Life in Stratford

Dear Brett

I'm sorry I've not written earlier but since arrival here in Stratford things have moved at a rather alarming pace and this is the first moment I've had to reflect and think and write. I hope in my letters to you I can do this place justice. I'm sorry we never met. When I met your mother at the final round of auditions, I could only imagine you and I are so much alike. She chose people like you, I think. People who love deeply, think deeply and can't imagine a life without the stage. I'm sorry your curtain came down so soon, I only hope you got your standing ovation on arrival at your final destination.

Life in Stratford is like no other... Being South African we understand that we do everything; we strike sets, build sets, do our own make-up, source our own costumes and then when the work is done we are expected to arrive on opening night focussed and ready to deliver a performance. Here in the birthplace of Shakespeare there are vocal coaches, wig makers, production managers and even, as I discovered today, sports massages when the body has had enough.

It has been the most interesting few days of my life being here. I feel like Stratford royalty! Everyone knows who we are and are excited to meet and talk to us - the cousins from South Africa. Yes indeed Brett, they want to know about us!

I've spoken with so many people and what makes me feel like I belong here is that I too love Shakespeare - and believe me when I tell you that is all you need to get by here.

Since arrival, the tours of the town and its amazing offerings have surprised me. Shakespeare walked these fields. Shakespeare breathed this air. Shakespeare lived here. Brett - he hasn't left! He is everywhere around us here and that is what makes his work so tangible and so real and so felt. I understand him now, more than before. I get why he wrote about things and what inspired his work. What a humbling thing to do - walk into his birthplace and touch the walls he lived in.

The sun has shone since we got here and the grass is green, as are the trees. There is a smell in the air that reminds me of fairy tales and Enid Blyton books. The air is warm and as I walk the streets of Stratford I find comfort in the shady parts.

Today I met Cecily Berry [Director of Voice]. She is everything I imagined and more. She is like an oracle with a voice that makes me think of old wisdom and strong women. Playing with sonnets and discovering how to use them as pieces of dramatic work rather than poems to be analyzed in a literature class helped me remember that Shakespeare himself was like you and I - an actor.

We ate lunch on Saturday in a pub called The Dirty Duck - a local hangout for actors over the years. One could argue it's more famous that the theatre itself! I wouldn't normally bang on about a lunch but when I sat at the table, I saw a small inscription written in black marker dated 1969 saying 'Judi Dench was here'. But wait - it gets more exciting: the person sitting to my left was a great director working here at the RSC - Greg Doran - and to my right sat Sir Antony Sher. And they asked about me - they were interested in me! And as I sat there, where Judi had sat all those years before, nestled neatly between Greg and Sir Tony, I thought 'My God, I'm here!'

I really wish you were here, Brett. We'd have so much to talk about.

Yours in acting,

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Teaching Shakespeare