Lan and Jane 'do' Western Europe travel blog

Along the Avon Riverwalk

On the Avon River bridge

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre

Today we bid a temporary farewell to London and head north to Stratford-upon-Avon.

We started the day with another excellent breakfast at Half Cup, checked out, and then spent an hour or so in the British Library cadging off its free wifi so that Jane could watch Hawthorn play Melbourne in an AFL preliminary final. The first half was close but Hawthorn just couldn’t win without a few missing key players, so that’s the end of their season.

From Marylebone station we caught the train to Stratford UA. The journey went without incident although we had scant minutes to hightail it with our bags from one platform to another at Leamington Spa.

Stratford welcomed us with a bit of good old English rain, but that didn’t dampen our enthusiasm. Our hotel was the Hampton Lodge, and our room felt palatial compared to the cramped digs in London.

It has been some 40 years since Lan had been to Stratford and it was Jane’s first time there, so it was lovely to wander into town via a pleasant wooded path close to our accommodation. Despite a rain shower, the town still looked charming, especially as twilight descended.

As we crossed the River Avon, our ears were assailed by a thumping beat, and we found two large groups of Indians on board river boats enjoying lively ceremonies to the pounding of the music. While that shattered the idyllic river scene, it certainly added buzz to the evening!

On the other side of the river is the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. We were able to get some good seats to that night’s performance of Tartuffe, Molière’s famous satirical play. The brochure featured a long-bearded Muslim man and said it was set in Birmingham, so it sounded intriguing!

But first a quick dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant, Carluccio’s. Astute gastronomes will know that Antonio Carluccio was a famous Italian chef with his own BBC cooking show. His restaurant was bought out by a conglomerate that opened up numerous outlets all over the UK (and beyond). The version in Stratford was quite good, although we generally eat better Italian food in Melbourne (of course!)

And so to the play. As you will have guessed, this version of Tartuffe has been greatly modernised, with Tartuffe and the family he infiltrates being Birmingham-based Pakistani Muslims and the jokes and satirical jabs focused on current issues such as feminism, terrorism and fundamentalism. We really enjoyed it as the script was smart and witty, and the actors almost uniformly excellent. It left us with plenty to mull over while having a good belly laugh. England really is blessed with depth in their cohort of theatre actors, no doubt due to their superb training and rich theatrical tradition. Those we saw tonight would probably be considered to be second-tier actors (all the best would work mostly in London and the other large centres); nevertheless the main cast were excellent and would beat the pants off most theatre actors in Australia.

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