Stories

Let Them Attend Plays: On Watching Shakespeare After the Lockdown

"Double double, toil and trouble." It's time for Shakespeare! We watched not one, but two of his plays!

What better way to return to normal life than with a double bill of Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors and Macbeth? After over twelve months that feel like over twelve years of staying inside, we were finally allowed back into the theatre. Want to know what it was like? Read on!

75 years ago, in 1946, a General Practitioner from the village of Diever decided it would be a fun idea to organise his own Dutch version of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. For two hours or so, the audience would forget about the real world, scarred by the Second World War, and be immersed in the lives and loves of Titiana, Oberon, Puck, and many others. Nobody knew how much they needed it, everyone loved it, and the Diever Shakespeare Theatre was born. Up until this day, the Bard’s plays are performed there each year during the summer months.

Back in Shakespeare’s time, the Black Plague raged. One of the ways to prevent the disease from spreading was by closing the theatres. As soon as they’d reopen, people would immediately visit them and enjoy a couple of plays to forget about their lives. When the Government decided that the theatres would reopen and the Diever Shakespeare Theatre announced that tickets were available, I thought of these people and noticed how similar the situation was (even though, thankfully, not half the world’s population has died from this disease). I bought tickets for my dad, with whom I had already seen several plays at Diever, and my boyfriend, who isn’t a real theatre fan but was won over by my enthusiasm and batting eyelashes, and myself, and I was so excited about the play that during our drive towards the theatre I kept bouncing up and down in my seat. Thankfully, they considered my weird behaviour contagious rather than annoying, and that’s how we all ended up in an excellent mood when we arrived.

We were about an hour early, but still I jumped out of the car and marched towards the theatre, determined to soak up the whole experience for as long as possible. Unlike other years, there was music, too, which made queuing to show we’d either been vaccinated or had been tested negative for Covid much more entertaining. There was an acoustic band playing a random collection of rock classics, or so we thought.

It turns out that even pop music is highly indebted to Shakespeare, for, so the lead singer explained, all of them pay their respects to him in some small way. For instance, there was Bruce Springsteen’s Fire, which mentions Romeo and Juliet, or The Stranglers’ No More Heroes singing about all the “Shakespearoes”, or Radiohead’s Exit Music (For a Film), which features in Baz Luhrmann’s film Romeo + Juliet. My brain was close to exploding, because a combination of the upcoming plays and some of my favourite songs was almost too much to handle. However, I managed to calm down, sipped some wine, talked to some of the actors and other members of the audience (all of whom were almost as excited as I was, but more able to contain themselves), and was still conscious by the time the first play started.

I had never seen a double bill before, so I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t know whether they would do one play before the break and the other one after, or combine the two of them into one play. Turns out, they started with the first half of Comedy of Errors, then quickly changed clothes and performed the first part of Macbeth, had a short break, continued with The Scottish Play (Macbeth is considered cursed, and even mentioning the title would bring bad luck), and finished with Comedy of Errors. And oh, it was glorious.

When we think of a modern comedy, we want it to be funny. In Shakespeare’s time, the difference between comedy and tragedy was its ending: if people lived happily ever after and got married at the end, it was a comedy, and if people died, it was a tragedy, regardless of what happened in between. The Diever Shakespeare Company, while staying true to these genres, excels in our meaning of the word comedy, for we roared with laughter during not only Comedy of Errors (which, essentially, is about a bad case of mistaken identity), but also throughout the bloody and gruesome Macbeth (a man hears a prophecy he will become king, so he murders people and is eventually murdered, too). Especially the transition between the dark ending of Macbeth and the final part of Comedy of Errors was glorious to behold. Both plays were funny, clever, and, despite being translated into Dutch, quintessentially Shakespeare (take a look at this post if you want to sound Shakespearean too). I wished this night would never end, for I wasn’t quite ready to return to reality.

As we all know, however, everything has to come to an end eventually, and so did these two plays. Theatre has always had the magical ability to raise people’s spirits, and tonight was no exception. I knew that I needed it, but I didn’t know that I would be so ecstatic to watch a real play again.

Clearly, there is no better way to start our post-pandemic life than with these two plays, and my opening question was rhetorical. Everything starts with Shakespeare.

What’s your favourite Shakespeare play? What are you most looking forward to visiting in a post-pandemic world? Do let me know in the comments! Also, don’t forget to follow me for more book-related posts!

A note on this picture: I wanted to post this picture on my Instagram page to celebrate the occasion. I dusted off this book of mine (actually my dad’s, but he doesn’t know I stole it from his library – thanks, dad!), which is so old it might as well have been printed when Shakespeare was alive (actually, no, because that way it might actually be worth something). It’s so old that the dust jacket ripped when I touched it, and I had to tape it together using some tape. It’s done so unprofessionally that showing these pictures would make poor old Mr Shakespeare turn over in his grave. Let’s pretend this never happened.

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