Stunning new details of a project to recreate Stratford in China were revealed last week, amid news that groundwork has already begun at the site.
Last October the Herald exclusively published details of the plan to recreate Stratford’s streets as part of a new cultural visitor attraction close to the city of Fuzhou in China.
During the Shakespeare Birthday Weekend a delegation from Fuzhou presented updated plans for Sanweng Town to key individuals and organisations in Stratford explaining that groundworks at the site are already being constructed.
They said that construction of the buildings would begin this September with a view to the whole project being completed in around two-and-a-half years’ time.
Sanweng Town is themed around Shakespeare, Miguel de Cervantes and Chinese playwright Tang Xianzu, with replicas of each of their home town’s included within the project.
This updated plans show that the Stratford recreation will form by far the biggest part of Sangweng town, as the delegation revealed that a string of additional historic buildings would be recreated.
Perhaps the most striking addition is the inclusion of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre complete with tower, which will be built on the banks of a large lake to host performances.
In the previous plan, a more generic theatre with no resemblance to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, had been proposed.
Catherine Mallyon, RSC Executive Director, said: “It was a pleasure to meet the members of the Chinese delegation from Fuzhou, and we were extremely interested to learn more of the plans for Sanweng. This Sunday was the first time that the idea for a theatre along the lines of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre has been raised, and we are awaiting further information so that we can understand the detail of any proposals.”
The updated plan also clarifies that the original New Place will be constructed in Sanweng Town, Shakespeare’s Stratford home, which was demolished 1759.
Other landmarks to be included are Nash’s House, Tudor World, The Swan Fountain, The American Fountain and City Hall (expected to be either the Town Hall or Elizabeth House).
These join other buildings such as Holy Trinity Church, the Shakespeare Birthplace and the Guildhall, which have already been penned in by architects at the attraction.
Other parts of Sanweng Town will reflect Bridge Street and Henley Street.
Cllr Chris Saint, leader of Stratford District Council, said: “I was very pleased that they quite clearly have taken on board what we said to them during our visit to China, it was very evident from the pictures and the information they provided.
“Last year we noted that they had missed out a few key buildings from their plans and I’m happy that they seem to have amended the proposal to include these.
“We were certainly given the impression that they want to replicate the buildings accurately. We’ve not seen any plans or pictures of the interiors of the buildings so that’s something we would like to know more about.
“Overall I’m reasonably positive about it, obviously we need a lot more detail before we could sign off our endorsement of the project, but it all seems to be moving in a positive direction.”
Covering more than 891,000 square metres, Sangweng Town will be a significant attraction, incorporating hot springs and spas, retail and restaurant areas and luxury hotels.
Since the plans emerged last October, the idea seems to have been cautiously welcomed in the town, with the Chinese designers complimented on the way they have tried to engage and discuss ideas with groups and individuals in Stratford.
Stratford mayor Cllr Juliet Short said: “Juliet said: “I really wasn’t surprised that they’ve already got to this point already, they have always seemed so determined to make this project a reality.
“They said that they would like to keep in touch with a the core group of people from Stratford who have advised them so far on the project and keep us in the loop, which I think is a very positive thing.
“I was really pleased that they have taken on our suggestions for Sangweng Town and it was good that the Fuzhou delegation got the chance to speak to Rev Patrick Taylor at Holy Trinity Church about the project too.
“My only small reservation is that we are yet to see any plans for the interior of the buildings, but I think the external plans look fantastic. We also stressed that it wouldn’t be suitable for the historic building recreations to be used as commercial premises and they seemed to take this on board.
Speaking after this week’s presentation of the updated plans, Philippa Rawlinson, Director of Operations and Marketing at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust said: “Since our visit to Fuzhou last September, we have been working closely with Holy Trinity Church and King Edward VI School to ensure that any replicas of the heritage buildings for which our three charities are responsible would be authentic and true to the spirit we seek to keep alive and share with our visitors here in Stratford-upon-Avon.
“This weekend we welcomed representatives of the Fuzhou government, who updated us on their concept plans. We discussed how we could explore opportunities to for us help shape the project with the quality controls and guarantees that we would require in return for our support. We will be continuing this dialogue with the government representatives once they are back home.
“I would like to thank Stratford on Avon District Council for their support in this process, particularly Councillors Saint, Thirlwell and Adams, and the Mayor Juliet Short.”
Bennet Carr, Headmaster at King Edward VI School added: “We attended a meeting where we were shown the latest plans. The important thing for us is that it is authentic and they seemed to understand this and gave us reassurances that it would be. The inclusion of the Guildhall shows they recognise the importance of the building as Shakespeare’s Schoolroom and also the place where his father John acted as Town Bailiff.
“China is a hugely populous country and not everyone will get the opportunity to come to Stratford. If they can construct this recreation authentically it could be incredibly beneficial and encourage more visitors to come to over here to see Shakespeare’s home town, but only if it is done right.”