There’s something about an after-hours event.
Special, yes. Fortunate, definitely. Perhaps even a little… what’s the word I’m looking for? Naughty. Yes, that’s it. That naughty feeling of being somewhere people wouldn’t normally be at this hour. Like hanging behind at school when all the teachers have gone home when you’re young, or enjoying a lock-in at a pub when you’re older.
Bardtanicals: a VIP invitation
So when a beautifully handwritten envelope dropped on my doormat and an invitation to Bardtanicals, an after-hours VIP experience of Shakespeare’s Birthplace, slipped out, that rush of giddy delight swept in.
An invitation – an actual invitation, not just an email or a Whatsapp group chat – trimmed in a botanic print, seducing with details such as cocktails, storytelling, a private tour of the house, a red carpet.
A red carpet? I’m in.
A VIP experience of Shakespeare’s Birthplace
Hundreds of thousands of tourists (and locals like me) visit Shakespeare’s Birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon every year, pouring through the entrance on Henley Street to see the home where a young William Shakespeare – the greatest playwright the world has ever known – took his first breath, toddled his first uneasy steps, and possibly even scrawled his first wobbly-lettered words.
Tonight, on a balmy evening, when the colours of summer are beginning to paint Britain in a new and alluring light, it is all mine. Mine, and the other guests of Warwick Events, who are here to sip cocktails inspired by the Bard, see the house (some for the first time) and be entranced by the performances of the Shakespeare Aloud troupe, who are in regular attendance in the birthplace courtyard, entertaining visitors with snippets of Shakespeare.
A VIP entrance
After lingering on the red carpet for as long as I can (long enough to feel like I’m in Cannes, not long enough to draw awkward stares), I step into the gardens. The team at Warwick Events has managed to make the Shakespeare’s Birthplace gardens even more beautiful, with pretty wildflowers in mason jars, casually-but-carefully placed gardening tools as decoration, and a rustic cocktail bar heaving with greenery and thoughtfully-crafted cocktails.
Bardtanicals: the cocktails
With hints taken from Macbeth, the Hubble Bubble cocktail contains rhubarb, vodka and Seedlip Garden 108 – a non-alcoholic blend of peas, hay and herbs, which brings a taste of the English countryside to my lips. A heady mix of beetroot (used by the Elizabethans in love spells), lemon and ginger makes up the mocktail To Beet or not to Beet, while Julie T’s Sleeping Potion takes gorse, orange, star anise and liquorice flavours in a concoction that could have come straight out of the recipe book of the Friar in Romeo and Juliet. I try them all, for research purposes.
The strings of a lute, deftly plucked by a costumed actor, transport me from modern-day Henley Street to Shakespeare’s lifetime. Or maybe it was the influence of a cocktail or two.
Inside Shakespeare’s Birthplace
Inside the house, I look through the windows to Henley Street: in the daytime, a place of camera-wielding tourists, now, in the amber glow of late sunshine, those passing are the last few shop workers heading home, families laughing their way along the car-free street after supper in town, theatregoers ambling in, looking for a pre-show bite to eat.
I’ve been to Shakespeare’s Birthplace many times. This special after-hours tour, however, gives me stories I haven’t heard before, a lingering look at pieces I hadn’t previously noticed, and the chance to really breathe in this place of precious cots, wooden chests, and windows etched with the names of Shakespeare pilgrims of the past, such as Charles Dickens and Sir Walter Scott. I rub the toes of my shoe on the stone floor on which William himself would have waddled as a tot (and then probably huffed his way over at the age of 14) and try on gloves in the workshop of Shakespeare’s father John, a glover and Mayor of Stratford.
The words of William Shakespeare
While the house provides the scene and Warwick Events brings the atmosphere, Shakespeare Aloud adds another element: the words of William Shakespeare himself. Outside the birthplace home – a half-timbered structure restored and opened to the public by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust – a troupe of actors deliver short performances of Shakespeare’s plays, brought to life with charm, humour and a set of incredible memories, to be able to pluck extracts from the Bard’s vast repertoire and present them to those gathered in the garden.
A special occasion
I love Stratford-upon-Avon. It is a market town with a special story and there’s always something happening. Tonight, it’s happening for a select few, but anyone can organise these special occasions with Warwick Events; the after-hours tour of Shakespeare’s Birthplace is just one of the experiences on offer with this local company. Ideal for networking, team building or simply a special event, Warwick Events can sprinkle magic over the places, in Stratford-upon-Avon and within a 50-mile radius, which we think we know so well.
As one final creative and thoughtful touch – and a reminder that an invite to a Warwick Events experience really is something special – I receive a packet of sweet pea seeds with a handwritten note from Emma, head magic-maker (or Managing Director) of the Stratford-upon-Avon company. She harvested them herself last summer and hopes a seed of an idea has been planted with the attendees of the VIP experience of Shakespeare’s Birthplace.
It might have felt naughty, but it was oh so very nice.
All photographs provided by Warwickshire event photographer Sally Crane.
Event organised by Warwick Events.