“The Duchess of Malfi” at the Swan Theatre

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On the Monday evening during my stay in Stratford I managed to get tickets for the RSC’s production of The Duchess of Malfi in the Swan Theatre. There were no performances of the current show in the main theatre (Macbeth, with Christopher Ecclestone) that week but I  wasn’t disappointed as I had an enjoyable evening along with an Australian friend who was over for the conference.

The Swan is, like the Globe on the Southbank in London, a recreation of an Elizabethan / Jacobean theatre. In this case it’s u-shaped with a “thrust stage” surrounded on 3 sides, with stalls and two galleries.

The play was is a Jacobean tragedy by English dramatist John Webster and was written in in 1612/13. The blurb on the RSC’s website summed up the plot

A defiant woman is destroyed by her corrupt brothers in this violent revenge tragedy, full of dark humour.

The production had some modern twists –  modern dress, gymnastic dancing and some modern songs and started with the lead actress, Joan Iyiola, dragging a large animal carcass on to the stage. It stayed there, but it’s significance only became apparent in the second half.

Joan Iyiola was a powerful and very sexy duchess and I thought that Nicolas Tennant as the self serving Bosola was also very good.

After the interval, occupants of the front rows, where the seats are below stage level, were given blankets to cover their clothing and shoes. The reason became apparent early in the second half when the carcass was cut and began to leak blood – symbolising the brutality of the story where the Duchess’ brothers Ferdinand and the Cardinal, have their sister murdered for marrying outside her class

By the end of the play the whole stage was covered with blood. And being a Jacobean tragedy all of the major actors lay dead on the floor, drenched with the red liquid.

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Stratford-upon-Avon. A walk along the river

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A couple of weeks ago I was in Stratford-upon-Avon for the annual conference of the British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS). The conference started on the Tuesday but as I was running a professional development course the day before, I’d travelled over on Sunday afternoon. Although it turned hot and sunny in the middle of the week, Sunday afternoon was rather grey and showery but it brightened up later in the day, so after my evening meal I decided to get out for a stroll. Stratford is only a small, albeit pleasant, town and the obvious place for a walk was along the River Avon.

I crossed the river over to the “left bank”

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and then passed the Royal Shakespeare Theatre on the opposite side of the river.  Built in 1932 it was designed by the then 29-year-old Elisabeth Whitworth Scott, it was the first
public building to be designed by a female architect.  There was a major renovation of the theatre at the beginning of the 21st Century. While the facade was retained the inside was gutted and completely rebuilt and there were additions, including the viewing tower and new roof top restaurant

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There were plenty of swans swimming on the river

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A little further downstream I passed the Holy Trinity church on the opposite bank.

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Further on there was a footbridge and I crossed over to the right bank, now following the river upstream.

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I passed the Holy Trinity Church, getting a closer view of the church where Shakespeare was baptised and buried.

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It won’t have looked like this when Shakespeare was around, mind. Although some older stonework was visible it has the look of a Victorian neo-Gothic building, due to its restoration in 1836-7 and 1839-41.  I only found out later that Shakespeare is buried here, so, sadly, although I walked through the graveyard I didn’t visit his grave.

Carrying on I walked through the RSC gardens where there was a pavilion which had images of actors from performances at the theatre.

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A little further along I reached the back of the RSC building, with a view of the Swan Theatre

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Walking along the river side to the front of  the building I could see the bridge I’d crossed at the start of my walk. The sun was starting to set and the light was fading, but it was a pleasant evening and I felt like walking further, so I turned around and re-traced my steps, circumnavigating the river in the opposite direction.

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