Today started out like yesterday: drizzly and damp. We woke up to thunderclaps again, and the air felt thick with rain. I know it was only a week or so ago that I was complaining about the “heat wave,” but today I longed for it. When the drizzle clouds roll in you feel like they are there to stay. Of course, in all my years of doing this trip it’s rained every day we’ve travelled to Stratford except one. So I was prepared for it.
We all boarded the coach at 9:00 am. Our driver was an incredibly genial man named Alton. We’ve had colorful drivers in the past, but Alton was pretty drama-free. He knew where we were headed, was flexible about time frames, and didn’t snore through the walls of the Bed and Breakfast. We travelled in a 20 seat coach instead of a giant Redwing, and it seemed to fit us perfectly. I always feel a bit guilty when we’re tooling around in a 50 seater with 12 students on board.
Our first stop was Highclere Castle, but nobody has called it that for five years at least. It’s Downton Abbey. And it’s really beautiful. Smaller than it appears on TV, but impeccably groomed and surprisingly free of the masses of people we’d expected. The rain had stopped and it was the perfect time to go. And though we were told online that the tickets were sold out, we had no problem getting in. It was really fun to see the interior of Highclere since so many of the rooms are used in the show:
The Dining Room, where the countess says acerbic things
The gentlemen's room, where marriages are arranged and re-arranged
Lady Grantham's bedroom, where she sleeps and stuff
And what's this? Lady Mary descending the staircase in her bridal gown?
We spent some time walking around in the gardens, which seemed to stretch on forever. Yes, we walked up same path as Lord Grantham in the title sequence, and yes there’s a bench under that massive tree. We explored the field of wildflowers and the secret garden, and Josh and I had a nap in the white garden. Yes, that's two naps, two days in a row! But it was really peaceful and quiet. Hard not to.
Outside the castle several Model T's, Packards, and other period cars starting lining up and it quickly became apparent that they were filming that day. We tried to find Lady Mary or see the new baby but all anybody spotted was Lord Grantham’s yellow lab. No Maggie Smith. But still – season four is happening! I saw proof.
After lunch under the big tree we boarded the coach and headed another half hour or so to Blenheim Palace, which I sort of went loony for last year. We didn’t buy tickets to the palace, because it looks like all the other ones, but we did buy tickets to the gardens. We saw fountains and flowers and Japanese people and a giant lake. It really was beautiful- perfect weather, and even starting to warm up. We had great conversations and I heard some funny stories and it was so nice to breathe fresh country air for a few hours.
We checked into the Linhill Bed and Breakfast in Stratford-upon-Avon and then we all headed into the town center to eat dinner at the Dirty Duck. Devin fell in love with the boy at the counter and Tatijanna and I both ate bangers and mash with a side of mac and cheese. And giant pints of Diet Coke! With so much ice! Josh was in rare form and tried to kiss Aubrey, though I’m sure her boyfriend at home won’t mind. It’s not like we were at a quaint pub in downtown Stratford as the sun was setting.
It’s interesting to me that Titus Andronicus, which is generally considered to be one of the worst plays Shakespeare ever wrote, is still today the best experience I’ve had at the Globe in London. And now it’s the best experience I’ve had at the RSC in Stratford. A play about revenge, blood, hands cut off, throats slit, dudes baked into pies, people raped and tongues cut out, and general mayhem, it’s not for the faint of heart. Or even the bold of heart. This production didn’t shy away from anything. It was terrifically gory. It was also terrifically funny. It was stylish and loud and the direction was masterful. I can’t remember the last time I saw a Shakespeare piece this inventive or captivating. I wasn’t bored for a minute. Titus’ descent into madness became our descent; what started so formally and with such restraint devolved into an old man dressed as a maid, serving human flesh in a pie to a Gothic woman in heels with fur and a Mohawk. And that happened just before the entire cast stabbed each other to death, littering the stage with blood and knives and stacks of bodies in tuxedos. Wowza. I was kind of blown away.
We decompressed, per my tradition, at the Trinity Church, where Shakespeare was buried. We sat on the lawn near the chapel and Emily and I shared ghost stories with the group. At one point, Emily saw a dim light coming from a basement window of the church. The next day, upon further investigation, she found that there were no basement windows. The light was just hovering, for a few brief moments, at the foot of the church. Hello, William! Loved the show!