Living and breathing The Bard, Gregory Doran is the Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company. He lives, of course, in Stratford-upon-Avon, both the birth and death place of the William Shakespeare. Here, he shares his favourite cultural haunts in England…
Where’s your favourite place to see a Shakespeare play?
There’s one that tops them all which is of course Stratford-upon-Avon – Shakespeare’s birthplace. It’s a very special place to me, partly because it’s where I first saw Shakespeare. I have an entry in my school-boy diary of 1973 about going to see As You Like It and completely falling in love with it. Shakespeare is still very much alive here. As JB Priestley said while visiting, “Why go and see where he is buried when you can be where he is alive.”
What do you love about Stratford-upon-Avon?
There’s something about the pilgrimage you make to Stratford whether you come like I did as a child from Preston or whether you journey from overseas. There’s something about this place. I’m lucky enough to live by the River Avon right behind Holy Trinity Church and the countryside unfolds through the year with all its splendour. In Stratford you can see Shakespeare in all sorts of different environments whether you go to the theatres or around his properties such as his birthplace, and you can often catch people in costume doing bits of a play. It’s sometimes completely obsessional in Stratford but it’s part of that gloriously quirky Englishness.
Why is Shakespeare still so popular?
If you’re grabbed early by Shakespeare as I was, you get hooked by the stories of witches and ghosts and fairies and battles. And then as you grow with Shakespeare you get engaged with the politics, or the beauty of the language, or the deep psychological characterisation. Somehow he manages to articulate 360 degrees of the human condition and we keep going back to him for sustenance.
Tell us about your favourite cultural site in England?
Apart from of course all the Shakespeare properties in Stratford, it has to be York Minster. I remember just gazing up at that huge stained-glass medieval window which is the size of a tennis court, with those sapphire blues and ruby reds. There are places in England where you can be shivered back centuries in just a moment and York Minster is a place that does that.
If you’re not in the theatre, where would we find you?
A visit to the British Museum in London is a constant moment where you look at yourself in the context of the rest of humanity from ancient times to today. I had the most extraordinary experience working with the British Museum in 2012 on a Shakespeare exhibition. They shared with us some of the most extraordinary items they had. To tell the tale of King Lear, and in particular the part where Gloucester's eyes are gouged out with the line “Out vile jelly!”, they displayed a priest’s eye in a little glass case!
Where do you go to unwind?
The Dirty Duck, which is the actor’s pub in Stratford-upon-Avon. You rehearse all day but actually the real rehearsal goes on after the show in the pub when everybody works out the problems of the play and decides what we should all be doing next as we put the world to rights.
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