THE Shakespeare Birthday Lunch is back on the menu. All the stops have been pulled out this year, the 450th anniversary of the Bard’s birth, to restore the event to its traditional splendour in a huge marquee on the banks of the Avon.
Among the speakers at the lunch – on Saturday 26th April - will be the novelist and double Booker Prize winner Hilary Mantel, the journalist and broadcaster Baroness Joan Bakewell and the director of the National Theatre Sir Nicholas Hytner.
Presiding over the lunch will be the former government trade minister and Confederation of British Industry (CBI) boss Lord Digby Jones.
Yesterday (Wednesday) the Herald learnt that the identity of this year’s winner of the Pragnell Award, the prize awarded annually to a distinguished individual for their “outstanding achievement in extending the appreciation and enjoyment of the works of William Shakespeare”, will be revealed on Monday.
Previous recipients of the award have included Dame Judi Dench, Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart.
This year’s birthday lunch is a major breakthrough because the tradition was broken last year when the event did not take place.
There were even fears that it would not occur this year either – of all years – because of a lack of commitment and co-ordination.
But a non-profit making body spearheaded by Stratford businessman Tony Bird – called the Shakespeare Birthday Company – has been formed to organise the event.
The key to the lunch is its sponsorship.
The two main sponsors are Jaguar Land Rover and the Rigby Group, headed by the Midlands entrepreneur Sir Peter Rigby.
As a result of the major contribution from these two enterprises ticket prices are being kept to £55 a head, which will include a champagne reception and a three-course lunch, including wine.
The marquee will accommodate between 500 and 600 people.
One of the directors of the Shakespeare Birthday Company is Mike Warrillow, who is the project leader for the event.
This week Mr Warrillow, a warden at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford – “Shakespeare’s Church” – told the Herald: “The luncheon will be held in a very large marquee in its traditional location in the beautiful setting of the RSC Gardens and we hope to make this event a key part of the overall celebrations.
“On this anniversary, Shakespeare lovers the world over will have their eyes on Stratford and this will be our opportunity to impress both national and international guests.”
Mr Warrillow added: “The whole town is putting in a massive effort to make these celebrations a success, and contribute to the reputation of Stratford.”
In the past the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust had organised the lunch and supervised the whole Birthday Celebrations Weekend.
But it withdrew its “umbrella” responsibilities over two years ago, leaving separate bodies within the town to take charge of different elements of the occasion.
Although Tony Bird and King Edward VI School (KES) came to the rescue in 2012 by providing the Levi Fox Hall as the venue, last year there was no lunch.
At one stage there was a risk of two “official” birthday lunches this year, with former Stratford mayor Charles Bates organising one of them and Tony Bird the other.
Mr Bates even went so far as to provisionally book Stratford Civic Hall for the event. But he cancelled the provisional booking when it became clear that Mr Bird had a solid proposition in mind.
At that stage the lunch was being planned in the body of Holy Trinity Church itself, but it eventually became apparent that the building was not entirely suitable for the event.
It was at that point the plan for the marquee came into play.
Tickets for the birthday lunch can be obtained from the box office at Stratford Civic Hall by visiting the box office in person, by telephoning 01789 207100 between 10am and 4pm, Monday to Friday, or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org
The overall figure of £170,000 in expenses also needs unpacking. Most people think of business expenses as person...
Although the government u-turned on their decision to ignore VC winners born abroad in September, there were concerns th...
They say there is an “appalling lack of information” handed out to users by energy suppliers, and three quar...