Shakespeare 400 continues

Shakespeare's monument in Holy Trinity Church

Shakespeare’s monument in Holy Trinity Church

Following the fabulously successful but exhausting weekend celebrating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, and his 452nd birthday, I’ve had a few days rest from the blog, but it doesn’t mean I haven’t been busy researching and writing a book on the history of the town’s Shakespeare Club, an organisation that is much more intimately linked with the history of Shakespeare’s heritage in the town and with national and international connections, than I would have guessed when I started. The book is to be published in the autumn. On publication the price will be £12.99, but as long as orders with payment for £10 are received by 7 May subscribers will receive a copy of the book on publication signed by the authors, and the name of the subscriber will be printed in the List of Subscribers within the book. The price above does not include postage, so if you are unable to collect the book from Stratford-upon-Avon the subscription price will be £12.99 (UK only). Full information is at the end of this post. *

Gertrude and Hamlet in the Kosintsev film of Hamlet

Gertrude and Hamlet in the Kosintsev film of Hamlet

After the massive media coverage of the last few days, the BBC continues to cover the anniversary, but in a quieter way, with a number of programmes that are worth drawing to your attention. On Sunday 1 May BBC 4 is screening the 1964 Russian film of Hamlet directed by Grigori Kosinstev. With its atmosphere of claustrophobia and suspicion, set on a spectacular clifftop fortress, it can be seen as an artistic response to the repressiveness of the Soviet regime. It’s much more than that though: Innocenti Smoktunovsky gives a terrific performance as Hamlet, and the Financial Times described it as “arguably the most intelligent and certainly the most contemporary interpretation of Shakespeare for the screen”. It’s on at the late hour of 10.45pm but will be worth staying up for (and Monday’s a Bank Holiday). Leading up to the film is another Shakespeare-related programme, Redefining Juliet in which six actors each present their portrayal of Shakespeare’s tragic heroine.

The treats continue on the radio: Sunday evening, 1 May, on Radio 3, there is a performance of The Winter’s Tale, with parts taken by many familiar names such as Eve Best, Karl Johnson, Susan Jameson, Sean Baker and Brian Protheroe. On Tuesday 3 May a production of Julius Caesar, divided into three parts, begins, with Tim Pigott-Smith as Caesar, Robert Glenister as Brutus, Sam Troughton as Cassius and Jamie Parker as Antony, a really strong quartet to lead this great political drams. Again on  Radio 4 every weekday beginning on Monday, at 1.45 until 2pm there is a series in which Yasmin Alibhai-Brown explores Shakespeare: Love across the Racial Divide, beginning, not surprisingly, with Othello.

The Hollow Crown 2

The Hollow Crown 2

I can’t help feeling that this week’s programmes, interesting as they will be, will be overshadowed by next weekend’s major launch of The Hollow Crown 2, taking the plays from Henry VI up to Richard III. Like the first series right back in 2012 that focused on Ben Whishaw as Richard II and Tom Hiddleston as Henry V, the second series is led by a hugely popular TV star, Benedict Cumberbatch as Richard III, also starring Judi Dench, Hugh Bonneville and Sophie Okonedo.

Over the past few days BBC4 has been screening the first series again to set the scene for the second, and these are available on IPlayer for a few more days. The second series has a lot to live up to: the first, aimed at people who might be new to Shakespeare, gained a real following: on Twitter the Hollow Crown Fans group  @HollowCrownFans was formed as a result. They now have 13,700 followers on Twitter and stage a regular invitation to tweet on a particular subject with #ShakespeareSunday.

The Hollow Crown 2 will begin screening on Saturday 7 May, for 3 consecutive weeks. As with many stage adaptations, the three Henry VI plays will be conflated into two episodes.

*TO SUBSCRIBE to the history of The Shakespeare Club please send a cheque for £10 (£12.99 to include UK postage), payable to The Shakespeare Club together with your name as you wish it to appear in the book, your address, and a stamped addressed envelope (if you wish a receipt to be mailed to you), before 7 May 2016, to Dr Susan Brock, Secretary, The Shakespeare Club of Stratford-upon-Avon, Daisy Cottage, Front St., Ilmington, Shipston-on-Stour CV36 4LA.

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Shakespeare 400 continues in Stratford-upon-Avon

bards masqueAs I’m writing Radio 4’s Sunday Worship is coming from Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon, just one of the many special events that are marking the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death on 23 April 1616.

I took part in the traditional procession, starting from the town centre and walking down to Shakespeare’s grave yesterday through streets packed with thousands of people. I was marshalling, which means I was partly responsible for making sure people got to their flagpole positions, pulled their flags, and moved off for the walk to the Church. The groups I was looking after included one delegation from China, girls from the Stratford Girls Grammar School and an unofficial group of Russians.

Later in the day I returned to the church to find, hours after the procession had ended and the chancel was full of flowers, that there were still queues of people waiting to view the grave, and I was told it was the same at Shakespeare’s school, full to bursting.

I’d like to congratulate everybody who took part in the organisation of the Birthday Celebrations, including the Town and District Councils, King Edward VI School, and Shakespeare Birthplace Trust: this is a huge event for a small town to organise and I can’t remember a happier Birthday.

The big event of the day was of course the RSC/BBC collaboration Shakespeare Live, a star-studded evening featuring a huge range of actors and performers including many of our most well-known Shakespearean actors. I particularly loved the piece, scripted I imagine by the wonderful Tim Minchin, on Shakespeare’s “To be or not to be” that featured a wealth of Hamlets past and present (and some who should have been), and a real live prince. Too many lovely things to mention, but I really enjoyed the short films shot at the Birthplace properties with smashing script delivered by the smashing Joseph Fiennes (Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and Mary Arden’s Farm looking glorious), and Henry Goodman and Rufus Hound performing the wonderful double-act “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” from Kiss me Kate. Many, many other highlights, and the great news is the whole thing is available on IPlayer here.

Meanwhile the celebrations continue: just one of many treats is going to be a new play: A Play for the heart: the Death of Shakespeare, on Radio 3 at 9pm tonight, recorded at Mary Arden’s Farm.

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Shakespeare’s Birthday: the Garrick Ode and Edward’s Boys

DSCN1221edited

I’m writing this on the eve of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and 452nd anniversary of his birth, having just begun the weekend of celebrations in the best possible way with a wonderful concert in the church in which Shakespeare was baptised and buried.

The concert was Shakespeare Odes, by Ex Cathedra. I was most excited about the performance of Garrick’s Ode to Shakespeare, performed on 7 September 1769 in the Jubilee Pavilion Garrick had build rather too close to the banks of the “soft-flowing Avon”. The words of the Ode and the airs that punctuated it were published many times, but much of the music written by Arne, and conducted by him on the day, has been lost so Sally Beamish has written new music to make the concert possible. The performance of the Ode, in particular Garrick’s delivery of the poetry, was the highlight of the Jubilee. For this performance we had one of our finest actors taking the role of Garrick in the shape of Samuel West.

The final lines of the Ode, sung by the Chorus, are particularly appropriate for the celebrations of Shakespeare’s Birthday:
We will his brows with laurel bind,
Who charms to virtue human kind:
Raise the pile, the statue raise,
sing immortal Shakespeare’s praise!
The song will cease, the stone decay,
But his Name,
And undiminsh’d fame,
Shall never, never pass away.

The second half of the evening was an unexpected delight: the world premiere of A Shakespeare Masque, music written by Sally Beamish to words by Carol Ann Duffy, the Poet Laureate. This, delightfully, brought performers to all corners of the church, including schoolchildren from three local primary schools: Wilmcote, Snitterfield and Loxley. A fabulous evening, well deserving of the standing ovation given it by the audience of the packed Holy Trinity Church.

The performances are being repeated at the Town Hall Birmingham, on Sunday 24th April, Hereford Cathedral on 6 May, in Wolverhampton on 7 May, London of 12 May and Southwell Minster on 28 May. The concert was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3, and filmed by BBC Arts where it can be watched on demand, worldwide, at www.bbc.co.uk/shakespearelives, and, in the UK, via the BBC iPlayer.  More information about the other concerts are available on the Ex Cathedra website.

The Schoolroom, King Edward VI School, Stratford

The Schoolroom, King Edward VI School, Stratford

On the 23rd April there is to be complete Shakespeare overload, with BBC Radio 3 and BBC TV broadcasting too many programmes to mention, and many, many events in Stratford. The traditional procession is very well known and the town is expected to be even busier than usual. One series of new events that people might miss is a number of free performances of Unperfect Actors: a 30-minute celebration of sonnets, songs and extracts from the works of Shakespeare, performed by the all-boy theatre company Edward’s Boys, in the newly-restored Shakespeare’s Schoolroom and Guildhall at 1pm, 2pm and 3pm.

I hope you’ll enjoy your day, whatever you are doing, and raise a glass to the Immortal Memory of William Shakespeare.

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Stratford-upon-Avon springing into action for the big day

DSCN1207editedThe last few days in Stratford-upon-Avon have been warm and sunny, but with a chilly wind reminding us that winter’s not quite lost its grip yet. In anticipation of the big day on Saturday many preparations are in hand and it’s also good to see that the natural world of the river, the trees and the swans are also getting ready. I’ve been out taking a few photos that include the building of the special pavilion for the lunch, swans optimistically creating a home for their new brood, a new arch to greet visitors to Holy Trinity Church, the arrival of the BBC outside broadcast units, and Titania meeting Bottom in a newly-planted grove outside the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. I hope you enjoy them, even if you’re not able to get to see the weekend celebrations yourself.

I recently found this little rhyme, part of an impromptu written and recited by Mr James Bisset at the very first celebration of Shakespeare’s Birthday two hundred years ago, in Stratford’s Town Hall, on 23 April 1816.

Revered be the season a Shakespeare appear’d,
Revered be the date of his birth.
Ever sacred the day, which two centuries since,
Snatch’d “the pride of  all nature” from earth.

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Memories of Guy Woolfenden

Guy Woolfenden

Guy Woolfenden

I’ve just heard the sad news that the great Guy Woolfenden died on 15 April. For anyone who attended the Royal Shakespeare Company’s productions from the 1960s to the 1990s Guy’s music was very often the soundtrack to the play. I believe he achieved the distinction of being the only person to have composed music for all of Shakespeare’s plays, some more than once. His website, Ariel Music, contains masses of information about his work. There is a YouTube channel devoted to it.

Songs of Ariel, 1978

Songs of Ariel, 1978

Music for Shakespeare of course includes all those songs that are included in the plays: “It was a lover and his lass” often ends up as a sort of production number, contrasted with quiet, unaccompanied songs like the Welsh song in Henry IV part 1, or Ophelia’s songs in Hamlet. Many of Woolfenden’s songs had lovely melodies, like the luscious Philomel song in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.What a composer writes for a singer in a play depends partly on the abilities of the actor, and he must have been thrilled when a young Ian Charleson was cast as Ariel in The Tempest in 1978. Charleson had the most glorious, ethereal voice, and in response Woolfenden wrote a series of beautiful, and demanding songs that were recorded and sold in the theatre, and have become very well known in their own right. There is an added poignancy to the songs because Ian Charleson, an actor who seemed to have everything, died tragically young. A version is available on YouTube with some photographs of the production. Looking at them just now reminds me that the late Alan Rickman, who died just a couple of months ago, was also in this production. Playing on this recording is another much-loved RSC musician, the wonderful Michael Tubbs, who also died almost a year ago.

The Comedy of Errors 1976 with Judi Dench and Richard Griffiths

The Comedy of Errors 1976 with Judi Dench and Richard Griffiths

Woolfenden’s work, inevitably, was extremely varied. He must have written dozens of fanfares for entrances and loud pieces to be played during battle scenes, of which there are so many in Shakespeare’s plays, as well as dances for ball scenes in Romeo and Juliet and Much Ado About Nothing. The music he wrote for Trevor Nunn’s musical version of The Comedy of Errors in 1976 was very much of its time, but songs like “Beg thou or borrow” are still fun, and a reminder of the cheeky inventiveness of the whole production. I must have seen it at least half a dozen times (the filmed version does not do justice to it). Even Michael Billington says this is his favourite production of the play, recalling the twin Dromios Nikolas Grace and Michael Williams leading the musical finale “Let’s go hand in hand”.

His music rightly takes its place in a selection Sweet Swan of Avon, consisting of music for Shakespeare written from the eighteenth century onwards. It was recorded in 1995 by English Serenata, a group consisting of musicians who have worked at the RST in Stratford, and conducted by Guy himself.

In May 2015 Guy’s life and achievements was celebrated at a special concert at the Swan Theatre, which he was able to attend, at the end of which he made a touching appearance on stage, blowing kisses. It was a wonderful opportunity, rarely given, to be able to thank an outstanding creative artist for the pleasure he had given.

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Looking at death in Shakespeare’s life and works

Page 2 of Shakespeare's will

Page 2 of Shakespeare’s will

This 23rd April we’re marking the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, and while it’s much more fun to celebrate Shakespeare’s achievement and legacy, some of the events that are happening this year are focusing on Shakespeare’s death and things related to it.

The exhibition By Me William Shakespeare puts on display his will, a rare opportunity to see this document, one of the National Archives’ most important. It’s also been the cause of much discussion over the years. Did Shakespeare only leave his wife his second best bed as a snub, or because it was their marital bed? Why are there no books mentioned in the will? And how wealthy was Shakespeare when he died?

The document itself has been closely examined and conserved over the last couple of years by the National Archives. Scientific analysis has uncovered new insights into the will and how it was created.  From this main page there are additional pages, such as this one on how they have approached conserving the will, and this one by Amanda Bevan, the National Archives’ head of legal records. She has come to the conclusion that the conventional dating of the will may be wrong. It’s always been an uncertain business, as the will has obviously been revised, with lots of interpolations showing that Shakespeare made additions as he perhaps remembered things he had forgotten, or changed his mind as circumstances changed. But she now believes that page two of the three-page document is a surviving section of an earlier will, while pages one and three were written in January 1616 and updated shortly before Shakespeare died.

It’s a fascinating story that could only be uncovered with the combination of modern scientific methods married to years of experience of how historic documents were created.

540x250_ShakespeareDead_textNext week, on 22 April, an exhibition will be opened in Oxford that “confronts the theme of death itself in Shakespeare’s works”. The Bodleian Libraries’ exhibition is entitled Shakespeare’s Dead, and looks at death in the plays.  Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and Hamlet will feature in particular, each exploring different aspects of the anticipation of death, the moment of death, and mourning.  The exhibition will run until 18 September 2016.  The Bodleian is to be congratulated for not avoiding difficult subjects. “Shakespeare’s Dead also looks at last words spoken, funerals and mourning as well as life after death, including ghosts and characters who come back to life. These themes will be explored using key items from the Bodleian’s famous literary collections that include Shakespeare’s First Folio and the first Shakespeare playbook (Romeo & Juliet), a number of early editions and an extensive collection of plays and poetry by Shakespeare and his contemporaries.”

It will be good to see items from the Bodleian’s rich collections on display. A series of events are being put on to complement the exhibition including a lecture by Jonathan Bate on Shakespeare’s Magic and in May a lecture on Death in Early Modern England, showing the hazards of simple activities like gathering water. A source for the drowning of Ophelia in Hamlet was possibly the drowning of Katherine Hamlett in the Avon a couple of miles upstream of Stratford when she went to the river to fetch water. This well-known case occurred while Shakespeare was a teenager, and was heard in Stratford. As with Ophelia, there was some discussion about whether she had taken her own life, or simply slipped.

While on the subject of Shakespeare in Oxford, there are many events going on in the city this year and the Shakespeare Oxford website has all the details.

Shakespeare's Money by Robert Bearman

Shakespeare’s Money by Robert Bearman

A book recently published by Oxford University Press also looks at the subject of Shakespeare’s death not through what he wrote, but what he left. Shakespeare’s Money: how much did he make and what did this mean? is the latest book by Archivist Dr Robert Bearman. By examining all the available documentation in detail, and using his knowledge of Shakespeare’s life and the period in which he lived, Bearman attempts to settle the debate about whether Shakespeare was hugely wealthy or not, about his social standing, and whether his father did indeed suffer a collapse in his business. For centuries his father’s financial problems have been seized on by biographers searching for a reason why Shakespeare might have left Stratford for London, and why he might have pursued a coat of arms for his family. Bearman’s book is unusual for his refusal to speculate on this issue, but his pursuit of the truth is fascinating and raises many questions that biographers have tended to avoid.

Lastly, while we’re thinking about Shakespeare’s death, visitors to Stratford on 23rd will also be treated to a combination of mourning and celebration as a jazz funeral will be staged with musicians from New Orleans for the first time taking part in the Shakespeare Birthday Celebrations.

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Shakespeare’s Celebrations and Stratford’s Shakespeare Club

Members of the Shakespeare Club committee, 2015 celebrations

Members of the Shakespeare Club committee, 2015 celebrations

The 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, and 452nd anniversary of his birth, is less than two weeks away now, and all the news about the events of the weekend have now been released.

If you’re in the Stratford-upon-Avon area and want to find out more about how the event is organised, and what the plans are for the future, you might like to come along to the meeting of the Shakespeare Club on Tuesday 12 April when Town and District Councillor Tony Jefferson has agreed to talk to members and guests. If you aren’t a member, entrance is only £3. The venue is the Shakespeare Institute in Church Street, Stratford and the event begins at 7.45.

To provide a bit of background to the current events, Susan Brock, Secretary of the Club, and myself, also on the committee, are going to give a short illustrated history of the Celebrations. It’s a particularly appropriate date for the Celebrations too as the very first occasion when the Birthday itself was marked in the town was 1816, exactly 200 years ago. Since then the day has never been allowed to pass without being marked in some way.

Ticket for the 1828 dinner of the Shakespeare Club

Ticket for the 1828 dinner of the Shakespeare Club

The Shakespeare Club itself has been closely bound up with the Celebrations for many of the intervening years: it was in fact formed in 1824 specifically to organise some kind of celebrations, though these were originally in the form of a private dinner. The illustration shows a ticket issued for the dinner in 1828, held at Shakespeare’s Hall (as the Town Hall was then known). It was quickly realised that the public should be involved, and processions, street decorations, fireworks, the ringing of church bells, marching bands, the flying of flags and banners became essential elements. The Club’s history is much more varied than might be thought: it took on the responsibility for many of the sites associated with Shakespeare, such as the Church monument and the Birthplace itself, was involved with the building of the first permanent theatre in the town, sponsored performances of Shakespeare’s plays and organised a performance of Ben Jonson’s Jacobean masque Pan’s Anniversary. This year’s Celebrations will feature a jazz band from New Orleans, but the very first contribution to the birthday in Stratford came in 1836 when George Jones, the American Tragedian, gave a 2-hour oration on Shakespeare, presenting the Club with an American flag to be flown on each birthday.

Susan Brock and myself are currently preparing a book on the history of Stratford-upon-Avon’s Shakespeare Club, to be published in the autumn: (150pp, paperback, illustrated in full-colour). On publication the price will be £11.99, but as long as orders with payment for £10 are received by 7 May subscribers will receive a copy of the book on publication signed by the authors, and the name of the subscriber will be printed in the List of Subscribers within the book. The price above does not include postage, so if you are unable to collect the book from Stratford-upon-Avon the subscription price will be £12.99 (UK only).

TO SUBSCRIBE please send a cheque for £10 (£12.99to include UK postage), payable to The Shakespeare Club together with your name as you wish it to appear in the book, your address, and a stamped addressed envelope (if you wish a receipt to be mailed to you), before 7 May 2016, to Dr Susan Brock, Secretary, The Shakespeare Club of Stratford-upon-Avon, Daisy Cottage, Front St., Ilmington, Shipston-on-Stour CV36 4LA.

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First Folio discovery on the Isle of Bute

The Isle of Bute folio, bound in three volumes

The Isle of Bute folio, bound in three volumes

It’s only two weeks or so since it was announced that an unknown copy of the 1623 Shakespeare First Folio had been found at Shuckburgh House in Warwickshire (see my blog on 24 March), and now another one has been found on a Scottish island to the west of Glasgow. The copy at Mount Stuart House on the Isle of Bute raises the number of Folios still in existence to 235, an astonishingly large number from the assumed print run of about 750.

The library at Mount Stuart House, Isle of Bute

The library at Mount Stuart House, Isle of Bute

Apparently the library at Mount Stuart House is substantial (it certainly looks it from the picture), and may contain other treasures. This is the link to the BBC story and Emma Smith was also interviewed on the Today programme at about 7.45 this morning. It will be available on the site after transmission of the programme finishes.

There is also a lot of information about the book’s ownership history on the Mount Stuart website: I quote:

Professor Smith has also confirmed that our edition of the Folio belonged to Isaac Reed, a well connected literary editor working in London in the 18th Century. Reed (1742 – 1807) was the son of a baker and was initially apprenticed to a solicitor, eventually setting up his own practice as a conveyancer at Staple Inn, Holborn. Reed’s largest work was the Biographia dramatica, published in two volumes in 1782, which was a biographical work on significant dramatists and a descriptive compendium of their plays. Reed re-edited Samuel Johnson and George Steevens’s edition (1773) of Shakespeare which was ultimately published in ten volumes in 1785.

Here too is a link to Emma Smith’s article in the Times Literary Supplement explaining more about the book’s provenance, and about Reed.

Fascinating stuff!

 

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Shakespeare in the West Midlands 2016

The Beauchamp Chapel, St Mary's, Warwick

The Beauchamp Chapel, St Mary’s, Warwick

The last post I wrote was intended to be all about Shakespeare events in the West Midlands, but I only got as far as Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon. This time I’m casting the net a bit wider to Warwick and Birmingham as well as more Stratford news. There’s so much going on nobody stands a chance of catching more than a fraction of it, but hopefully everybody will find something that they will enjoy, even if not (yet) a big Shakespeare fan.

I’m starting off with a great festival that is being run in the beautiful town of Warwick, best known for its castle, but that is celebrating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in style, with Shakespeare 400: History, Heritage & Faith, a major exhibition from 14 April-30 June taking place in the Collegiate Church of St Mary, right in the centre of the town.

The main exhibits are a copy of the 1623 First Folio, courtesy of the V&A Museum, and a first edition of the King James Bible, 1611, from Cambridge University. Visitors will have the rare opportunity of seeing these two iconic texts, ‘twin pillars’ of Western society, on display together. Admission fees are £3.50 for Adults/£2.50 for Children and Concessions.

The exhibition opening will take place on 21 April at 8pm. This gala event will feature Dame Judi Dench talking about her passion for Shakespeare and her Christian faith. Booking is essential for this session.

For anyone not familiar with it, this is also the opportunity to explore this glorious church which contains the stunning Beauchamp Chapel, the resting place of Robert Dudley. The church also stands in the centre of the historic county town of Warwick and it is also possible to climb the church’s tower, giving breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside.

Games and Thrones

Games and Thrones

There will be a whole series of events taking place during the three months of the exhibition. This will include film screenings, an Elizabethan weekend, and a talk by Alison Weir on Richard III. Warwick’s own Playbox Theatre are staging Games and Thrones, a reworking of the three parts of Henry VI, which is being performed at the Dream Factory in April, and from 19-21 May as part of the festival being held by St Mary’s.

On 4 June there will also be “Such stuff as Dreams”: An Evening of Shakespeare in Song with Da Capo choir and guest readers, Amanda Root and Anton Lesser, 7:30pm, and on 9 June a panel discussion “Frailty thy name is Woman”. Women, The Bible & Shakespeare. Panel discussion with Rosalind Miles, Reverend Canon Joanna Collicutt, Reverend Emma Percy, Cathy Ross and Alycia Smith-Howard, 7:30pm. More information is available from St Mary’s by emailing events@stmaryswarwick.org.uk

our shakespeare birminghamBirmingham too has gone Shakespeare mad with a fantastic range of events on offer in the city under the title Our Shakespeare .There are plays at Birmingham Repertory Theatre, concerts at Symphony Hall and exhibitions and other events at the Library of Birmingham, all within a stone’s throw of each other. At the Hippodrome Birmingham Royal Ballet are putting on a series of ballets based on Shakespeare’s plays and there’s an exhibition at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts in Edgbaston.

OurShakespeare2016

OurShakespeare2016

The Shakespeare Institute Library is giving people the opportunity to talk about their own connections with Shakespeare, by taking part in OurShakespeare2016. Just send in a photo of an object that means a lot to you and a brief description. It can be anything: theatre ticket, souvenir, photograph, whatever. I’ve just contributed a post on a medal my father won in a Shakespeare competition, and have enjoyed reading about other people’s favourite Shakespeare experiences.

There’s a musical event taking place at Stratford-upon-Avon’s own Public Library during the evening of 21 April, The Night Watch, featuring original music from Shakespeare’s plays.

Also reminding us that music is the food of love, The Orchestra of the Swan at the ArtsHouse is performing a season of Shakespeare-inspired concerts. The very first of these takes place at 2pm on 5 April with music written by Dobrinka Tabakova inspired by Turner’s Stratford Sketches, made on a visit to the town in 1833.

News on the Birthday Celebrations themselves will follow in a further post, but I’m particularly delighted to be able to confirm that Stratford’s historic Guild Hall will be open to visitors from 23 April after an extensive restoration. This is set to be a wonderful addition to the town, allowing visitors to see the rooms from which Stratford was governed in Shakespeare’s time and before, as well as the schoolroom where Shakespeare was educated.

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Shakespeare at Holy Trinity Church 2016

Holy Trinity Church

Holy Trinity Church

Now we’re into April and events relating to the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death are beginning in earnest. Holy Trinity Church is always a focus during the Birthday Celebrations, since Shakespeare’s grave is the final destination for everyone who joins in the procession, and where flowers from a few daffodils from the back garden sit alongside the most elaborate floral wreath.  This year, naturally, Holy Trinity Church has taken on itself the responsibility for running a whole series of events that celebrate Shakespeare’s life, works and continuing influence.

Each Saturday evening from 2 to 23 April there will be a concert relating in some way to Shakespeare. The first one, on 2nd April will be a Shakespeare-themed song recital featuring music by Quilter, Finzi and Arne, with a premiere of a specially-written song cycle with words by Paul Edmondson and music by Benedict Wilson. All four concerts offer free admission, with a retiring collection.

Later in the month there will be another musical offering, called the Food of Love project, on 28 April at 7pm. In this concert, “TMD Media and Pindrop present an incredible evening of music, songs mentioned or used in Shakespeare’s plays, composed during or before his lifetime. Ancient songs which entertained Shakespeare’s audiences will be brought to life in this magnificent Church” The concert will coincide with the release of an album featuring many of the performers and music from the concert.

Shakespeare's grave and monument surrounded by flowers

Shakespeare’s grave and monument surrounded by flowers

The performance will be followed the next night by a performance of Antic Disposition’s production of Henry V. This production is already under way and being shown in several cathedrals including Winchester and Salisbury before its final performance at Holy Trinity on Friday 29 April. It’s sure to have a very special resonance, this great play being performed in the church were Shakespeare is buried.

On 6 April from 6-8pm there is a launch of an exhibition of paintings in the church that will be open free to the public from 9 April to the end of August. Seven paintings are included, each inspired by a part of the Seven Ages of Man speech from As You Like It, and it’s described as “a contemporary reworking of these well-known themes using bold images with global resonance”. The artist is Jonathan Waller, who was born in the town and christened at Holy Trinity. His work features in the Tate Gallery and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, and he is also a senior lecturer in Fine Art at Coventry University. It is said that there are plans for books to accompany the exhibition and an academic symposium.

I’m particularly pleased to hear that from 16-23rd April Holy Trinity is also to host a Bell-ringing festival. The ringing of the church bells, with “merry peals” at intervals throughout the day, has been part of the Birthday Celebrations for around 200 years.

The very first event will begin at lunchtime on 16 April when a celebratory full peal of bells will be rung, lasting about three and a half hours, quite a challenge for the ringers. But events will continue all week:
Bell ringers from across the country will be joining the team at Holy Trinity to participate in a ringing festival as the bells are rung out on several days to celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday, and to also commemorate the 400 years since his death. Holy Trinity Church – where Shakespeare worshipped and is buried – has a particularly fine ring of ten bells and is one of only a handful of bell towers in the country to house more than 6 bells. The church’s bell ringing team, with help from over forty ringing colleagues from the surrounding area, are to ring eight times in six days, at the start of special services and concerts at the church. This ringing festival will allow residents of Stratford to hear the variety and beauty of the bells as they ring out full peals, quarter peals, and single bell tolls. Quarter peals will be rung to celebrate the 90 th birthday of HM The Queen on 21 st April, the church service for the visit of the Stratford’s of the World, and to mark the 400 th anniversary of Shakespeare’s burial. Each quarter peal will last about 50 minutes.

One particularly poignant ringing event will last just five to ten minutes; this will be
the tolling of the tenor bell at the conclusion of the RSC fireworks on the evening of
Saturday, 23rd April. This toll will mark the day that Shakespeare died and will tie in with an informal procession from the theatre to the church, for the start of a candlelit vigil in church.  

Sam West as David Garrick

Sam West as David Garrick

Finally, I have to mention the Ex Cathedra concert on the evening of 22nd April at Holy Trinity, when David Garrick’s Ode to Shakespeare, first performed in September 1769 for his Shakespeare Jubilee, will be performed in full, with the Ode being spoken by actor Sam West with full musical accompaniment. Just a few tickets remain for this terrific event – the Ode is thought not to have been performed in full in Stratford since Garrick’s time.

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