RESTAURANTS in Stratford-upon-Avon are gearing up to hold a series of lunches across the town today, to mark William Shakespeare's 449th birthday.
For the first time in living memory, the traditional Shakespeare Birthday Lunch for 500 people at King Edward VI School is off the menu, so restaurants have been encouraged to hold their own birthday lunches in the town.
Venues will be flying balloons in Shakespeare’s colours of gold and black so the public can easily identify those taking part.
The Shakespeare Birthday Celebrations kicked off at 8pm on Thursday night, with the Birthday Organ Recital by Alexander Berry, a former KES student, now assistant organist to Ely Cathedral’s girls’ choir, at Holy Trinity Church.
On Friday Gregory Doran, artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, presented the Birthday Lecture at the Shakespeare Centre on Henley Street at 4pm.
He was in conversation with Prof Michael Dobson, Director of the Shakespeare Institute, the University of Birmingham department based in Stratford.
On Saturday, at 12 noon, the Pragnell Award for the person judged to have done most to widen the appreciation and understanding of Shakespeare will be presented to the actor Simon Russell Beale by Prof Dobson, at a special award ceremony for dignitaries and invited guests at Big School—Shakespeare’s classroom—at KES.
The author Margaret Drabble will give a toast to the ‘Immortal Memory of Shakespeare.’ Simon Russell Beale, aged 52, has been described as “the greatest stage actor of his generation.” In the 1990s he played Richard III at the RSC and was also cast in The Tempest, King Lear, and Troilus and Cressida.
In 2005, he played King Arthur in the Monty Python musical Spamalot on Broadway, and more recently has featured in BBC1’s spy drama, Spooks.
The weekend’s celebrations will begin in Stratford Town Hall at 9.20am on Saturday, when invited guests will attend a mustering civic reception.
Around the same time, information leaflets and hand-held flags will be given to gathering spectators in the town centre’s streets.
At 10.25am, the procession will move off, led by the Band of the Corp of Royal Engineers, pausing on Waterside to witness the unfurling of the five Royal Shakespeare Company banners.
As the procession moves to its position in Bridge Street at 10.35am, drummers from the Coventry Corp of Drums will escort KES head boy, George Matts, to Shakespeare’s birthplace in Henley Street.
Once at the Birthplace, the costumed character of William Shakespeare will ceremoniously hand over ‘The Quill’ to George, while a specially commissioned fanfare by a KES student will be played.
During the activity in Henley Street, the Royal Engineers and costumed characters will entertain the crowds. Having witnessed the quill pageant, guests of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust will be escorted to Bridge Street at 10.51am, to take their positions at the flag stations.
A couple of minutes later, George will be escorted by the drummers down Henley Street and will enter Bridge Street, where he will stand on the dais in front of Barclays Bank.
At 10.55am, the National Anthem will be played by the Royal Engineers and Warwickshire Lord Lieutenant Timothy Cox will unfurl the Union flag. Four buglers from the Royal Engineers will take up their positions in first floor windows of Barclays Bank.
George will hold the quill aloft and the Royal Engineers will play a fanfare.
At 11am, the Mayor of Stratford, Keith Lloyd, will release 449 black and gold balloons—one for each year since Shakespeare’s birth—and all of the flags will be unfurled simultaneously.
The Royal Engineers will play Happy Birthday for the crowds to sing along to.
The Band of the Air Training Corp will lead the associate vicar of Stratford, the Rev Stephen Bate, and primary school children to Holy Trinity Church, at 11.05am.
The Coventry Corps of Drums and George will then process down Bridge Street.
As they turn at the bottom of Bridge Street, pupils and staff from KES will join from Waterside— taking up their traditional position at the head of the procession, to Holy Trinity Church.
At 11.20am, the Royal Engineers will follow, leading the rest of the procession down Bridge Street, up the other side and to Holy Trinity Church.
The community parade will immediately follow, which anyone may join.
At around 11.40am, the procession will parade through the church, laying flowers at Shakespeare’s grave. This will mark the end of the official procession, but not the end of the fun.
Street Entertainment and Workshops
For the rest of the day, there will be street entertainment and community events throughout the town, organised by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and the RSC.
Free workshops for children will be held at the RSC, including a blood and guts session at 11.30am where make-up artists will show kids the tricks of creating bruises and cuts, and then later at 2.45pm, they can learn how to pull a punch at a stage fighting session.
Adults can also take part in stage fighting and singing workshops in the Swan gardens at 11.30am and 2pm respectively, although these are ticketed sessions.
RSC actors will also be reading sonnets on the ferry across the River Avon between 12pm-4pm.
At 5pm, the day’s events will culminate with Beating Retreat by the Royal Engineers in Henley Street.
Sunday’s events kick off at 9.30am with a civic breakfast reception (by invitation only) at the town hall.
At 10.25am, the civic procession will leave Town Hall for Holy Trinity Church, led by the clergy and the Coventry Corp of Drums.
There, at 11am, the Shakespeare Service will be held, with a sermon delivered by the Bishop of Warwick, Rt Rev John Stroyan.
After the service, the Shakespeare Celebrations formally conclude at 12pm.
Roads will be closed on Saturday between 8am-12.30pm. Sheep Street, Chapel Street, Church Street, Old Town, Henley Street, Meer Street, Bridge Street, Union Street, Wood Street, High Street, Waterside and Southern Lane will all be affected. On Sunday, Sheep Street, Chapel Street, Church Street, and Old Town will be closed between 10.15am-11am and 12pm-1pm.
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