Friday, 16 April 2021

The Shakespeare Club

 Can't resist this.  An extract in The Guardian last year from Robert McCrum's terrific book 'Shakespearean' in which he introduces 'the Shakespeare Club'.   I am a proud member, here identified as 'the archivist' (which I'm not really, only more so than the others).

During 20 years of recovery, I slowly transformed a knowledge of the plays I had read at school into a wider acquaintance with the Shakespeare canon, and joined the “Shakespeare Club”, a dedicated play-going circle. That’s what we call it – sometimes, casually “the Club” – which might suggest oak panelling, library chairs, a dress code and a discreet entryphone somewhere in the West End, an association that might turn out to be either furtive or seedy. Actually, it’s neither; we are natural herbivores. If you spotted us in the theatre bar of the Donmar or the National, you might decide we were civil servants in mufti, or off-duty English teachers from the shires, or possibly journalists, which is approximately half right. Three of the seven who make up the Shakespeare Club – now guzzling peanuts and cheap red wine – have worked for newspapers. And yes – oh dear, yes – we are, until quite recently, an all-male, English fraternity. As middle-class metropolitans, we occupy a variety of roles: novelist, journalist, academic, publisher, actor, scriptwriter, and finally our archivist.

This club was established through the persistence of a former venture capitalist who used to go to Shakespeare plays with his college friends. When it became the tradition to have a pizza afterwards, to hash over what they’d just seen, the “Shakespeare Club” began. Today, we are a quintessentially English mix of stage-struck, self-improving playgoers with Eng Lit degrees. Occasionally, rash intruders who should know better will ask about our “favourite Shakespeare”. For the Club, this is an absurdly intimate inquiry. Any one of these plays, in a great production, can find a special place in our affections. Yes, we love LearMuch Ado, and The Tempest, but we also cherish an independence of taste that delights in Love’s Labour’s Lost, any of the Henry plays, or Measure for Measure. Indeed, the only Shakespeare we’ve never seen, because it’s so rarely staged, is The Two Noble Kinsmen.

If there’s one unspoken club rule, it’s that when we meet, we only discuss the play in question: no gossip; no politics; no families; and no football. As an association, we demonstrate near-Olympic sang-froid. As I write, the gods are smiling upon us, but in the past decade – not to mince words – two of our number have got divorced, one of us checked into rehab, and all of us have had distressful troubles with teenage kids. But did any of us ever so much as mention, or even allude to, these torments? Did we hell! No, we are here to see the show. It might sound dull, but it’s surprisingly addictive. We argue, we quote, we tease, admonish, reminisce, and protest (too much); on a good night, we might even get swept away by what we see. We are, no doubt, typical of English audiences through the ages, hommes moyens sensuels.