Stratford-upon-Avon has 4 million visitors a year, according to the taxi driver who took me (and my daughter) back to the railway station after a short post-Christmas break indulging in culture in the town of Shakespeare’s birth. It was, I must say, a fabulous trip; we had a great time visiting various sites associated with the great Bard, and we indulged ourselves in two amazing productions. The RSC / David Walliams / Robbie Williams collaboration, ‘The Boy in the Dress’, is a joyous and glorious ode to diversity, while ‘The Life and Death of King John’, in Director Eleanor Rhode’s energetic and bold 60’s themed interpretation, was utterly, utterly captivating … and completed by an absolutely brilliant female King John.
Back to those 4 million visitors, though, who clearly come from all corners of the world, given the plethora of languages we heard. Whether it is 4 million visitors, or 2.5 million (according to Wikipedia), or 10 million (according to the Stratford-upon-Avon Herald, 8 Jan 2017), this is a lot of visitors … all drawn to a hub of creative endeavour and excellence inspired by one of the world’s greatest literary inventors and fashioners of words. The fascination of Stratford is not hard to understand; Shakespeare is legendary throughout the world, the town is easily accessible, and the theatre is just phenomenal. (If I were on TripAdvisor now, I would advise you to take a behind-the-scenes tour – fascinating!)
I can’t help feeling, though, that there is something even deeper that attracts us – something that we might not even recognise before we arrive, or may pass our conscious understanding by, if we are not careful to grasp and illuminate the idea as it flits across our mind. There is a sense – which pervades the creative ingenuity that we glimpsed behind the productions – that as human beings, we are limited only by our imaginations … and our imaginations are, indeed, boundless. Technology, the human body … even, it seemed at times, the laws of Physics … all were stretched before our eyes, underpinned (so it must be) by a resolute commitment that anything and everything is possible, if only we set our mind to it.
I venture to suggest that the fascination and popularity of Stratford speaks to the inner core of our human spirit, which – if we release it – transcends artificial national boundaries and reminds us that there is always a solution to the issues and challenges that face us. What better way to start a new decade than to remind ourselves of this?
Happy New Year!