THIS year’s Stratford Poetry Festival not only celebrates the works of Shakespeare, local poets and contemporary writers, but it also features two other celebrations—the first being the Olympics, the second the bicentenary of Charles Dickens’s birth.
Sunday night saw one such commemorative event when What the Dickens!, written by Malcolm McKee, took to the stage at the Shakespeare Institute.
For those in the audience who were uncertain of Dickens’s connections to Stratford and Shakespeare, this cleverly compiled programme, performed by Jan Hartley, Clive Hayward, Nicola Keen and David Timson, accompanied by Mr McKee, left no doubt of how greatly Shakespeare had influenced and inspired one of the world’s most popular authors.
Festival director Dr Paul Edmondson had said earlier: “Shakespeare’s influence on Dickens, and Dickens’s own adoption of Shakespeare as his presiding muse, is clearly an unshakeable marriage of true minds,” and this was evident through the highly entertaining programme of music, sketches, readings and songs.
The show firstly looked at Dickens and his connection to theatre, with many references to Shakespeare, most notably in Mr Wopsole Plays Hamlet (Dickens wrote a colourful account in Great Expectations of Mr Wopsole’s performance), and also in A Night at the Theatre and Alarums and Excursions, both from Nicholas Nickleby.
Dickens visited Shakespeare’s birthplace twice and signed the visitors’ book, and in Nicholas Nickleby he makes reference to this when Mrs Wititterly comments: “I find I take so much more interest in his plays, after having been to that dear little dull house he was born in! I don’t know how it is, but after you’ve seen the place and written your name in the little book, somehow or other you seem to be inspired; it kindles up quite a fire within one.”
The second part of the programme on Sunday night brought Dickens sharply into the 21st century, with such pieces as Dickens in Hollywood, The Dickenensian Weakest Link, ending with a medley of well-known songs from Oliver!, the musical based on Dickens’s Oliver Twist. The evening was professionally executed and full of colour, humour and insight.
The next festival Dickens event takes place on Saturday with a screening of Great Expectations at Stratford Picturehouse at 2pm.
The following day will be Poetry Sunday when the town will be alive with verse as limericks are performed in taxis, trees are adorned with sonnets and there will be a poet around almost every corner. There will be special readings of war poetry at the Stratford Garden of
Remembrance, a Victorian medley at the Guild Chapel and performances by the Trinity Players at Holy Trinity Church.
As a special celebration and recognition of the 200th anniversary of the birth of nonsense poet Edward Lear, the Sunday will end with a grand finale—a sung version of the The Owl and the Pussycat at 4pm outside the Birthplace with a live owl and cat. All are welcome to join in.
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