Ian McKellen Reports from Summer Camp in Stratford
To contradict the guide-books, disillusion the Americans, and state the obvious, every wall in Stratford-upon-Avon is not half-timbered, nor is every roof thatched. The people there have modern lives to live and earnings to gain. Thus the large cattle market meets weekly, attracting farmers from the neighbouring slopes of the smooth Cotswolds. The gas works and the general hospital stand as huge Victorian sentinels of the tiny railway station. A cinema and fish-and-chip shop (bar or saloon) are nearby. The latest addition to these giant anachronisms is an "American Coffee Bar" for the Stratford townsfolk (returning, possibly, their compliment of "English Tea-rooms" for the American visitors!).
It was in this colourful establishment that some Bolton Schoolboys were to be seen and heard on the wetter days of one week last July. They were members of the annual Stratford Camp for Sixth Formers, sited as usual in a grassy meadow bordering the Avon.
This year the camp of about twenty boys was led by Mr W. E. Brown and Mr A. Birch. The four plays we were to see at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre were Hamlet, Othello, The Merchant of Venice and Love's Labour's Lost. Whilst few were entirely satisfied with these productions we are all grateful to the organizers of the camp for allowing us the opportunity of seeing them. Our thanks are also extended to Sergeant Best, who cooked the meals.
Much, indeed too much, has been written about Stratford. Some have referred to "the Shrine"; sentimentalists to the "Heart of England"; and (most amusing of all) that American, Calvin Hoffman, has talked of "enemy territory"! To the Bolton School campers who annually take advantage of its hospitality, Stratford has become a synonym for enjoyment. After the stickiness of the examination room comes the fresh air; "green papers" become the green leaves of the Warwickshire countryside; and, more important, the Shakespeare of set books comes alive in the mouths of the actors of the Memorial Theatre. — Ian McKellen, Autumn 1956
The annual Senior Stratford Camp was held this year two months later than usual. The party of twenty-seven, led by Mr Sawtell and Mr Greene, was thus able to see performances of all the Memorial Theatre's repertoire: The Tempest, As You Like It, Julius Caesar, King John and Cymbeline. Sergeant Best cooked most expertly.
— Ian McKellen, Autumn 1957