Glimpses of Paranormal Warwickshire Part 15: the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

This is the fifteenth in a series of glimpses into my new book Paranormal Warwickshire which will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th November 2020.

Royal Shakespeare Theatre by River Avon Stratford upon Avon
A view of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre from the opposite bank of the River Avon at Stratford-upon-Avon (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre stands on the banks of the River Avon on a site formerly occupied by Shakespeare’s own garden, in the final decades of his life. He bought the house at New Place with his London money, and there he lived to the end of his life, bequeathing the house on to his daughter Susanna and her husband Dr John Hall. It is thought he wrote The Tempest there.

The land upon which the house once stood was probably occupied by a smallholding rather than a pleasure garden. Nevertheless it is very appropriate that the theatre, (known in its earliest incarnation 1879-1926, as the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre) should be located here.

Royal  Shakespeare Theatre and Bancroft Gardens Stratford upon Avon
Royal Shakespeare Theatre and the Bancroft Gardens Stratford upon Avon (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

Beloved by generations of great actors and devoted audiences, the theatre gives rise to many haunting tales. Strange events have been experienced by front-of-house staff, audience members, actors, other members of staff, and even construction workers on the scaffolding above the stripped-out skeleton of the upper circle, during the time of renovation for The Transformation Project completed in November 2010.

Royal Shakespeare Theatre from Clopton Bridge Stratford upon Avon
A view of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre from the Clopton Bridge Stratford-upon-Avon (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

Discover more about the intriguing history and the strange events at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in my book Paranormal Warwickshire.

Do check out my other posts in this series, which I began on 14th August 2020 with Shakespeare’s Ghosts and Spirits, and which brings us up to the publication date of my book Paranormal Warwickshire – 15th November 2020.

Warwick Castle

Guy’s Cliffe, Warwick

Gaveston’s Cross and the Saxon Mill, Warwick

St Mary’s Warwick

Kenilworth Castle

Abbey Fields, Kenilworth

Leamington Spa

Baddesley Clinton

Stoneleigh Abbey

Thomas Oken’s House and Lord Leycester Hospital, Warwick

Rugby locations

Nuneaton locations

Ettington Park

The other posts in the series will cover the following locations:

Holy Trinity, Stratford-upon-Avon

Coughton Court, Alcester

Sir Antony Sher in Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part II at Stratford-upon-Avon: the Powerful Impact of One Picaresque Character, Performed by a Great Actor

Antony Sher as Falstaff in Henry IV Part II at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre Stratford-upon-Avon 2014
Antony Sher as Falstaff in Henry IV Part II at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre Stratford-upon-Avon 2014

Sir Antony Sher shone out as Sir John Falstaff in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Henry IV Part II which I saw the other day in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon.

I was at the camera rehearsal for Henry IV Part II, the day before the production was to be broadcast live to cinemas.

As I watched Antony Sher commanding the stage as Shakespeare’s irregular humorist Sir John Falstaff, I remembered another time when I saw the same actor perform – it was at least 28 years ago in Brisbane, Australia, and he played Richard III, scuttling about the stage like a giant spider. I’ve never forgotten that performance. This time he made me reflect once again upon the charisma and power of a great actor, no matter the role he plays. You would think that the king himself would command the stage; but no, it was the low-life ne’er-do -well, the gluttonous lustful drunkard Falstaff, who did that.

For me, the most memorable moment of the play came when Sir John Falstaff bounds up to the newly-crowned Henry V, knowing that the former Prince Hal had once been his regular companion in the brothels and taverns of Eastcheap, London. He throws his arms wide to reclaim his former intimacy , in the hope and expectation of new honours and favours to be bestowed upon him now his former companion is successful, powerful, all-important… and the new king says to him:

“I know thee not, old man!”

The silence that then falls, as Falstaff sees that he has fallen from grace (if such it could be called), is poignant and profound.The new king proclaims that he has turned away from his former self, as one does from a dream one despises. And somehow, all that we might feel upon confronting our mispent past, and renouncing it, is encompassed in that moment.

Last month I read an interview with Sir Antony Sher in Warwickshire What’s On magazine. He talked about his career and how when young he was turned down for drama school. He was asked about how an actor moves forward in his talent to become great, and during his reply, he made this point:

Richard Burton had the most exciting talent which somehow he wasted… a special gift as an actor but he stopped caring about it… just sat back in his talent rather than pushing himself and exploring it. You’ve got to keep alive this very special job you’re doing… Meryl Streep has kept a certain integrity to her craft.

Surely this act of pushing and exploring is universally true of the creative life. I was reminded of those words as I came away from  the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, with the stage-presence of Sir Antony Sher singing in the air around me.