Newest Review: ... interesting bits here, but overall I found the idea of a video tour annoying. It is impersonal, as you have no real person to ask questions... more
Birth Is The Beginning Of Death
Shakespeare's Birthplace (Stratford-upon-Avon)
Member Name: zoe_page_1
Shakespeare's Birthplace (Stratford-upon-Avon)
Advantages: Well thought out, various areas to pass through
Disadvantages: Expensive as a one off - buy the multi ticket instead
The Shakespeare Birthplace is understandably one of the most visited attractions in Stratford, and often first on people's lists. I'd never been to the town before, so this was a must-do, and we wandered along soon after arriving. Located on Henley Street in the town centre, the Birthplace is a complex of buildings with surrounding gardens. You can spot it a mile off as lots of tourists pose for photos outside it, but the entrance it another 30m or so up the street, through a different building that is less impressive from the outside.
First stop after the ticket booths is a sort of holding pen where they keep you until it's time for your group to move through - a bit like in Legoland or Cadbury World, or most indoor attractions in the UK. While it's a pain if you arrive just as the doors are closing in front of you, on the whole I approve of the set up as it means they filter people through at a steady rate so the place is never too swamped. For about 10 minutes you move through the rooms en masse, stopping for video and audio presentations. Numerous clips show various productions of his works, from old BBC and stage productions to the Baz Lurman one. This part is interesting, not least because it's brief (chairs to sit on in the different rooms are quite sparse, so there's a bit of standing around), and after this you are free to wander off at your own pace to explore the rest of the site, or just sit a while and soak up the atmosphere.
Our first stop was a temporary exhibition on Shakespeare's Women, with paintings and memorabilia from various productions when they finally let females play the female roles, and stopped indulging the cross-dressing whims of the male actors. This is quite a small part of the site, but well worth a nosy round since it's included in the price, and the volunteer curator who chatted to us was especially charming.
From here we passed through the stunning gardens (reminiscent of Toronto's Casa Loma) to enter the birthplace itself, albeit via a new door that didn't previously exist, and has been installed to allow access from the side rather than the main street. Here we had another volunteer guide give us a short, informative introduction before we headed in through the maze of rooms on two floors. There isn't much in the way of explanatory information in these, but it's quite obvious what you're seeing (a fireplace by any other name is still a fireplace), and when you get upstairs to the room where Shakespeare was born there is another guide on hand to point out the key features. Like the red and green drapes on the bed (red to ward off disease etc) and the miniscule speck of green paint still remaining on the fireplace, indicating that the whole thing used to be a rather lovely lime colour.
The rooms are pretty generic, and quite similar to those in Anne Hathaway's cottage, for example, but it's the unique history of the building and its residents that up the interest factor.
Back downstairs we came across a small courtyard with rows of benches facing each other, and two actors dressed the part but not really in character (since they were loudly discussing a Channel 4 show from the previous night). Sensing something was about to happen, we sat for a while and dot on the hour, the two began to perform a short extract from a Midsummer Night's Dream (they didn't tell the audience this, but calling each other Pyramus and Thisbe kinda gave it away). Performances were put on regularly throughout the day, and I'm guessing they did bits from other plays too since there was also a skull lying around looking very Yorick-esque. The show was amusing, but rather curtailed, and I would have liked them to continue through beyond the planning stage of the play within a play, especially as we'd sat for 10 minutes waiting for a show that then lasted only half of that .
Main bit of culture over, we headed to the 3rd building, home to the gift shop (through which you have to walk to exit the site, even if the gingerbread Shakespeare busts or frilly quill pens don't catch your eye).
It costs £12.50 just to visit this site, which seems a bit steep, but it's covered by the 3 Town Houses ticket, or the 5 Houses ticket, both of which offer better value for money. That said, if you only had the time or money to see one, this is probably the place most people would want to visit.
The house itself was interesting enough, but in my opinion it was the staff and volunteers we came across who really enhanced the experience. They were helpful and knowledgeable, and clearly enjoyed their jobs, unlike a number of retail and dining staff we encountered in the town. Highly recommended.
Summary: You wouldn't come to Stratford and not see it...