Postcard from Stratford-upon-Avon: a theatrical sneak preview (or two)

Stratford's alms houses on Church Street

To be, or not to be in the Mr & Mrs Smith hotel collection, that is the question. And in the case of the Church Street Townhouse, the brilliant and bijou boutique hotel in Stratford-upon-Avon where Mr & Mrs Smith checked in last night, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’. Especially with picturesque views of the historic half-timbered alms houses across the road (above), antique and boutique browsing just down the street, and exciting eateries a short stumble away.

Cue cheering, rounds of applause, and exit stage left, because today it’s also curtain up on another new treat in the birthplace of the bard: the long-awaited reopening of the RSC’s traditional Stratford home, the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

We managed to sneak in yesterday to preview the building ahead of its public opening today, and can’t rave enough about the new spaces, which include a thrust stage with a 1,040-seat auditorium, a Modernist-feel tower with a spectacular 32m-high viewing platform, a new Riverside Café and the beautifully designed Rooftop Restaurant (below).

Rooftop Restaurant at Stratford's new RSC theatresThis hot-ticket dining destination has more than a few outstanding design details: part of the original theatre wall has been retained to divide up the huge curving double-height space – including a bank of seats to show how absurdly far away the audience once sat from the stage; and there are some to-die-for bespoke Corvo dining chairs by Bernhardt Design (you can just see them in my pics, in maple with teal upholstery). The same high-design ethic continues throughout, with reclaimed marquetry doors, teak floorboards and Deco lighting all making a comeback for the new season.

Sadly we weren’t able to preview the food as well as the interiors, so for our next visit, we’ve slated the Middle White pork fillet with butter-poached potatoes, apple and black pudding; seared skate and pork cheek with butternut squash and raisin relish; and poached Packham pear with set buttermilk pudding and nut tuile. Drool. All accompanied by leafy vistas across the Bancroft Gardes and the River Avon, of course.

Cleverly updated with sensitive architectural additions bridging the original Victorian Swan Theatre and the (accoustically problematic but cinematically scaled) 1930s Art Deco venue, this revised RST will host not only a fantastic new 2011 season of performance to celebrate its 50th anniversary, but a slew of specially commissioned artworks, workshops, talks and events.

Church Street Townhouse hotel, Stratford-upon-AvonSTAY
After shouting ‘bravo, encore!’ at this historic venue, you couldn’t ask for a cosier welcome than you’ll find a few minutes’ walk away on Church Street: the Church Street Townhouse’s ground-floor bar and brasserie has already become the byword for stylish conviviality among savvy Stratford-dwellers (especially on Friday evenings, when their crazy-cheap Champagne happy hour makes every guest feel like Rockefeller).

Head upstairs to Room 3 and you’ll find an enticing roll-top bath behind heavy red drapes (right) – perfect for acting out a few of your own, ahem, scenarios. Look out for this buzzy boutique B&B when it launches in the Smith hotel collection the week after next (or ring our travel team on 0845 034 0700 to book now, if you really can’t wait that long).

SHOP
Anticipating the influx of culture-seeking weekenders that the new theatre will draw, Stratford’s undergoing a mini-renaissance of its own, with new bistros, boutiques and bars waiting in the wings. Our top style spots? VH & Co on Sheep Street, the clothing arm of independent interiors shop Vinegar Hill, for quirky brands like By Malene Birger; and Mosaique, a designer womenswear boutique on Wood Street (01789 295820) stocking Philosophy di Alberta Ferretti, Nicole Farhi and MaxMara, among others.

The Garrick InnEAT
Along with London standards such as Carluccios, Patisserie Valerie and the like, a clutch of pavement cafés is set to flourish along the riverside; and on eaterie-packed Sheep Street, new bar and restaurant Grant’s promises a more contemporary interior (and menu) than Stratford’s half-timbered classics currently offer. But, as any Shakespeare fan will attest, quality always stands the test of time, and old favourites The Vinter and Lamb’s (also both on Sheep Street) are not to be overlooked. If you’re all about the historic atmosphere, The Garrick Inn has beautiful timbered façade.

For more inspiration, check the Mr & Mrs Smith website early in December for our full insider destination guide to Stratford-upon-Avon…

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