I live in Stratford-upon-Avon. I have spent the week coming to terms with this. My final day in London was spent with my boyfriend and my puppy Zeus, visiting the most gentrified cafes and pubs that Stoke Newington has to offer. It has a lot to offer. I ate smashed avocado and poached egg on sourdough for breakfast. I dropped the puppy off at my parents house so that we could go see an art house film in an art house cinema. We then picked up the puppy again and took him for a walk, dropping into to overpriced boutique clothing shops on the way, finishing up in a new gastro pub that does pints and pies served on blue and white china plates, you know the ones. The lighting was low, the beers were craft, everything was expensive and my wire-haired miniature Dachsund puppy was adored by all the clientele who wore oversized woollen jumpers, beards, subtle dip dyes and casual piercings.
I love these things. I am a wanky actor who is a snob about anywhere that isn't London, or specifically anywhere that isn't North/East London. I love being able to jump on my trendy fixy bike and find culture in galleries and museums (which I never go to) or up to the Heath and swim at Hampstead ponds (I have never done this) or just being able to roam and explore one of the greatest cities in the world (I barely ever leave Stoke Newington)
Basically I was panicked about living in a small town because everything closes early and the only coffee shops are Costa. And I had to DRIVE there. I hate driving. I'm terrible at it. My Mum insured me on her Mini Cooper and I headed down to Stratford with my life in the back. I couldn't see through the rear window. I made it to Stratford on adrenalin. I couldn't die. I was about to join the RSC. Where Dame Judi started. STARTED. When I arrived outside stage door to pick up my keys I was so relieved I drove the car straight into a stone wall. Josh, our assistant director on Faustus witnessed this. We made shocked faces at each other through the glass. I made a snap decision that I didn't care about the paintwork or my mum's reaction and pulled out into the road without looking, narrowly missing an oncoming car. Hello Stratford. Take me back to London. Where I am not putting people's lives at risk. Where everyone avoids driving. Where we willingly stand on the tube tasting someone else's morning breath for an hour in order to get to work.
Instead of the length of the Northern line, my commute to work in Stratford takes 10 minutes on foot. Everyone around me walks slowly. 'I HAVE TO GO AT THIS PACE FOR SIX MONTHS??!' I thought on Tuesday morning's commute. But by Wednesday I couldn't help it, in a different wanky actor way I began to breathe. Slower. I began to walk slower. In time with the pace of a small Warwickshire town. Shakespeare's birthplace. The beauty and magic of the river and the cobbled streets got to me. By Thursday I was enjoying myself on the walk. The skies were bright and clear and I felt revived and awake. I had been sleeping deeply because it's so quiet here. There are also, in fact, a lot of independent cafes that do skinny flat whites.
It hasn't hurt either that my walk is the walk that so many other actors I admire before me have done. Or that once we get to Arden street rehearsal rooms we have the whole of the Royal Shakespeare Company and its wonderful resources working on making the production as outstanding as it can be. Across all departments, often working 10am to 10pm. Designers and dressers and wiggies and make up and props and A LIVE BAND. The band call was something else. I think it's safe to say Marlowe would have approved of the music Orlando Gough has composed for this production of Doctor Faustus. We have also been filming parts of the production for projections on stage in our full make up and costume. It's sexy and ugly and gorgeous and awful and starting to look a lot like hell.
When we leave rehearsals in the evenings the streets are deserted. And everything IS closed. Apart from the Dirty Duck. It's better than any Hackney gastro pub. It's the real deal. The pies cost a fiver, the beer is Becks on tap, and the clientele is Thesps. There was not a nonchalant, self conscious tattoo in the building. It was all warm bear hugs and kisses on cheeks and love-fests about mutual actor friends. Surrounded by the famous RSC faces of the past framed on the walls. Zeus is going to love it in the Dirty Duck.
As I wandered home after few too many pints I felt happy, calm and excited. There wasn't a siren or nightclub in earshot and I began to grapple with the idea that I might not need the addictive, uncomfortable, FOMO inducing pace of London. I am falling in love with this place and this pace. The air smells like air should smell, in the daylight it's possible to see a horizon, and most importantly - the work. I am engulfed in acting work where the plays are given such care, skill and resources.
Oh and Boston tea rooms is opening up next to the rehearsal rooms in March. They do smashed avocado and poached eggs on sourdough. Thank GOD.