Picture special – Stratford comes together for a weekend celebrating William Shakspeare
SHAKESPEARE’S Birthday Celebrations were also a sign of European unity as the Ukrainian flag was unfurled in Bridge Street and a Ukrainian professor was a guest of honour at the Birthday lunch.
The annual celebrations in honour of William Shakespeare saw dignitaries from the war-torn country express their deep gratitude for the support and love Stratford has shown to the people of Ukraine.
While the Birthday parade always attracts visitors from around the world who join townspeople to enjoy the traditional celebrations, but this year there was added significance as there was little no Covid fears to contend with and the war in Ukraine had recently passed its first-year mark.
Stratford mayor, Cllr Gill Cleeve told the Herald the celebrations and, in particular William Shakespeare, were still as relevant today as they had always been and that Saturday’s event clearly showed the international affection people have for the town.
“Stratford is successful and known worldwide because of Shakespeare. I can go to any part of the world and while some may not have heard of the town itself, they all know who Shakespeare is and we still get visitors because of this,” Cllr Cleeve said. “As I’m Canadian, we got some Canadians living in Stratford to unfurl the country’s flag in Bridge Street. Ukrainian dignitaries unfurled their flag and thanked the people of Stratford for their help and support.
“It was an incredible weekend with so many people lining the streets.”
Those crowds were entertained by the parade, an appearance of William Shakespeare, the Air Training Corps Band and the unfurling of the flags.
Pupils and students from Stratford schools, including Shakepeare’s old school, King Edward VI, were included in the procession which went through town to Holy Trinity Church where flowers were laid in honour of the world’s greatest playwright who is laid to rest there.
Elsewhere in town families enjoyed a series of free activities hosted by the RSC at the Swan Theatre Gardens. There were performances of Toast by Pif-Paf Theatre, while a new RSC sensory map allowed visitors to find out more about the heritage of RSC buildings using their senses.
The RSC also reopened its permanent exhibition, the Play’s the Thing, for the first time in three years where visitors could see costumes worn by Dame Judi Dench, Sir Laurence Olivier and Sir Kenneth Branagh.
Over in Henley Street, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust encouraged visitors to write birthday messages to Shakespeare while in New Place there were there was Tudor singing and dancing.
On Friday there was also a chance to celebrate Stratford’s community. A reception was held at Stratford Town Hall where the mayor and the town thanked the volunteers for freely giving their time to worthy causes – some have been doing so for decades.
The mayor usually chooses one person whose work sums up the massive effort made by other volunteers, but Cllr Cleeve couldn’t choose just one person so chose two.
“I chose Anne Whatcott and Gill Keeley – I call them the dynamic duo,” the mayor said. “Anne supports Girl Guiding and has been a Brown Owl for 30 plus years.
“She also volunteers for the Air Ambulance and is a Poppy Appeal organiser for the Royal British Legion.
“Gill volunteers for Girl Guiding, Shakespeare Lions, VASA and the foodbank.
“Both were presented with the mayor’s award which is a silver plaque thanking them for their volunteer work in the community.
“The Mayor’s Cadet award was presented to Tom Hemming, who has been outstanding for 1289 Stratford squadron of the Air Training Corps.”