It's Saturday night and I am cruising down the M40 in a rental car towards London. I am taking four of the men in our cast back to their wives, fiancés and children. I thought I was going to be a home-wrecker at the RSC. Instead I am bringing families together. The trains aren't working on Sunday so we have all chipped in to rent a car. For some reason I am the designated driver. People must really want to get out of Stratford.
I think it is something to do with the fact that we are now in show call, where we're free all day and only have to perform in the evening. 'Show call!' I have been whispering it under my breath for months like a magic spell, willing it to appear. I have been whispering it to other cast members in long tech sessions, in early morning understudy rehearsals to spur us on, to stop us from falling asleep. 'Show call!' It felt like the world's most delicious carrot at the end of an eight-month-long stick.
However now it's arrived I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it. Mainly because there is not very much left to do in Stratford-upon-Avon itself. I have visited almost all of Shakespeare's Heritage sites. 'Tudor world' is next on my list. It suddenly makes sense as to why they keep us working all hours of the day here. The windowless rehearsal rooms were the bane of my life. However a big part of me is now longing to be back there rehearsing, to be throwing ideas around, making mistakes, discovering new things. Left to our own devices after having every hour previously planned out, a lot of actors are now wandering the town, bumping into each other like friendly, slightly stunned ghosts.
People are also a bit stunned because of the recent political events. Doing these shows weirdly does help make sense of it all though. Theatre seems to do that. Ben Johnson's world of greed and deception in The Alchemist where the rich come out on top and the poor remain powerless doesn't seem too dissimilar to today's Britain. Faustus' line 'I gave my soul for my cunning' has a sinister ring to it. Johnson and Marlowe's plays feel more relevant than ever, shining a light on our weaknesses and on our humanity centuries later.
The following Monday afternoon we are cruising back to Stratford the way we came. Everyone tells me they have had a great weekend. I have done my bit to prevent some of the ill effects of the 'Royal Separation Company'. I myself have met friends in Soho, been dancing to the early hours, eaten Turkish breakfasts and squeezed in not one but two internet dates. One was a disappointment, the other a total disaster. Serves me right for being so desperate to find a doomed fling to throw myself into.
We take junction 15 into Stratford. I won't be travelling back to London until we finish the season here. I have decided to think of the next five weeks of 'Show Call' as a five-week Stratford holiday. A five-week holiday of hanging out with my puppy Zeus, of avoiding the minefield of internet dating. Five weeks of having the privilege to perform in plays that challenge, enlighten and entertain both us and our audiences. Josh, our assistant director, has called some exciting play readings and workshops over the next few weeks to keep us busy. I have five weeks to explore Warwickshire. I tell my passengers I will rent a car again and drive with my puppy and any bored actor who will risk it to the Cotswolds, to National Trust houses, on long walks, to any open, sweet smelling field I can get roaming through before we are buried deep under the Barbican towers.
And there is always Tudor world. It would be a shame not to pop my head in after all this time...