How old is old enough to sit through a Shakespearean play at the Swan Theatre? Yesterday, we tested this question and discovered that sometimes the answer is five. This might only work for a relaxed performance when there is Lego close at hand, but it was a new one for me and I was so impressed. More so because the performance didn’t have an interval, so was an hour and forty minutes of Shakespeare with no breather!
Last year, I took my 10 and 8 year olds to the accessible Shakespeare performance in Stratford (it’s £5 for kids, check it out!) and the littlest stayed at home because it was half term. This year, with daddy at work and the now 11 year old not keen, I decided to brave it with a smaller sidekick. He was very excited to pack for our ‘tiny holiday’, and his sister’s beautiful work in preparation for the play even got him excited about that.
The journey up was longer than either child would have liked, although the smallest did complain that he wanted to go to the Lake District too as we did that last time we went to Stratford. We arrived at Mary Arden’s Farm in time for lunch and recovered from the car by playing outside and visiting the animals. Then we popped in to watch the Tudors having their lunch, which looked a lot more appetising than ours!
We spent the afternoon watching owls, playing giant chess and helping to scrub the kitchen table with salt and hot water, and then headed to the youth hostel as my fingers began to freeze. I’ve learned a lot about what works for the children in the last year, and simplicity seems to be the key. Pasta and pesto was the perfect yha meal, and our friends dropped in for games of pool and table football before an early night.
It’s been a pretty stressful term so far, and taking a break from the routine was a fun way to recharge. I did some work as the kids fell asleep and then managed to start a new book and still get more sleep than usual – even considering the 1am interruption when another guest had a long and chatty phone call outside our door… not really ok!
We started bright and early with a quick yha breakfast and went straight into Stratford. My Shakespeare fan had made a beautiful book of the play so we wanted to be extra early to hunt for cast autographs. I thought we were doing really well as we arrived an hour early, then realised I had left my phone (including tickets, camera, entire life…) at the youth hostel. During the run back to the car and drive back to the hostel, I did wonder whether it was worth the hassle of trying to do exciting things. However, we made it back in good time, she chatted with all of the cast and even her favourite contestant on Bake Off, who works there, and all was forgiven.
Studying a play beforehand is pretty key when it comes to Shakespeare and although I would never have picked The Merchant of Venice for children, it was a great experience for her to really get to grips with the story. This RSC version was breathtaking – Shylock’s ‘Do we not bleed?’ speech should be seen by leaders across the world to inform their policies.
So the Shakespeare fan loved the play and the chats with the actors before and afterwards, and the littlest enjoyed building a new Lego model and driving it around the seats quietly. We had lunch with our friends and even managed to squeeze in a visit to Shakespeare’s birthplace and pick up the obligatory Christmas decoration from the Christmas shop opposite.
The drive home wasn’t fun, with heavy rain and accidents to contend with, but we got back safely in time to tuck a sleeping little boy into bed and say goodnight to his big brother, who had also enjoyed a fun break from routine. I feel so lucky to be able to do the things my children love, it’s exciting to see their personalities and dreams developing. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that I love Shakespeare and theatre too, and being able to enjoy it alongside them is pretty much as good as it gets.