In honor of William Shakespeare’s 400th birthday, I’m revisiting an old post about one of my many treasured Shakespeare experiences.
Some years ago, I found myself with a lot of Frequent Flyer miles that were about to expire. No one was free to travel with me. So I treated myself to a solo trip to England. I decided to see as much live theater as I possibly could. In the course of two weeks, I saw 18 plays. Some days I doubled up and took in a matinee plus an evening performance. I saw plays at grand theaters, in the London equivalent of “Off-Broadway,” and in tiny rooms above pubs.
At that time, to get to Stratford-upon-Avon, I had to take a train from London, then transfer to a bus. (Now, there is a convenient train that goes all the way to Stratford). I had dreamed for years of seeing the Royal Shakespeare Company in their home theater, the Swan. One evening, I saw a very fine production of a Shakespeare play with the actors in modern dress. Which play, you might ask? I think it was Romeo and Juliet, but I can’t be sure. (On the train, I met a woman who had saved the program from every theater performance she had ever attended. Although she was a theater professor, I thought that was a little obsessive. Now I wouldn’t mind having all my programs).
The next morning, I went to the bus stop for the trip back to London. Just outside The Dirty Duck, the pub still frequented by theater folk and tourists alike, I spotted an actor I had seen the evening before. I stopped and complimented him on his performance. He seemed delighted to be recognized; he had only a medium-sized part. I’m thinking maybe he played Juliet’s father. I know how much talent and hard work it takes for any actor to get even a non-speaking, spear-carrying part in the Royal Shakespeare Company. I did remember his performance, I thought he stood out in the character, and told him so. He thanked me graciously. Just then, the bus pulled up and I got on.
The bus was about to pull away from the curb when the actor jumped up the steps with a great theatrical flourish. He stood beside the driver, peering down the aisle at all the passengers. “I am looking for a LADY,” he intoned, in his best Shakespearean elocution. He spotted me and moved up the aisle toward me. He took my hand, bowed low with a great stage flourish, kissed my hand, and made a great show of presenting me with a perfectly ripened peach. Everyone on the bus applauded, he took a very grand bow, and he was off with a jaunty wave.
Like all artists, actors pursue their passion even though they know they are very unlikely to gain riches or fame. I wish I could remember the name of this actor, who shared a magical personal moment with me and went out of his way to entertain a busload of non-paying strangers. Did all this happen 26 years ago? Yes, it did. Travel memories are lifelong!
I’m off to England, and looking forward to seeing a play in the Globe Theatre in London. Photos to follow. Thank you, Mr. Shakespeare!