Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Shakespeare's Rose

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.


tina said...

Awesome pictures! That rose at the get go got me right away. I have a post prepared on roses by any other name as well so thanks for the quote! I am not a fan of roses in my garden, but in others and botanical gardens they are awesome!I sure wish my delphiniums would look like those you pictured. Such a beautiful blue and so full! One month to go, it will pass SO quickly! Enjoy it all. I sure enjoyed the pics and especially liked the cathedral ceiling.

kate smudges said...

That was a wonderful post. I enjoyed reading about the Shakespeare production - it must have been a treat for your children. I loved the idea that there is a Manga on Romeo and Juliet. How cool is that!

Your photographs of the Oxford Botanical Gardens were simply stunning. I would so like to visit there someday. Have you ever read Gretel's blog, Middle of Nowhere ( She lives in Oxfordshire ... and I am sure knows some wonderful places. (Warning: she makes incredibly beautiful needlefelted animals and other lovely things ... she made my little fishy).

I enjoy your restaurant review too.

John Kelly said...

What timing. Ruth and I visited the Oxford Botanical Gardens just last week. I liked the carnivorous plants greenhouse. We couldn't decide which was the Will & Lyra bench. The map shows a bench where there isn't one, but we sat on another that could pass for the one mentioned in the Pullman novel.

Sarah Laurence said...

Tina, I thought those lovely blue flowers might be delphiniums, but they were so much larger and thicker than I’d ever seen them in the US. I guess all the rain does produce wonders. The delphiniums made me think of Maine lupines which must be out in full force now. I’m looking forward to your rose post!

Kate, thanks again for sending me to the Botanical Gardens, and now you’ve sent me to a lovely Cotswold blog too. That would be the place to live as an illustrator. It was fascinating to read about the children’s books industry. Since I’m both a writer and an artist, my agent would love me to do one. One day….

John, the carnivorous plants disappointed me. I imagined snapping petals and frantic buzzing flies. Perhaps they were dieting. I have no idea about the Lyra bench, but I did enjoy sitting on a bench by the iris shrouded pond. I took out my book but ended up just admiring the view. I could see why that setting would have captured Pullman's imagination.

Alyson | New England Living said...

Loved this post! I like the mix of Shakespare and beautiful flowers. Oh, and the book recommendations too! So full of information!

P.S. I think your husband is right about that chesire cat!

Anonymous said...

Excellent photos, Sarah. The pictures of Regent's Park are very good. Did you see the movie version of Romeo and Juliet with Leonard di Caprio and Claire Danes? The Friar with the tattoos stole the show IMHO.

Sarah Laurence said...

Alyson, it has been a storybook year with roses, Shakespeare and chesire cats.

“Peter P,” buying Pete Poslethwaite a pint at the Mermaid is no excuse for identity theft even if you praise his film performance. I agree that Poselthwaite, as the film friar, stole the show. Claire Danes was a brilliant Juliet. The movie was a fun contemporary take which would appeal to teens especially. I loved it too.

Bee said...

Oh, I love your pictures! Beautiful roses . . .

Thanks for the great tip on the Romeo and Juliet production. I'm definitely going to try to get some tickets.

And funnily enough, I just visited the Oxford Botanical Gardens as well.

Gretel said...

Ah the dear Botanical Gardens! Thank you for popping over to my blog, I was going to say, if you have any time, you are welcome to pop over for a cup of tea, drop me an email (on my profile) if you'd like to, I can't promise anything as grand as Oxford, (though our untidy little cottage is 240 years old). We are about 6 miles over from Burford, which you have probably been to by now, over Witney way, towards Gloucestershire.

BTW - four of the eight cats on our lane are ours...but they weren't terrorising the jackdaws, they are far too lazy!

Sarah Laurence said...

PG, welcome to my blog and thanks for the invitation!

Sarah Laurence said...

Bee, I'm enjoying your rose too. It's by my computer now because it smells so sweet.

That is funny that so many of you were at the Botanical Gardens but we only met in cyberspace.

Anonymous said...

What flowers. Can smell them from here. We are in lupine season here in Maine...seas of them.
I played the nurse once. I fear I was boring and staid.
Grabben i graven brevid (mycket battre titel) reminded me of E. Anjie Proulx's Newfoundland book for some know, the guy with the big chin. Something about the tone. Greyness and butter?

Sarah Laurence said...

Charlotte, enjoy those lupines seas for me. I’ve just been reading the New Yorker fiction edition, and there’s a tough and gritty E. Annie Proulx story in it focusing on female characters for a change, “Tits-up in a Ditch.” It’s a great issue with nonfiction pieces by Allegra Goodman and Haruki Murakami too. I can see what you mean about the similar tone, but I like Proulx better. Mazetti is lighter but very funny. I suspect she was better in the original Swedish. Thanks again for the recommendation. Dove Grey Reader (see my blog roll) also recommended it.

Katarina said...

I remember seeing one of Shakespeare's plays at the open theatre almost 30 years ago... It was a fantastic way of experiencing Shakespeare!
I hope you will continue your blog after leaving Oxford. I've decided to read your books during my summer vacation which starts in a couple of days. I'm really looking forward to them.

Everything Natural Pet Food said...

What wonderful pictures. I could smell the roses just looking at them. The out door theater must be a marvelous experience for you. Keep up the good adventure. I enjoy reading it.

Sarah Laurence said...

Katarina, that is the nicest thing you can say to an author, but I’m afraid you’ll have to pencil my novels onto your vacation 2010(?) list. My agent is looking for a publisher for MOOSE CROSSING now. S.A.D. is still a work in progress (the revision phase.) I hope to start writing NOT CRICKET in the fall when I’m feeling nostalgic for my time in England.

If you’re curious about the long process of turning a manuscript into a published novel, read this post of mine:
Shaping a Novel (S.A.D.)

When my books sell, I will definitely announce the good news on my blog and website. My agent would sell North American rights first, then the UK and some other countries. I’ll remind her then that I have readers in Sweden and over 50 countries. What I enjoy so much about blogging is that it links a whole world together and that publishing happens in a click. Comments like yours keep me typing another word in this author marathon – thank you!

Until I reach the finish line, you'll still have my blog to read as I'll keep it going back home in Maine. For vacation reading recommendations, there’s a link list of books I reviewed on my sidebar.

ENPP, welcome and thanks for your nice words!

Anil P said...

In those whorls
Play out dramas,
Acquiring colours
The shade of every twist.

Why should it matter
What you call a rose,
So long as those whorls
Mirror the twists,
And colour the characters.

This was a wonderful narrative of a day out.

Sarah Laurence said...

Anil, is this your poetry? It's lovely and fits that day perfectly. Thank you. You have so many talents!

Katarina said...

Sarah - I realized last night when I searched for your first book on the internet, that I couldn't get hold of it yet. But I'm patient - I'll wait for it!

Sarah Laurence said...

Katarina, thank you! Fingers crossed that the wait won't be too long. Have a lovely vacation.

Lisa at Greenbow said...

What a grand tour. Thank you for taking us along. I think I agree with your husband about the gargoyle being an inspriation for the cheshire cat. The ceiling of the cathedral is gorgeous. They just don't make buildings like they used to.

The Shakespeare production looked like great fun. The venue is the best.

These roses are yummy looking. When I see an exceptionally pretty rose I always want to take a bite of it. Maybe I haven't grown out of that baby stage of tasting everything new in my world. Ha...

Elizabeth said...

Dear Sarah,
I hope you are having a wonderful time in Oxford?
Who would not?
I came to your blog via PG. - and found it fascinating.
We are back in NY after spending two years in Marrakech - though I was born in England and went to art school in Oxford.(where my first novel was set!)
I think we'd have much to chat about.
All best wishes

Digital Flower Pictures said...

Beautiful roses and other pictures. I loved the one of the pond.

Rose said...

What a wonderful post--so glad I found you! I taught Romeo and Juliet to high school freshmen for thiry-four years as well as other Shakespeare to seniors. Seeing it on stage always brought it to life for them. This sounds like a wonderful place to view it.
Lovely flowers, but I'm envious of your getting to spend so much time in England. Enjoy the rest of your stay!

Sarah Laurence said...

Welcome, Lisa! I wish I could post images scratch and sniff. The scents of those roses were divine (not sure about the taste!) Interestingly, some of the plainest roses smelled the sweetest. I enjoyed seeing your flowers too – so much diversity in your garden.

Welcome, Elizabeth! It was so nice chatting with you. I’m looking forward to reading your Oxford novel after I finish writing mine. I try to avoid reading anything too similar while I’m writing early drafts. I will be visiting your NYC blog and catching up with your stunning photos on your Morocco blog. What an interesting life you’ve had and so many parallels to mine.

Welcome DFP! I enjoyed the photos on your GBBD post too. Such lovely roses!

And welcome, Rose! Roses do seem to be the GBBD June theme. They are such lovely flowers but so much work to grow. I admire you for taking the time. Your signature shot is just gorgeous. I'm sure your students enjoyed Romeo and Juliet - I still remember reading it out loud in class during 6th grade. I was not too happy about being the nurse - if only I'd seen this production, I would have changed my tune.

joco said...

Sarah, thanks for pointing out the wonky link. I was sure I tested it on the preview. Just goes to show I am out of the habit of posting.

What a great combo: the park, shakespeare, roses, bloomday. Very nice.
Westside Story music must have been a fitting background.

Those yellow flags by the lake make that picture a real winner.

You will continue your blog, won't you?

Look forward to the cygnet pix.

Sarah Laurence said...

Joco, I make link mistakes myself, easily done. Thanks for your nice comments, and, yes, I will definitely keep blogging once I go home to Maine.

Curmudgeon said...

I love roses--in anybody else's garden. Ours are looking pretty sad right now. You name it, they have it--rust, black spot, aphids...
We actually woke up to sunshine here in Seattle today--first time since early May. Can that possibly be? They're saying this may be a tomatoless year here. If we make 60s today it'll be a heatwave.
My absolute favorite photo is not a flower but the one of the vaulted ceiling.
I just finished rereading The Tempest in preparation for my summer class--not teaching Shakespear but Césaire's Une tempete. I had to finish reading it before I could come out and play with the other garden bloggers. --Curmudgeon

Carol Michel said...

Sarah, What an excellent tour through Regent park and the botanical garden, with Shakespeare in between. I have always wanted to visit England to see the gardens, and posts like yours make me want to go sooner rather than later.

Thanks for joining in for bloom day.
Carol, May Dreams Gardens

Daphne Gould said...

I have one rose in my garden. I didn't put in on GBBD because it is so sad. I need to take better care of it, or get a better rose. LOL. It never does well here.

I love the delphiniums. The blue color was perfect. I used to have them in my garden, but eventually they die. I need to replace them.

I loved your Shakespeare section. It reminded me of when I used to see his plays every summer with my mother growing up. Certain memories bring back so much: the feel of the stone benches waiting for the play to start; the sound of laughter; the warm breezes flowing by. I remember so many little moments from back then. I miss seeing the plays with my mother. The rest of the family would put up with going, but my mother and I loved it.

Annie in Austin said...

A post like this is lovely to both look at and read, Sarah - especially for those of us who travel via blogs and movies rather than on airplanes.

The play sounds great and the setting is spectacular. Your story of saki being served to your son made me curious enough to google - some sources claim that certain restaurants can serve wine or beer to a 16 and 17-year old when they're with an adult, consuming a meal at a table. If there's any truth to this, your 13-year old would only have to look 16.

Thanks for visiting me for blooming day!

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

Muum said...

love those roses, and what better place to see Shakespeare than in England. thanks for visting my blog!

Sarah Laurence said...

Curmudgeon, I agree about roses- as much as I love them, they are too much work. There’s a woman from Seattle here in Oxford, the two wettest places you could live. Tomatoes are a challenge in Maine too, more due to the short growing season and early frosts – I even have a scene about that in my novel, S.A.D. I love Shakespeare’s Tempest but haven’t read Cesaire’s.

Carol, England is the place for garden tours, but I do enjoy these virtual tours you arrange for everyone else. Thanks for organizing yet another fine Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day – I counted 81 participants listed on your post this morning.

Welcome, Daphne! I don’t have roses in my garden back home in Maine, but I do have delphiniums – favorites of mine too. I hope they survived our being gone this year. What a lovely description of your mother and you sharing a moment.

Annie, I’m glad to be your virtual flight assistant! Okay, I’m relieved he only looks 2 years older as he turns 14 this summer, but not that he could be served in 2 years! Thanks for checking. So far he thinks drink smells gross.

Mumm, thanks – it has been fun to see what is blooming back home in the USA.

Anonymous said...

Oh, your post has made me nostalgic for the time I spent abroad working in Copenhagen (many years ago now). I used to visit their Botanical Garden each time I was there.
I am sure with the adventures you are having your book will be great.
I'm glad I found your blog!

Anonymous said...

How beautiful the roses and the prose! Delphiniums in sky blue make for a perfect day.

Phillip Oliver said...

A delight to discover your blog (I found your link from a comment you made on another blog). I dream of visiting England one day. I have such a strong attraction to that country - I must have lived there in another life!

tina said...

Holy smokes! Tons of comments! Great! I can't wait to see some postings on Maine. I hope there is much blooming there.

Commonweeder said...

What a fabulous posting. Roses and Shakespeare and crispy duck! You can bet I'll come here more often. The roses in the garden at the End of the Road are just starting, and I'm afraid they'll be gone by the next bloom day so I hope you stop by and visit while they are at their best. Although the nice thing about the blogs is that the record is always there.

Sarah Laurence said...

Cindy, welcome! How lucky you were to work in Copenhagen. I feel I haven’t taken full advantage of Europe’s proximity this year, but there’s so much to see just in England. I enjoyed reading your blog too.

Layanee, welcome! Thank you – it was a perfect day. It looks like it was nice in your garden too.

Welcome, Phillip! You must visit England – it’s a gardener’s paradise. Perhaps that’s why you feel the connection. If you can’t visit, I’m happy to be your virtual tour. I feel like I’ve lived 2 lives: in the US and here.

Tina, thanks. It helps to remind me how nice Maine is now. As the year abroad draws to a close, I’m realizing how much I’ll miss England. It’s great to get so many comments and discover so many fun blogs!

Welcome, Pat! Blogs are great at catching those gorgeous blooms and special memories before they fade. I look forward to seeing your roses.

TBM said...

Oh, the English gardens! Before I moved here, I just couldn't understand the appeal. I come from Texas where it's hotter than heck six months out of the year, the mosquitoes swarm in thick clouds, and hay fever reigns year round. I was not an out of doors kind of gal. But one look at England and her lush gardens... that's all it took for me.

My daughter Roxi loves the grass in England and will lie in it whenever she can :-)

Sarah Laurence said...

JAPRA, the English gardens are beyond compare. I wish we could get such blooms in Maine (and no mosquitoes!) but I love real seasons, plentiful sunshine and wilderness even more. There are still many similarities between England and New England. Roxi and you must have had a much bigger adjustment coming from Texas.

TBM said...

Sarah, as much as we all wanted the move, it was a difficult adjustment. We left behind family, a lifetime of friends, and our dog (temporarily)! This is our first overseas assignment, so I didn't realize that there would be a period of adjustment (duh). Right now we are in year two of three and things are so good--too good? We love it here in old Blighty. I know it'll be hard to pack up and fly back when the time comes.

Sarah Laurence said...

JAPRA, I’m going through that transition home right now. We leave in less than 2 weeks, and I’m a total yoyo. I’m eager to go back home but sad about this sabbatical ending. Luckily with English family, we’ll be back again. I’ve lived about 3 years in England over 2 decades.