Except for being cornered in an open grave in the wilds of Tasmania by rabid dingoes with only a pen light and a roll of Lifesavers, there is nothing more harrowing than missing a train.
Especially if that train is the last morning train to Stratford-Upon-Avon and you spent the last of your Guinness money on non-refundable tickets to the 1:30 matinee. So you can probably imagine the panic with which we scampered through the streets of Reading, accosting random passersby with, “What’s the quickest way to the station from St. Mary’s Butts?” We arrived at the station, breathless and ticketless, ten minutes before the train was to leave. After standing in queue and clarifying our travel plans with disconcertingly calm clerks, we arrived on Platform 4 two minutes prior to scheduled departure only to discover that our train was running three minutes late. Although we would love to thrill you with a narrative of how the train was hijacked by highwaymen with lace at their throats who whisked us away on their ignoble steeds, we regret to inform you that the highlight of our train ride was spying a herd of free range sheep dining on construction waste.
We also regret that there appears to be a grand total of one (1) taxi in the entire town of Stratford. The good news is that it is a Mercedes-Benz. The bad news is that we watched it drive away with other passengers shortly after our arrival. To summon another, Tina attempted a Taxi Dance (much like a rain dance, but without singing or a drought). When this proved fruitless, we resorted to every woman’s comfort in times of adversity: eating a cheese ploughman’s wedge. Eventually—and eventually in England seems much longer—it occurred to us that we might phone a taxi. If you ring them, they will come. And come they did. Within five minutes. “Are you going to the motorcade?” asked the driver. “Umm, no,” we decided, after consulting our trusty map of Stratford. And then, she drove away. Without us. And without any of the other fifteen people waiting for a ride. After another eventually, our taxi did indeed arrive, driven by a friendly old chap in a newsboy cap. After expounding the virtues of Stratford’s many pubs (complete with closing times) and explaining to us the fascinating phenomenon of The Stratford Textile Convention, he dropped us off at the youth hostel (our last minute accommodations, due to the lack of night trains from Stratford) and kindly waited in the parking lot to take us back into town in time for the show.
We picked up our tickets, and then fed pizza crust (and the occasional bit of a Snickers bar) to a mob of menacing swans who did not understand that no means no. One docile duck stood off to the side, placidly cocking her head and waiting for a scrap of Pizza Go-Go. Aimee named her Martha Mallard.
Once we discovered that balcony ticket holders must exit the building and re-enter by a side door to reach their seats, we climbed, and we climbed, and climbed some more, and upon entering the balcony, we discovered that we had to climb even more. We were in Row J. Of K. With one pair of black plastic opera glasses between us.
We made good use of them. Honestly, why would you want Romeo when you could have Richard III? He has it all: a humped back, a deformed face, a bum hand, a murdering spirit and, eventually, the throne of England. Whilst the majority of the audience was no doubt contemplating Lady Anne’s strange acceptance of Richard’s marriage proposal, we were madly passing the opera glasses back and forth and exclaiming in hushed tones, “She spat on him! And he licked it off!” Never came saliva to so sweet an end. Not that we didn’t appreciate the brilliance of the Bard. It takes a lot of talent to create empathy for a blackhearted, self-conscious, and basically evil hunchback; you know you’re in love when you’re glad he finally gets rid of those little brats.
After seeing our new crush impaled upon a pike, we headed to The Dirty Duck to drown our sorrows in a heaping plate of bangers and mash. After being slightly cheered by the sight of a Hamlet brand tobacco container with the appropriate warning, “Smokers die younger,” we drank a great deal of tea to ensure our alertness for the other half of our Shakespeare double feature (Masochistic? We think not).
This proved unnecessary. There is no stimulant like Titus Andronicus.
Aside from the human sacrifice, rape, tongue and hand amputation, self-mutilation, and Moor/Goth kink, we had the added perk of seeing David Bradley (of Harry Potter fame) in the title role. We could not help but hope for a reprise of Argus Filch’s, “I wanna see some punishment!”
What we got was even better. During the play’s final scene, we were tickled and traumatized by the appearance of Bradley in a bloody chef’s apron bearing a meat pie containing the offspring of the Goth queen, Tamora. Man could that woman eat! (Proving, once again, that the quickest way to a woman’s heart is through her stomach.) Sons eaten, necks snapped, emperor stabbed and hero slain, we descended the familiar flights of stairs on shaky legs. It may be hard to believe, but the best was yet to come.
After shivering in the drizzle outside the stage door, we happy few had the privilege of meeting Mr. Bradley himself, thanks to a cloak-clad Emily who hailed him whilst we stood immobile. There were autographs, photographs, and handshakes all around, followed by a frenzied rush back to the youth hostel to scream into our pillows. The remainder of the night was uneventful, save for a foreign gentleman’s failed seduction of Tina. (“But Stratford is the city of romance—the city of Julio and Romiet!” Perhaps, Tina thought wryly, this is the reason there are no night trains from Stratford.)
Maybe we were mistaken. Penlight-wielding, Lifesaver devouring dingoes cannot be as harrowing as getting caught in a torrential downpour in a creepy graveyard on All Saints’ Day, searching high and low for a phone booth to summon Stratford’s sole taxi, finding that said taxi would take three or more eventuallys to fetch us (unaware that the train station was approximately two eventuallys away on foot) and yet again nearly missing our train. The trip was given the perfect finishing touch by the presence of a man on our return train with a missing finger. On the whole, we give our weekend, and England, two stumps up.