Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Full English Breakfast

When I awoke this morning I was disappointed to find no one offered to fry me up any eggs and bacon (or as we Americans call it, ham) with tomato, mushrooms and beans as they had the past three mornings. And I was really starting to like the beans too! I just returned from a whirlwind trip to England to see the Royal Shakespeare Company production of Hamlet in Stratford-upon-Avon. It was absolutely fantastic and a dream come true. About 10 months ago I found out Patrick Stewart would be performing in Hamlet and immediately purchased tickets for two nights. Seeing Patrick Stewart perform Shakespeare has been on my list of things to do in life for a while now. I've seen his one man show of A Christmas Carol twice and it was amazing. I have been a Shakespeare freak since high school and seeing Mr. Stewart performing Shakespeare was a bit like the Holy Grail for me. Even though it meant spending money I really didn't have, traveling by myself and spending only four days total, it was something I was determined to do. As it turns out, it was more than worth it. I would go again in a heartbeat.


The trip started a little unevenly. My flight was about half an hour late so I knew I had very little time to make my train at Marylebone. I raced for the Heathrow Express to Paddington, from there caught the tube two stops to Marylebone and, quite unfortunately, missed the train to Stratford by just a couple of minutes. I chatted for a while with two very friendly conductors and after telling them I had theatre tickets they suggested that rather than wait for the next train, which if on time (not something British railway system is known for) would have put me in Stratford with only 30 minutes to curtain, I take a train to Warwick and get a taxi from there. It would give me an hour and a half. Perfect!

I absolutely love England so I enjoyed gazing at the green fields and fluffy white sheep on the way to Warwick. The taxi driver deposited me at the Falcon hotel in Stratford with plenty of time to shower and get ready for the play. The theatre was only a few minutes walk, but I didn't want to be late so I went directly there rather than stopping for something to eat or to go to the ATM even though the taxi had taken most of the cash I'd brought with me. This ended up being a critical error on my part, but at this time there was no way of knowing what the evening had in store.

I got to the theatre, had a bottle of orange juice (lunch and dinner) and took my seat. Front row of the circle, center. In my opinion, the very best seat in the house. For the next three and a half hours I was completely caught up in the magic of the Bard's words brought wonderfully and vibrantly to life by this amazing cast. I have seen a lot of Shakespeare performed, including other performances by the RSC, but nothing even comes close to being as truly brilliant and perfect as this production of Hamlet. The entire cast was outstanding, but I have to admit being completely blown away by David Tennant (or as I knew him prior to this, Dr. Who) in the lead role. He was tremendous. A true comic genius with the range to play the full scale of emotions of the Danish Prince from heartbreaking despair to ribald humour, acerbic wit to seething anger. Quite honestly, I think I fell just a little bit (okay, maybe a lot) in love with Mr. Tennant based solely on his performance. Of course I came specifically for Patrick Stewart and he did not disappoint. His Claudius was truly diabolical, and quite frightening. He is a commanding presence on the stage (or as I wrote in my journal after the performance, "like a god upon the stage") and I have to say I feel incredibly lucky to have seen him on four separate occasions now. He is an amazingly gifted performer and this is never more evident than in his theatre work. Finally seeing him perform Shakespeare was even more brilliant than I imagined. I also have to give kudos to Penny Downie whose turn as Gertrude was also quite memorable. The entire cast was, truly, outstanding.

So after witnessing this amazing incarnation of what is perhaps Shakespeare's finest work, I found that there was yet another incredible treat in store. After taking their bows, the actors announced that this was a special week in England when they raise money for the actors' fund and the entire cast would be in the lobby with buckets. OMFG! I could not believe what I was hearing. Mr. Patrick Stewart was actually going to be in the lobby. I could actually meet him! When I arrived in the lobby, there he was behind the bar, thronged by people, signing autographs. People were having their programs signed. I had decided to wait and buy one the following night because I had so little cash. Oh no. What to do? Then I remembered my ticket. It was actually quite large and would do nicely. I scrounged all of the change from my purse, about four pounds total. I felt terrible. I would have liked to have given so much more. If only I'd had time to go to the ATM before the show! Still, I knew this might be my only chance. Although they had said they were taking up the collection this "week" I knew there was no guarantee they would do it the following night. I waited for my turn with Mr. Stewart feeling excited, terrified, giddy and also ashamed that I had so little money for the charity bucket. When my turn came, I slid my ticket across to him and whispered a tentative hello. He took the ticket to sign and then looked at me expectantly--waiting, I'm sure, for me to speak. I looked at him with what I'm certain was a crazed expression of terror and could not bring myself to utter a single syllable. He handed back my ticket, I found my voice to say "thank you very much," threw my money in the bucket and literally ran out of the theatre.

OMG! Patrick Stewart had signed my ticket! I was nearly hysterical with my good fortune. It was only later that my regret at not having talked to him began to creep in. And I really wished I'd had more money to give. I could have asked if he'd take U.S. dollars, which I had, for the collection. I could have told him I'd traveled for 10.5 hours by plane, 3 hours by train, 15 minutes by taxi and 5 minutes on foot just to see him perform. I spent most of the night lying awake rehearsing a concise speech of admiration for his work, which (I hoped) didn't sound too stalkerish, on the off chance they would be taking the collection again the next night. I was fully prepared. I purchased a program and made sure to have some liquid courage during intermission. Alas, it was not to be. My chance had been a once in a life time chance. I was sad only because I really, truly would have like to have given an appropriate donation to the fund and I would also have liked to have told Patrick Stewart how greatly I admire his work. If anyone reading this happens to know Mr. Stewart, I would greatly appreciate it if you could pass this along to him. I realize only two people read this blog, but I'm putting it out there anyway!

Despite the fact that I was unable to really speak to him, I am absolutely ecstatic over my great fortune in being in the theatre the one night it was possible to get his autograph. And, even if I had not had that particular opportunity, I would still be on cloud nine now, having witnessed such a tremendous production, not once, but twice. It was even better the second night. I'm certain I could have watched this play a dozen times without becoming the least bit bored. I can say in all honesty that this was the adventure of a lifetime and a dream come true for me.

6 comments:

Kate, Dating in LA said...

This was clearly destiny! And just as clearly, you will definitely have a fantastically witty story to tell him the next time you see him because of this trip.

You go, adventure girl!

Helen said...

Kate,
I wasn't without reservations about the sanity of taking this trip, but it turned out to be one of the best decisions I've ever made and more than worth the time, expense and hassle. You really can't put a price tag on an experience like this!

Dee Murray said...

There is no doubt in my mind that when you come upon him again, you'll both laugh at this moment! How wonderful and excting a trip!! It makes me want to do the same!

Imogen said...

When I read your line, "like a god upon the stage," I thought you were talking about Obama and had to reread the the whole paragraph over again...

I think if you truly feel you want to donate further money to this cause that, obviously is very dear to you, you should send them a check c/o Mr. Stewart. And tell him what you wanted to. People need to know that their work is appreciated and that the bard lives on through them.

I'm envious of your love of Shakespeare -- I never got the Bard Bug and I really wish I had after reading this blog! You are great, Helen!

Imogen said...

And by the way -- there are THREE people who read your blog!

Christie D. said...

It sounds great!! It was nice to read about your trip. :) I hope Mr. Stewart finds his way to your blog, too...