Romeo and Juliet
The lead roles were taken by Francesca Annis and Ian McKellen. I remember it well…
Cast & Crew
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I’ve just seen the amazing Antony and Cleopatra at the National. While talking about it with a colleague at work, she mentioned that she was going to Stratford to see A Christmas Carol. That caused me to reminisce about the only time I’d been there for a play – an A-Level school trip in 1976.
We travelled up from West London in a coach, a group of 16–17 year old boys – some of whom were into Shakespeare and some who, well, were not. We spent the morning roaming round the town (some of us ‘apparently’ tried to get into various pubs, though the school uniforms probably didn’t help this endeavour) and I was persuaded against my better judgement to take a trip in a rowing boat. Sure enough there was an epic battle on the water and how I lived through the day I don’t know.
But then it was time to head off to the theatre. As I often did in those days, I later recorded the trip in a poem, and here’s the section on the play:
Two o’clock came round at last,
And it was time to go:
To see the play we’d come to watch,
Juliet – and Romeo!
“Romeo, Romeo, where art thou?”
The lovely Juliet read;
Tom Crossley gave a snort of rage:
“Down here, you cow!” he said.
On the whole the play was fine:
I enjoyed it every second.
The others said they wanted out:
“Play’s not the thing,” they reckoned!
One or two things spoiled it
Or so it seemed to me.
I couldn’t hear half what they said:
The speech was hardly free.
The play was long, the drinks were warm:
Oh, what a fearful day!
And as for Juliet, oh my God,
What did that woman say?
Mainly we couldn’t hear because were way up at the back, miles from the stage, and probably sound engineering wasn’t too good in those days. Plus, twenty teenagers whispering and rustling sweets.
But ever since then I’ve occasionally wondered who it was we saw that day, and who those poor actors were we dismissed so readily. The conversation with my colleague prompted me to look it up, and so here I am, on the RSC site and here, discovering that not only was the play directed by Trevor Nunn but that it starred Francesca Annis and Ian McKellen! I’ve always regretted never seeing McKellen on stage, and now I find I saw him all those years ago.
So Ian, I’m glad I saw you, even though I didn’t remember you, and Francesca – well, I’m sorry my friend called you a cow (he was really only joking – it’s what everyone says about that line, if they don’t understand what it actually means) – but I have to say, you were really quiet.
A lovely day, good memories, and a huge surprise so many years later.
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