Shakespeare's Coming Home project is given major boost by mammoth read-a-thon at Stratford Town Hall
THE final session of the ambitious Shakespeare’s Coming Home fundraising read-a-thon took place late on Saturday night when the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust read The Tempest.
Professor Sir Stanley Wells took on Prospero, while organiser Dr Paul Edmondson read Ariel. It was the 38th work by the playwright to be read aloud at the Stratford Town Hall in an effort to raise £45,000 to renovate the statue of Shakespeare which usually graces the front of the building.
Although money is still coming in, Dr Edmondson confirmed that so far the project has raised £18,333.10. The final figure will be match-funded by jewellers Pragnell, and Stratford Town Council are hoping to secure grants to make up any shortfall.
Speaking to the Herald following that final reading, Dr Edmondson said that despite 12 days of listening to Shakespeare from midday to midnight, it was a pleasure from start to finish.
“Every play was a gift. Each group that turned up had taken the time to support the project because they believed in it – who could tire of that? It was as humbling as it was amazing.”
Famous actor David Garrick donated the statue to the people of Stratford in 1769, the same year he launched the jubilee which established the town as the epicentre of all things Shakespeare.
And it was the spirit of Garrick that acted as a guiding light throughout, said Dr Edmondson.
“We started with Twelfth Night on 1st March, and when people turned up for it I thought people are coming, it’s worked. I knew it would be exciting.
“I was reminded of Garrick every day – he opened the town hall, and his portrait and effigy are on the wall in the ballroom I thought the spirit of Garrick was a presiding genius – it had that sense of something special, like the jubilee itself, of the community coming together – with Shakespeare among the people like the jubilee was. I kept thinking how pleased Garrick would that we did this for the statue that he gave to us.”
For fear of leaving anyone out, Dr Edmondson hesitated to list his highlights, but said: “I was as thrilled with the Stratford Town Walk, who came late at night to read Titus Andronicus wth no audience, as I was with stars such as Janet Suzman, Harriet Walter and Michael Pennington turning up. Every single person was the star of the show.”
He continued: “One of the abiding memories was the quickness with which Scott Handy read Hamlet – he read it with full commitment but at pace – to hear it was exciting.
“The kindness of Michael Pennington’s Lear was a reminder of how Burbage was said to have played it, who Shakespeare wrote the part for.
“There was the quickness and intelligence with which Harriet read Rosalind, and then Janet’s Cleopatra, who is in her 80s, but still has that voice.”
Recalling the young cast from Playbox, Dr Edmondson said: “Romeo and Juliet was lovely – it was a very compelling two-hour abridgement. All the young people understood everything they said and did it with such commitment and honesty.”
Dr Edmondson paid a special tribute to the loyalty of mayor Cllr Kevin Taylor, who went to almost everything, and also added a poignant thought about Ukraine.
He said: “Throughout Shakespeare’s Coming Home there was an on-going mindfulness of Ukraine as we read plays about war and peace, and how Shakespeare gives us hope and strength.”
One very special guest included Jennifer Caron Hall, daughter of RSC founder Peter Hall, who contacted Dr Edmondson to say she would read a part – so he gave her Imogen, from Cymbeline, one of her father’s favourite plays.
More starry action is to come when Sir Kenneth Branagh and Dame Judi Dench arrive on Friday, 22nd April at 1pm to unveil the statue the day before the Birthday Celebrations.
“Lining the streets to greet Shakespeare coming home will be amazing. We’ve been without the annual celebrations for two years so there’s a sense that a lot is coming home the Birthday weekend 2022.”