do not bring happiness but I have never been able to shake the belief that my life will be much better if I can only buy a lot of stuff. If stuff is edible,* so much the better).

*I am not saying the stuff Primark sells is edible.

I am like the flower of tamarisk that must remain inviolable.

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (which also seems to employ most of the RSC’s FOH team!) has announced a Shakespeare Hall of Fame for the Birthday celebrations in April. Twelve names are in, with the thirteenth to be chosen from the poll here. Current inductees are (in chronological order): Ben Jonson, David Garrick, Charles Dickens, Ellen Terry, Laurence Olivier, Judi Dench, Kenneth Branagh, Patrick Stewart, Akira Kurosawa, Sam Wanamaker and Paul Robeson. The candidates for the thirteenth place (a competition which the Guardian poll suggests a certain DTennant will win) are: Peter Brook, John Gielgud, Boris Pasternak, Sarah Siddons, Peggy Ashcroft, George Bernard Shaw, Goethe, Sarah Bernhardt, Virginia Woolf and David Tennant himself.

Predictably, this has enraged me.

Firstly, I think it was bloody stupid putting Tennant on the list for thirteenth place, since he will obviously win – far better to have excluded him completely, or just given him a place among the original twelve. I don’t think it’s exactly justifiable when GIELGUD (let me say that again, GIELGUD) and Peggy Ashcroft (PEGGY ASHCROFT) didn’t make the cut, but if bloody Leonardo di Caprio is up there (for a bad performance in a bad film), presumably on grounds of bringing-new-audience-to-Shakespeare, then David Tennant (who, you know, is a much better actor and encouraged lots of people who’d only come to see HIM in Hamlet to book again, to read another play) should definitely be included. More importantly, if Patrick Stewart is in there, Harriet Walter should be too (this is perhaps a not entirely unexpected conclusion for me to draw. Harriet! Look at her beautiful face).

Secondly, my list would also only stick to theatre practitioners (there could be a separate list for writers & academics), partly because I am biased (Shakespeare wrote plays, not books) and partly because there are just too many good actors and directors. So out with Dickens (why is he even there?) and Woolf, and in with Brook, and either Ashcroft or Gielgud (and why Jonson? Why Jonson?). Given the location of the exhibition (Stratford-on-Avon), the Trust’s failure to include either Michael Boyd or Greg Doran seems, to me, a little misguided. The achievement of both is comparable to that of Wanamaker, arguably – but then, living in Stratford and not Southwark, I would say that. I don’t begrudge Wanamaker his place (unlike bloody di Caprio) but Boyd and Doran deserve as much recognition as he does.

I think it would almost have been better  just to put ‘the RSC’ as one of the items, or to make a separate RSC Hall of Fame (Jon Slinger, Alexandra Gilbreath, Anton Lesser, Juliet Stevenson, Alan Rickman, David Suchet, Chuk Iwuji, Clive Wood, Ian Richardson, Donald Sinden, Trevor Nunn – oh my goodness, Trevor Nunn‘s not on there, Fiona Shaw oh my goodness she’s not on there…). I voted for Ashcroft, although Shaw (even if Shaw had never written a line of drama, I’d break my own rules for his rehabilitation of lovely Helena, whom even Ellen Terry hated) or Brook would do.

On a far less infuriating note, have another Shakespeare link; hilarious version of the 25 facts meme that’s been going round Facebook et al: Five And Twenty Random Things Abovt Me. It sounds awful, it’s not. It’s the cure for what ails you, seriously. Also lovely – a post Jenny showed me summarising a medievalist’s reading on ‘how to write love letters in the fourteenth century: The Rules’ – I am like the flower of tamarisk that must remain inviolable. Yet again this afternoon I had a brief burst of why am I not studying Shakespeare more than I already am.

Have also added two blogs to the blogroll (Eat Your Sherbert and The Jenny Times). The former is (awesome, rational) feminism (Katy and I divided feminisms into four sorts on Saturday – radical, woolly, nice and useless) and music reviews, the second is (one of the four) best friend(s) a girl could possibly ask for. My love for her manages to transcend her beauty, intelligence & talent (which is pretty much a pattern with them), which in anybody else would sicken me.

The readiness is all.

Ed Bennett, former Laertes and new leading man
Ed Bennett, former Laertes and new leading man

It’s news like the fact that David Tennant has been invalided out of the London run of Hamlet with a bad back that makes me wish I was back at work. Or showering the hospital and/or Ed Bennett with flowers. I was so excited to see the first picture of him as Hamlet today, though. I didn’t see the understudy run of Hamlet back in Stratford, but am sure he’s as great as the media reception says. It’s an amazing opportunity (and couldn’t happen to a nicer person), but god, being told you’re filling for David Tennant in an audience which at any given moment is 40% screaming fangirls? You could really be forgiven for wanting to vomit out your own spleen.

Fortunately, so far the press coverage (and punter comment) seems to have been as gracious as both Tennant and Bennett deserve. I was braced for people to start demanding their money back, berating Tennant or making snide remarks about celebrities in stage shows (of the Martine McCutcheon/My Fair Lady variety). Nobody who has seen Tennant, much less worked in the same building (even briefly and lowly as I did) could doubt just how hard he works – he never stops working, thinking or running (and, of course, he was bloody good). The man bolts on and offstage. It’s exhausting, even when your only related responsibilities are to stop the audience chasing him backstage (which happened), stealing the props (which happened repeatedly) and thwarting the patrons who inexplicably decided that the time when he’s behind the stalls doing a full costume change (note: this doesn’t happen at the Novello, don’t even try) is when they need to start roaming the auditorium in search of a loo.

There’s been a little bit of the first sort of idiocy, though. Some people are idiots who don’t seem to grasp that going to see Hamlet is not like going to see, say, Take That: if the band aren’t there, you get a refund. You’re paying to SEE A PRODUCTION OF HAMLET. You’re seeing Hamlet. The RSC has a full understudy policy, and virtually everyone understudies something (hence the slightly ridiculous matinee where Jim Hooper had hurt his back and Oliver Ford-Davies played both Polonius and the Priest, thus burying the daughter who’d killed herself because he’d died. If you follow). I definitely did not want to see Hamlet in London before now; a prosc arch? Why? And, of course, I’m a Stratford girl who’s never quite got to grips with the idea of the RSC in London. Hamlet in Stratford was my holiday romance as much as a summer job. But now, I’m intrigued – I want to see this ‘moody teenager’ Hamlet, Tom Davey as Laertes, and Rob Curtis as Lucianus, and, most of all, Ricky Champ as Guildenstern. All the same, I’m sorry for all the people who were looking forward to seeing David Tennant – I’m sorriest of all, though, for him. I can’t imagine how he must feel, apart from, you know, disappointed, embarassed and in presumably quite dreadful pain.

(And why yes, this is my first post written on WordPress as opposed to imported from Blogspot. I’m excited. Don’t know how I’ll get all the widgets to work, but looking forward to finding out).