My favorite venue for Shakespeare, especially with kids, is the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park. In June Queen Mary’s Rose Gardens are in peak bloom.
Doves flutter across the stage and coo from trees. What better place to hear Juliet ask Romeo:
What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
Timothy Sheader’s Romeo and Juliet was dynamically staged with as much Leonard Bernstein as William Shakespeare in spirit. The 1950’s gang member costumes and the elaborate dance routines were very West Side Story, but the language was from the Bard.
It was visually stunning and engaging. The acting was good too if not as seamless as the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Nicholas Shaw’s Romeo brought a youthful vigor and handsome charm to his role even if Laura Donelly’s Juliet was too girly in her pink gowns, teddy bear and tears. Amazingly Claire Benedict stole the show as the nurse. She was laugh out loud funny, attractive and endearing – her body language, timing and delivery were natural. I was amazed so much could be done with such a stereotypical role. Benedict made it her own. Another star in both performance and humor was Oscar Pearce as Mercutio, and Dale Superville was hilarious in the bit part of Peter.
Watching open air theater in England is a gamble. It’s best to come prepared as if for the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Raincoat, sweater, hat and sunglasses: I used and removed them all. Your kids will get the action better if they know the score, but what if they’re a bit young for reading Shakespeare?
My husband found a manga edition of Romeo and Juliet (U.K. and U.S.A.) that used only true lines and nothing more. Did it work? As we left the production, my ten year-old-daughter asked, “Why didn’t they kill Paris?” We assumed she had that wrong until we checked. The comic book was truer than the abridged performance! My husband explained that most Shakespeare is edited for performances as was the Bard’s intention. Both kids enjoyed it all the same as did their parents. Romeo and Juliet is playing now through August 2, 2008.
After the matinee we strolled through Regents Park. The light is amazing at this time of year in England. The sun (when it shines) rises before 5am and sets after 9pm. The rain and mild climate does make everything so lush and green.
Queen Mary’s Gardens were fragrant with roses in many more hues than you could imagine.
The only down side was that dining options were limited. We had a quick dim sum meal at Ping Pong, which we enjoyed although it’s not as good as Dim-T or China Town elsewhere in London. The restaurant did at least have as many Asian clients, always a good sign. Not such a good sign was when I ordered sake, the waitress brought a cup for my 13-year-old son! He’s grown a lot this year and his voice is dropping, but does he look 18? Freaky!
On the train I finished a fun novel, Benny & Shrimp by Katarina Mazetti. It was a bestseller in Sweden and is now translated into English. I like the Swedish title better: Grabben i Graven Brevid (The Guy in the Next Grave.) It’s a tale of mismatched modern love that starts in a graveyard. It’s light and funny without ever being saccharine. The characterization is great, the writing fresh and if there isn’t much plot, it matters little as the story breezes along. Sadly, I don’t think it’s available in the USA yet, just the UK.
We didn’t have to travel to London for good Chinese food. Shanghai 30’s back in Oxford is surprisingly sophisticated. The setting is a 15th century building with high ceilings, later period detailing and generous windows. We went there a couple of weekends ago.
The crispy duck was especially good as was the spicy Ma Po Tofu, and there were interesting, original dishes like honey roasted chicken in a citrus sauce. The prices were high for Chinese food, but the service was excellent. We also had great company. Through our daughter, we’ve become friends with the Kellstedt family who have been on sabbatical from Texas since January.
Before that dinner we had all gone to Evensong at Christ Church. It’s the largest college chapel and the only cathedral in Oxford. The candlelit service below the high vaulted ceiling was a perfect setting to hear hymns sung in Latin by the choir. It was a very spiritual experience.
Afterwards my husband pointed out a chapel grotesque that he is convinced was the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire Cat. The girls were entranced as both our families had reread Alice in Wonderland at bedtime this Oxford year.
The Oxford Botanical Gardens is another pleasant family excursion. It’s not the nicest or biggest botanical garden you’ll ever see, but it’s a calm oasis from High Street traffic. Lovely Magdalen Tower presides in the background, making it special
I know it’s a garden cliché, but I love a fountain of lily pads, and these were such vibrant colors. The old stone walls were covered in climbing roses, but nothing anywhere near as spectacular as Queen Mary’s Gardens.
The sun was shining (my whining last week worked,) and the Botanical Gardens is one of the few places in Oxford you are allowed to lie on the grass and admire the rare blue sky.
Even on a rainy day, it’s worth a visit for the greenhouses. The tropical vegetation is like a jungle.
These South African clivia miniata were outside a room of cacti. I wish I’d visited in the cold, damp winter. A year membership is just £10, and it’s £3 for a single visit. Students are discounted and school children are free with a parent.
This post is part of Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day. Thank you, Kate, for recommending a visit to the Botanical Gardens. If any of you readers have other recommendations, please post a comment now. I only have one month left to enjoy Oxford. It amazes me that even after 10 months here, I’m still finding more to see.
Photography Credit: Romeo and Juliet photos from the Open Air Theatre's website. All other photos (except book jacket covers) by Sarah Laurence.