Guide to celebrating William Shakespeare's 459th birthday in Stratford-upon-Avon
STRATFORD will celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday with a variety of activities next weekend (22nd-23rd April).
The traditional Birthday Parade begins with participants assembling from 9.45am on the Saturday. The Air Training Corps Band will lead the parade at 10.40am from the top of Bridge Street, heading along the High Street. Mr Shakespeare will collect the quill, as per tradition, followed by the unfurling of the flags from 11am. Students from King Edward VI School will then lead the procession to Holy Trinity Church.
The celebrations continue with Pragnell’s annual Shakespeare Birthday Lunch, hosted by Alexander Armstrong. This year the RSC and Pragnell have partnered for an exclusive show to be performed during the lunch, directed by Roberta Zuric. This will be followed by the presentation of the annual Pragnell Shakespeare Birthday Award, which this year is being presented to RSC artistic director emeritus Gregory Doran.
On Sunday, a smaller procession will make its way from the town hall to Holy Trinity Church for the Shakespeare service, which includes verse and music from the current RSC ensemble.
There will also be a variety of entertainment and activities provided by the RSC, Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and the Shakespeare Institute throughout the weekend.
The RSC is hosting free family-friendly activities in the Swan Theatre Gardens with performances of Toast by Pif-Paf Theatre, while a new RSC sensory map will encourage visitors to find out more about the heritage of its buildings using their senses.
Performances over the weekend include Doran’s 50th production for the RSC, Shakespeare’s dark fairy-tale Cymbeline, and Hamnet, directed by Erica Whyman, will also be showing in the newly reopened Swan Theatre.
Also reopening – for the first time in three years – will be the RSC’s permanent exhibition, The Play’s the Thing, which includes costumes worn by Dame Judi Dench, Sir Laurence Olivier and Sir Kenneth Branagh. The exhibition also includes artist and composer Liz Gre’s artwork that examines Shakespeare’s First Folio from the perspectives of refugees living in Stratford today.
Liz said: “I wanted to use the First Folio to highlight the stories of people living near the RSC now, from everyday occurrences through to monumental stories of making a life in a new place. I hope the women who have co-created this work with me feel seen and feel connected with the place they now live, and that what we’ve produced honours and protects their words.”
The Friday (21st April) before the parade also marks the 400th anniversary of the death of Anne Shakespeare which will be marked with a one-day conference taking place at The Shakespeare Institute. It will feature a range of speakers, the launch of a new collection of poems and special guest Dame Janet Suzman. (Book at www.shakespeare.org.uk.)
Shakespeare Birthplace Trust has also planned a special programme. On Saturday and Sunday visitors can write their own birthday message to Shakespeare on a large, colourful, hexagon-shaped piece of art on Henley Street. On Saturday (12pm-4pm) performers will be in the gardens of New Place for an afternoon of Tudor singing and dancing and much merriment (free to residents with proof of a CV37 postcode).
On Sunday in Henley Street (1.30am-5pm), Autin Dance Theatre Company perform new sea-inspired show Out Into The Deep Blue, featuring giant puppets.
But one thing will be missing from the weekend - the Shakespeare Marathon, which was cancelled due low entry numbers. It is hoped the race will be back for 2024.