Jolly Ukrainian wedding/As You Like It

We went to another wedding last Saturday.

It was a 1pm start and the bride was late.

But I didn’t mind because I always reckon that any wedding is the bride’s day.

A hundred and thirty guests were baking in the blazing sunshine and I took off my suit jacket and drank three glasses of bottled water, supplied by Daniel, the bride’s older brother.

Sitting two rows behind us were Bob and Irene, Ukrainian friends of the family.

“Hot enough for you, Myles?” said Bob, grinning.

“Tomorrow we’ll be told that this was the hottest day in Warwickshire for 150 years,” I replied.

At last tiny bridesmaids appeared, followed by bigger bridesmaids, and then Christina arrived  in an off-the-shoulder dress with her train held above the lawn by a girlfriend, escorted by Jerry, her father.

They all glided down the aisle between the seated guests, towards the lake and the gazebo where the ceremony was about to take place. A brunette harpist played a lovely melody which I didn’t recognise.

After the formalities, the lady registrar said that husband and wife is the most important relationship in our lives. Certainly has been in mine, I thought.

Indoors we had toasts and an extended Wedding Breakfast and a young five-piece rock band played Ukrainian songs and Christina ballroom-danced with her father and Daniel did the same with Halyna, his Mum. The bride and many of her friends are third generation Ukrainians.

Jan, who had gone to the hen night in Liverpool the previous weekend, was explaining the traditions to me.

They removed the veil from Christina’s hair, replacing it with a headscarf to denote that she was now a married woman, and then Leighton, the lanky groom, had to dance one by one with all the single girls, who gathered round  the dance floor in a circle, clapping along with the beat, and took turns to have the veil pinned to their hair.

More toasts and more Ukrainian tunes and festivities followed, including crazy Cossack knee-dancing.

Halyna’s sister Zena said, “In the villages this goes on for three days. And then everybody falls asleep from all the food and vodka. When they wake up they carry on partying.”

Then a pair of laptop DJ’s took over and played songs for the twentysomethings and we just watched and drank some white wine. I love to dance and also love to watch dancing and here we saw a pair of slim, nimble  girls dancing barefoot with a wonderful rapport, skipping beyond the big shoes of the blokes, twirling away from  little kids who were bouncing around between the grown-ups, laughing at each other and looking as if they had grown up together doing this.

Myles : “What d’you think of those two?”

Jan: “They’re lovely.”

When the DJ played Michael Jackson, as I had asked him to do, we got up for Billie Jean and a couple of other songs. When he put on a really uptempo Dexy’s tune, that was our cue to stagger back to the table.

We left the disco at 12.30 and walked up the corridor and round the corner and up the stairs to our room on the first floor and fell asleep immediately in a bed we thought would be too soft.

I didn’t think Jan would be keen to swim at 7.30 before breakfast but she was and that was fun because it was such a novelty. This was the first time we’d been to a wedding where we stayed in the hotel where the nuptials had taken place.

There are three breakfast rooms and the spectacular sunlit conservatory was reserved for the exclusive use of the wedding party, with big circular tables like the night before. The barefoot girls of last night wandered into the buffet area looking three years younger than they did under the disco lights.

Then we said our goodbyes and drove to Stratford-upon-Avon, a picturesque small town I have never visited.

The RSC’s theatre is a big one and very modern, as you would expect.

A staff chap regretted that we couldn’t see the inside of the theatre because scenery was being taken inside, and as he was telling us this I could see, through a glass panel in the door behind him, two guys carrying in a large flat piece of carpentry.

We got a cups of tea in the theatre cafe and sat outside by the wide river, which had swans, ducks and small boats and willow trees in a park on the opposite bank. An amiable golden labrador barked at a swan, just saying hello. But the swan catapulted towards the bank, really went for the dog. It was : Don’t fucking bark at me, I’ll have you!

Then we walked up to the Holy Trinity Church and saw where William Shakespeare is buried and looked at the  handwritten copy of the Original Parish Register containing the names of everyone who was born in April 1564 and everyone who died in  April 1616.

Shakespeare wrote 36 plays and died at the age of 52.

“This is the font in which he was baptised,” said Jan.

“Wow!” said a man standing behind me.

I thought: The English do history better than most.

Then we strolled back down through the wooded graveyard and into Avonbank Gardens and this was especially nice for me because for the last 40 years I’ve only seen London and never seen England. I know that England is out there, ancient and mysterious and beautiful, but I never see it.

Then we heard some shouting from beyond the trees. Jan was mildly alarmed.

It was a very warm afternoon right in the middle of England and as we came down some wide steps that had been cut into a slope, we heard men’s voices again.

“Could that be something as vulgar as a football match?” I asked.

We couldn’t figure out why voices were being raised and then, suddenly, we came upon an open air theatre, The Dell, where they were doing As You Like It, with about fifty people sitting on the grass close to the stage watching the play, and many others, who were half-interested, sitting further back.

Five young actors of the Ripped Script Theatre Company were playing all the parts in a condensed version, with Orlando sometimes standing under a tree right next to us, Touchstone jumping off the stage with huge gusto, Phoebe interacting tenderly with small children sitting with their mums. The girls playing Rosalind and Celia were fantastic together, two cousins talking about love, the blonde Celia being a right little minx – and it was just magical.So we sat down and watched till the end.

Rosalind is the biggest female part in Shakespeare’s plays.

The afternoon was brilliant fun and we were lucky to stumble into a delightfully played comedy which made me impatient to see something else by the Ripped Script Theatre Company.

Obviously, if we’d known As You was on we wouldn’t have missed the 3pm kick-off.

Then we hopped on a bus to the Park & Ride and got into the car and came home down the M40 and as we took a left off the M25, the Willesden exit, listening to Radio 2, Jackson Browne started to sing, Looking through some photographs / I found inside a drawer / I was taken by a photograph of you…

Jan said, “What a great way to end our journey!”

We pulled up outside the house as the song was ending and  she did something she’s never done before in the car.

Jan held up her right hand in a high-five gesture and said, “Thank you for a wonderful weekend!”

I was thinking : I’ve done nothing. You’ve arranged it all, you’ve driven us there and back.

But I slapped her palm and admitted, “That was good as it’s gonna get.”

Each guest at the wedding was given a small gift and mine is a small bottle of cherry vodka.

The Open Air Theatre at The Dell is doing 15 plays this summer and 11 can still be seen every weekend until Sunday September 1st.

The Ardencote Manor Hotel Country Club & Spa is a spacious facility which is doing 20 weddings in August. The estate is 83 acres.

That Jackson Browne song is Fountain of Sorrow.


From Mike Aylott : As You Like It

We saw the RSC production in the theatre a couple of months ago – Christmas present from one of my sons and his wife to be (that will involve a Polish wedding in Krakow – very similar, a succession of meals throughout the night, traditional band, dances various, including Polonaise, Mazurkas, “Cossack” dancing, and the ubiquitous Conga, plus an inordinate number of toasts with Krupnik vodka).

As You Like It was as good a production of any play I’ve ever seen.

Pippa Nixon as Rosalind was sensational. Laura Marling wrote some brilliant music.

The East Europeans do weddings well.

We not only do history well, we do theatre incomparably.

And it’s starting to be available to us poor provincial masses as well via live screenings in local cinemas. Saw “The Audience” with Helen Mirren at our local independent cinema (support them all!) the other week – cost a tenner, three screens were sold out.

It’s obviously better to be at the actual theatre, as it is to be at a match, and the price will reflect that, with theatre the least damaging to the pocket,on the whole.  But if you asked me what I would give up last, my Sky Sports subscription or monthly trips to live theatre relays, I’d have to think….

OK, there’s cricket too, so it’s a tough one… we are exacting a generational revenge on the Aussies, and next season could be a very entertaining one for Arsenal fans (unless the squad remains much the same and fifth place becomes our new “trophy”).

Right, I’ve decided. I’d give up Sky Movies before either, and probably will. It seems to me that the world of football, with it’s cynical commercialism, is moving in a different direction to theatre – both need bigger or at least sustained audiences to survive, but theatre would rather embrace its audience and share the joy, rather than just empty our collective wallet.

I’m sure our forthcoming Polish wedding will share lots of joy, for lots of hours with lots of vodka… I have noticed that they are very meticulous about rehydrating, and nobody was ill.  Bloody tired though.

As a caveat for all those who over-emote about Premiership football teams, here’s a line from Rosalind in Act 3

She’s dressed as a man at the time (it’s complicated – see the play….)
“I pray you, do not fall in love with me, For I am falser than vows made in wine”.

Ivan and Arsene, we patiently await developments.

Myles says:

We don’t have Sky Movies ,Mike, and we only kept Love Film for a month or two.

Clearly, Shakespeare makes language dance and bubble. But the body language of the actors, and the expert way they use their voices, adds a helluva lot to the word-language of the text.

Ripped Script’s version has Rosalind saying, “I am falser than vows made in wine. And I like thee not.”

Those lines jumped off the stage into my head. As did some other  lines, also tweaked, when Roslalind and Celia are talking about boys, and Celia tells her cousin to sort herself out, just wrestle with your affections and decide who you really love.

And Rosalind replies, “My affections need a better wrestler than me.”

On the page, of course, that line has no whimsical wit.

It needs an actor to make it come alive.