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Days Out: Shakespeare in your living-room, with Peter Taylor

It’s becoming more difficult to go on days out as the cold weather creeps in. But somehow this page has to be filled.

I tried to muster up the courage to take a train from Charlton to London Bridge for the theatre on Tuesday. The moment I stepped outside I was slapped in the face by hail and sleet. That put an end to that idea.

As I sat in our cold flat, waiting for the heating to turn on for the 45 minute blast we have budgeted, my roommate said: “If the mountain won’t come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mountain.”

Some interpret this ancient phrase to mean that you have to accept that sometimes your will cannot overcome some obstacles.

Does this mean I should accept the fact that the summer has gone, no matter how much it hurts, and that I will be spending more cold lonely nights in Charlton from now on?

No. The problem Muhammad had, was that he didn’t have the internet to help him move the mountain.

I searched Google for “ways to entertain yourself in your house”. By-passing a few of the less PG suggestions, I stumbled upon a new app/website called Bard.

Instead of going to the theatre, travelling to a gig or taking your partner to see some comedy – the performers come to you. In a couple of clicks I had ordered Shakespearean actor extraordinaire Peter Taylor for the following day.

His biography on the website said: “Shakespeare has influenced my life and values more than any other writer. I love to share my passion by performing, reading and talking about his speeches and his sonnets.”

Peter Taylor and some of the audience for his talk

Then, unless Peter likes to refer to himself in the third person, an unknown reviewer takes over the description saying: “A true master of the theatre, Peter will create a performance you won’t forget in a long time.”

Sounds like as a good a way as any to spend a wintery Wednesday night. So there I was with my three flatmates, a couple of ragtag friends I’d managed to coax in at the last minute and a smiling wiry-haired Peter.

“I am an eternal child,” the 60-something-year-old said, before he told us the most incredible background story.

He had been working in theatre for decades. He was an anecdote jukebox. Pop in a question and a story of some magical period of his life came out, whether that was finding romance with a budding starlet, going on wild nights with Ian McKellen or directing a dramatic performance in the open air Minack Theatre in Cornwall – a theatre that is carved out of the coastline rock.

Now, here he was talking to a bunch of gormless 20-somethings in Charlton. For Peter it didn’t matter.

He performed like we were an audience of 2,000 in the West End. His act consisted of a selection of speeches from Shakespeare’s canon. He would set the scene before he started, telling us what was happening, why it was significant and a bit of the history around it.

Then his head would drop and his eyes closed like he was going into a trance. When he slowly lifted his head again, he would have transformed into Hamlet, or King Lear or Macbeth.

As I have referenced in a previous Days Out, I find it difficult to fully concentrate and understand Shakespeare plays when I see them at the theatre.

Peter’s bitesize performances were far more amenable to my short attention span.

After every speech he drew us into a discussion. It was expertly done.

Peter was booked for 30 minutes, but he ended up staying much longer. It was a much more dynamic experience than a regular theatre show.

We got an insight into the world behind the stage and how the actors approach their parts.

As Shakespeare writes in As You Like It: “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players.”

For a moment, our little house felt like an amphitheatre.

To find out more about the Bard, go to www.bard-app.co.uk

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