Saturday 22nd April 2017 marks the 453rd birthday of The Bard (we think—his exact day of birth has never been completely factually established). Most of what we know about the life of Shakespeare is centred around Stratford-Upon-Avon and London, so it makes sense most of the celebrations take place in these areas.
Home is Where the Heart is
Let’s start with Will’s hometown, a small and unassuming village that is recognised worldwide—largely because of him. Set in rural Warwickshire, this medieval market town and its community really know how to honour the life and achievements of this phenomenal playwright. Each year, Stratford-Upon-Avonites host an elaborate parade which combines traditional ceremonies and marching bands with contemporary masks, confetti and prizes.
This year, both the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and The Swan Theatre will be hosting music between events. The events include: those aimed at a younger adults such as ‘reIMAGine History’, and an exhibition for all to enjoy showing the journey of 100 years of theatre in Stratford. There are also plenty of opportunities to get hands on. With craft making, interactive circus tricks and vocal warm-up demonstrations, there’s something for everyone. If none of that floats your boat, then how about riding the Sonnet Ferry down the River Avon? You can find a What’s On guide of some of the weekend’s events, here.
In the same area—not directly linked to Shakespeare, but cared for by Shakespeare Birthplace Trust—is the Elizabethan ‘Harvard House’. This significant property is no longer open to the public, but in observance of Shakespeare day, the doors are being unlocked for visitors free of charge. An important historical landmark, the house was built by Thomas Rogers, whose grandson was a founding benefactor of one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in the world. If you have time to find out how the prosperous lived in Tudor times, then this is the optimum opportunity to do so—in fact, you may not get many other chances to visit this impressive 1590s home, with its intricate and archaic facade.
New Gardens for an Old Home
For those who enjoy tranquil, innovative spaces, visit the plot of land where Shakespeare’s last house stood: New Place. Once a 20-room house, the area has been landscaped to a highly contemporary specification to honour perhaps the greatest writer to ever have existed. Sculptures commemorate the influential figure, along with the bronze outline of the lost house, oak benches and auburn plants. This modern take on garden design mirrors the ahead-of-their-times works written by the man they represent, as well as sitting in perfectly harmonious incongruity to the Elizabethan buildings which surround it. Over the weekend, actors from Shakespeare Aloud! will be delivering a range of workshops here too.
Take to the Stage
Some people prefer to remember the great wordsmith by witnessing his creations live on stage. The RSC are performing Antony and Cleopatra at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon until September. So grab tickets for the Saturday Matinee, and wander the great streets of Warwickshire while you’re there. In London, The Globe is showing a brand-new, turbulent take on Romeo and Juliet which opens this weekend. You may not get a ticket for the first night, but the production is on until the 9th July, so send Will some belated wishes and get booking.
If you’re in the capital, and want to see something really—ahem—different, grab a ticket to see S***-Faced Shakespeare: Much Ado About Nothing. Performances run on Friday or Saturday evenings in Leicester Square. If you’ve not heard of this Fringe-born phenomenon, then in a nutshell, this company provide all the seriousness of a Shakespeare play with only one small—and evidently hilarious—plot flaw: a randomly selected cast member gets seriously drunk during the performance. Maybe, just maybe, this is how one experiences a true replica of the original play; according to legend, historically actors would regularly perform drunk.
Shakespeare in London
The Globe Theatre is also putting on a great range of events to remember the life and times of Shakespeare. Storytelling is taking place at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, and you can tour the theatre and benefit from birthday treats such as sword fighting demonstrations and viewing Elizabethan costumes. If you want to stay outside in the big smoke, you can always attend the 25th Anniversary of Shakespeare’s Sonnet Walks. This iconic trail leads you into Shakespeare’s past using the medium of live actors who bring his most famous speeches and poetry to life.