Underwater Shakespeare

When shall we three meet again?

In thunder, lightning or in rain?

When the hurly-burly’s done

When the battle’s lost and won.

In truth, there wasn’t a lot of hurly-burly. Only 13 people in the audience: not quite your Hollywood crowd scene.

Because it wasn’t Hollywood. It was Cambridge. Our annual trip to the Shakespeare Festival. University gardens, an improvised stage – and rain. Lots of it. Definitely not Hollywood.

Fortunately my wife was prepared. Umbrellas, a ground sheet protecting our chairs – and as a last resort, the remarkably attractive pink plastic ponchos we’d bought when the Heavens opened last year. Two quid each and – if I wasn’t mistaken – not in stock this year. I glanced upwards and sensed that ponchos might shortly be worth a lot more than two quid.

7:30. Time to start.

Good day, sir, said the poet.

I am glad you’re well, replied the painter.

Ah – not an opening you’re familiar with. Me neither. We were watching Timon of Athens. Back to Macbeth and the mainstream on Friday night, but for now another step on my journey to see all of William’s plays performed live.

Enter Timon. In a tunic that was already soggy. He started to speak. “What did he say?” Ben asked.

“I couldn’t tell,” I said. “The rain’s making too much noise on the umbrella.”

The rain continued to raineth. And then it started to poureth. The occasional word from the stage floated through the monsoon. Timon was being far too generous. A financial crisis was looming in Greece.

A rather more pressing crisis was looming on my seat. Specifically, my lovely wife’s umbrella. It was protecting Jane perfectly – and sending a steady stream onto my chair. The ground sheet was fighting a losing battle.

“Could I have a poncho?” I muttered through clenched teeth, having spent four hours on the motorway vowing not to wear one.

Jane had already slipped seductively into hers. And there’s a test of your marriage after twenty years. Huddled under an umbrella in a pink plastic poncho: is she still the only woman you could ever want? Yes, in my case.

But counting the ways I loved her would have to wait. The twin crises of the evening were developing.

On stage Timon continued to give his money away. In the audience, the rain continued to seep remorselessly into my underpants.

“Blimey,” I muttered. “It’s just like being in the trenches.”

“Don’t be stupid, Dad.” Ben wasn’t having that. “You’re in a university garden watching Shakespeare and eating Minstrels. And the only time you’ll go over the top is when you have breakfast tomorrow morning.”

Timon finally surrendered at the interval. Performance cancelled, money refunded, tunics in the tumble dryer.

“That’s bad luck for the actor isn’t it?” Ben said when we’d squelched back to the car.

“What, getting wet?”

“No, learning the lines. If you’re asked to do Hamlet there’s a good chance you’re going to use it again. Timon of Athens and you’ll be reciting it to your dog for the rest of your life.”

He was right. This wasn’t Benedict Cumberbatch declaiming to a full house at a hundred quid a ticket. This was Timon – a part you’d never play again, a sodden tunic and a wet walk back to the B&B afterwards.

“But that’s what’s good about it,” I said. “The audience make sacrifices as well as the actors. You’re all in it together.”

I looked across the breakfast table at my wife. “Hamlet?” I said. “For Christmas?”

She smiled back at me. “Maybe,” she said. “At least you’d have dry underpants…”

Thanks for reading this post. If you enjoyed it – and you’d like something light and moderately humorous to read – you can buy the ‘Best Dad I Can Be’ sample book with 27 of my favourite posts covering all the years I’ve been writing: it’s all of 99p on your Kindle. Alternatively the first chronological book, ‘Half Dad Half Fish’ which covers the time when the children were 9, 7 and 4 is available here


  1. So funny but yet so true. Timon of Athens isn’t your everyday Shakespeare play for the “masses.” We have an open air Shakespeare theatre production scene in Berlin. Come to think of it, we have quite a few!

    All in German of course and because bringing your glass of wine or beer into the auditorium is par the course (being that it’s Germany…), on one particular summer, one chap was particularly sloshed and became “an extra” in the scene making loud comment whenever he saw fit and giggling. Nobody noticed at first, as we all though he was part of the scene!

    We could have been in actual 16th century Shakespeare LOL!

    • Good morning – hope all is good with you and the family. On the subject of 16th Century Shakespeare I watched an outdoor production of Macbeth about 3 years ago and I stood up all the way through it (at the back, obviously…) I wanted to get the authentic feel of what it would have been like to watch in the C16th when (I think) a lot of people would have had to stand. Two points: a) standing for that length of time is hard work (my feet ached like hell) and b) given that you were standing the plays had to be good to keep you involved. Suspect there was plenty of audience interaction in those days – which brings us back to your drunk…

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