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Dame Judi Dench, Stephen Fry, Maureen Lipman, Joanna Lumley and winner Adrian Lester attend Pragnell's Shakespeare Birthday lunch



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HUNDREDS of people gathered for the traditional Shakespeare luncheon in a marquee on the RSC Theatre Gardens on Saturday which began at midday after the parade.

There was a roll call of the great and good in attendance from near and far. This included local dignitaries, those working in Shakespeare-related pursuits and industries, and international representatives including ambassadors and their staff.

Adrian Lester, his wife, dramatist, writer and actor Lolita Chakrabarti, and Stephen Fry. Photos: Mark Williamson (56312479)
Adrian Lester, his wife, dramatist, writer and actor Lolita Chakrabarti, and Stephen Fry. Photos: Mark Williamson (56312479)

For the first time the lunch was organised by Pragnell, and it proved as glittering an affair as its diamonds. Celebrities that attended included: Stephen Fry, Joanna Lumley, Kathy Lette, Dame Maureen Lipman, Adrian Lester and Lolita Chakrabarti.

Guests enjoyed a three-course lunch as they were entertained and listened to speeches. This included a covers band playing a selection of groovy numbers, a poet, clowns and conjurors, and RSC actors Luke Wilson and Akiya Henry performing a scene from the recent Much Ado About Nothing.

Maureen Lipman and Kathy Lette: Shakespeare Birthday Lunch 2022 Photos: Mark Williamson (56312481)
Maureen Lipman and Kathy Lette: Shakespeare Birthday Lunch 2022 Photos: Mark Williamson (56312481)

Alexander Armstrong proved to be a jolly and unflappable host and kept the whole thing rolling along very nicely.

RSC president, His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, beamed in on large TV screens to congratulate all and wax lyrical about his love of Shakespeare. Dame Judi Dench parked her sheep and took to the stage to say a few words and be generally worshipped by the adoring audience who gave her a standing ovation. She finished with a beautiful reading of Sonnet 29 (When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes…).

Dame Judi Dench: Shakespeare Birthday Lunch 2022 Photos: Mark Williamson (56312518)
Dame Judi Dench: Shakespeare Birthday Lunch 2022 Photos: Mark Williamson (56312518)

But if the day belonged to one person it would be this year’s Pragnell Award winner, actor Adrian Lester. He joked about having to follow Judi, but proved himself to be a more than a worthy second act with a touching and thoughtful speech about how he discovered Shakespeare.

Originally from Birmingham, Adrian declared himself “dead chuffed” to receive the award which he also described in that most Brum of terms, “bostin’”.

Professor Michael Dobson presents award to Adrian Lester: Shakespeare Birthday Lunch 2022 Photos: Mark Williamson (56312536)
Professor Michael Dobson presents award to Adrian Lester: Shakespeare Birthday Lunch 2022 Photos: Mark Williamson (56312536)

Speaking of how as a budding young actor he saw Shakespeare as an obstacle, having never read his work at school, he described how he had an epiphany after reading Measure For Measure to learn a speech by Angelo. He explained: “I saw that Shakespeare didn’t use too many words but too few; that he had somehow concentrated several meanings into one sentence and distilled those feelings into words that are too small to express the raging emotions going on inside him. I was astounded by the clarity of thought and intention that the actor needed to convey this complicated stuff. I thought yes, this is an obstacle, this is a testing ground for my abilities…

“After 35 years working on this obstacle, I count myself incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to speak Shakespeare’s words on-stage in front of an audience. It is a privilege to do this job, to go to work and be excited by his detail and be invigorated by the challenge. I think we are the only profession in the world where at the end of your working day you get a round of applause and take a bow just before you go home. Imagine that if your job was roadwork, highway maintenance…”

Adrian finished by proposing a toast to the theatre: “Strangers gathering together in the same space sharing a desire to be changed by words.”

FRY'S BARDISH DELIGHT

Stephen Fry had a quick red-carpet chat with the Herald about the birthday boy...

The Herald's Gill Sutherland chats to Stephen Fry. Photos: Mark Williamson (56312473)
The Herald's Gill Sutherland chats to Stephen Fry. Photos: Mark Williamson (56312473)

If Shakespeare was here in person what would you ask him?

I’d ask him how he did it, and if he knew he would be immortal.

He wasn’t a simpleton out of whom it came by accident, like monkeys at a keyboard, and he had a brain and a po- etic imagination. His under- standing of people had never been exhibited in language before... And you would just want to look at him and see all around him and see how big his brain was. You’d want to see in his eyes, to see the how much fire, imagination and humour there was.

A few years ago [when Fry was in Twelfth Night] I would have said you know that scene when Malvolio is in prison, did you write that? I’ve spo- ken to other Malvolios and we’ve all agreed it’s the hard- est scene to learn the words of – Ian McKellen said it can’t be by Shakespeare because it’s impossible to learn. So I’d ask him that practical detail.

Can you feel the spirit of Shakespeare in Stratford today?

He is indeed palpably here. I think it keeps Stratford beautiful, because I think it’s unlikely it would retain so much of its fabulous architecture without the Shakespeare connection.

I think he would be very amused by the mayor and the dignitaries… and the sheep herding.



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