All of UK’s a stage for theatrical Michael D

To be, or not to be theatrical, that was the question for President Michael D Higgins as he took to the stage of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

All of UK’s a stage for theatrical Michael D

With his eight-vehicle motorcade and numerous motorcycle outriders, the President certainly made a dramatic entrance into the quaint, sleepy town of Stratford-upon-Avon.

After being feted like a rock star by 5,000 cheering well-wishers at the Royal Albert Hall the previous evening, Michael D could be forgiven for letting all the attention and adulation of his four-day tour of England go to his head.

But Mr Higgins managed to keep his sometimes slightly over-the-top personality and rhetorical flushes in check as he and his thespian wife Sabina were treated to a scene from the rehearsals for Henry IV starring Anthony Sher.

After Mr Higgins thanked the company players with an eloquent and erudite speech from the famous stage, the couple went to see the RSC wig room to view the hair piece specially designed to make Sher look fatter for the role of Falstaff.

However, the follically challenged Michael D resisted the temptation to try on any of the wigs when he had the opportunity.

After the performance, the presidential party popped around the corner to visit the house where Shakespeare was born, or if you’re a conspiracy theorist, allegedly born, as there is still much doubt over the real author of the plays and sonnets attributed to him.

Not that Sabina needed much convincing about the authenticity issue as she slipped off her shoes to walk across the floor to feel a connection with the playwright.

On leaving the pretty tudor house, Michael D delighted the small crowd which had been attracted by the security presence with an impromptu walkabout in the warm spring sunshine.

And Stratford provided a very easy-to-please audience, with one woman gushing: “It’s very exciting. It is not everyday you get to see a president. We weren’t expecting this — we just came on a coach trip.”

A Welsh man was very impressed by the couple’s use of ‘go raibh maith agat’: “They’re speaking Irish — it’s incredible!”.

However, an Irish woman in the crowd was not so complimentary about her president, telling the woman next to her: “He’s a real-life leprechaun — look at the size of him — and you thought they didn’t exist.”

Mr Higgins said he wanted to visit Stratford to honour Shakespeare’s shaping of the English language in reflection of the way the Queen had embraced Irish during her tour of 2011.

However, the playwright could well be accused of being one of the people fostering the discrimination against Irish people in Britain, the Queen acknowledged in her landmark state banquet speech on the first day of the tour.

Shakespeare’s plays often portray Ireland as a barbarous and uncivilised place, plagued with rats and ne’er do wells.

Indeed, there is only one Irish character in his extensive works, Macmorris, an army captain in Henry V — a play written as the present Queen’s namesake was readying to crush the Earl of Tyrone’s uprising. One of his lines reads: “What ish my nation? Ish a villain, and a bastard, and a knave and a rascal.” Not exactly the 100,000 welcomes image force-fed to the masses today.

But Ireland put its best face on at the Albert Hall gig where old and new musical styles fought for attention with poetry readings and dance, as even the usually stone-faced Prince and Princess Michael of Kent joined in the singing of ‘The Auld Triangle’ with the President, Taoiseach, and Tánaiste — and the world’s most famous Irishman, One Direction’s Niall Horan — in the royal box.

It was the celebratory, emotional high point of a four-day visit which has done much to help transform the often mistrustful image each nation has had of the other down the decades, and, indeed, centuries.

Mr Higgins may come across as a tad pompous at times, but he conducted himself with grace and presence as his gentle touch struck the right note as the mood music of international relations was retuned to a softer key.

As the bard once said, all the world’s a stage, and all men are merely players — and Michael D played a blinder all week.

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