Celebrate the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth

Procession during Shakespeare's 445th birthday celebration in Stratford Upon Avon / Photo by John Ja

Procession during Shakespeare's 445th birthday celebration in Stratford Upon Avon / Photo by John James (jj@johnjames.net) - Credit: john james

The 450th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth will be marked by events across Warwickshire.

Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon on the 23rd April in 1564 and many of the region’s key attractions will mark the anniversary of the world’s most famous playwright with a year round programme of productions, events, festivals and exhibitions.

Stratford-upon-Avon’s celebrations of the anniversary will take place on April 26 and 27 when thousands of visitors are expected in the town. The tradition of the Birthday Celebrations dates back to 1824 and brings together residents and visitors with people from the worlds of diplomacy, theatre, literature and academia in a vibrant mix of pageantry and performance. Festivities start with the grand 1,000-strong procession which parades through the town centre of Stratford-upon-Avon and finishes with the laying of flowers on Shakespeare’s grave at Holy Trinity Church. A community parade follows and spectators can join the throng of costumed players and musicians to celebrate the anniversary.

The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) will be running a range of free activities for all the family in and around its theatres on Saturday April 26, including storytelling sessions, stage fighting workshops and the chance to see how fake scars and bruises are created. Visitors will also be able to enjoy music in the foyer areas, and, for 50p, cross the river on the ferry listening to RSC actors reading sonnets.

From March, the RSC will open a major new production of Henry IV Parts I & II which will play until September in repertoire in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre along with his early play The Two Gentlemen of Verona. In the Swan Theatre, the Roaring Girls Season explores works by Shakespeare’s contemporaries that feature great roles for and about women. On Shakespeare’s actual birthday, April 23, the RSC will celebrate with a firework display from the top of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre from 10.30pm after that evening’s performance of Henry IV, Part I. Taking inspiration from Ben Jonson’s “star of poets” description of William Shakespeare, the display will include a recreation of Shakespeare’s face, but in pyrotechnics.

In June, the RSC will also celebrate the 40th anniversary of The Other Place studio theatre and the vision of its founder, Buzz Goodbody, with ‘Midsummer Mischief’, a prologue to their plans to reinstate The Other Place in 2015. ‘Midsummer Mischief’ is a month-long season of new plays running in The Other Place at The Courtyard Theatre.

In March, The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust will launch a brand new exhibition, ‘Famous Beyond Words’, which will explore the story of William Shakespeare and his ascent from childhood in Stratford-upon-Avon to becoming a household name all over the world. It will take visitors on a journey to discover what sparked his imagination and how he continues to shape our lives today.

The Trust is also launching its first national campaign to give every primary school child in Britain a great first encounter with Shakespeare. Shakespeare Week (March 17 - 23) will unite primary schools, theatres, galleries, museums, cinemas, libraries, musicians, publishers and historic places in a nationwide celebration of Shakespeare’s cultural and creative influence. For information about events and activities for schools and families see www.shakespeareweek.org.uk.

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Throughout 2014 the RSC and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust will run other events and exhibitions celebrating Shakespeare’s legacy. They will also release a newly illustrated map of Shakespeare’s hometown, with a walking route between his Birthplace, Royal Shakespeare Theatre and Holy Trinity Church, making the perfect itinerary for visitors keen to explore the playwright’s legacy in this important anniversary year.

A concert in Holy Trinity Church on April 24 will launch a new three-year global singing project by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust to mark the anniversary of the playwright’s birth and death. ‘Singing Shakespeare’ will inspire choirs from all over the world to perform musical settings of Shakespeare. The concert will also feature the world premiere of a new work by award-winning composer Gary Carpenter, as well as the world premiere of a new arrangement of Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Fear No More’. The concert will include performances by the Stratford-upon-Avon Chamber Choir, Holy Trinity Church Choir and Cantare, a newly formed chamber choir based in Stratford. Tickets cost £12 (adults) and concessions £9 (children 5-17, students in full time education and over 60s). Book online at www.singingshakespeare.com

Mary Arden’s Farm, the working Tudor farm where Shakespeare’s mother grew up, will be celebrating its 500th anniversary with an exhibition reflecting the rich history of the house and the local community.

Enjoy a performance of Romeo and Juliet at Batsford Arboretum on July 10 at 7pm and a school’s matinee at 1pm. The Lord Chamberlain’s Men return with their 10th anniversary performance of this much-loved play, using the arboretum setting to add to the atmosphere. Matinee tickets cost £10 and evening tickets cost £16 for adults & £10 for children, students and concessions. To book, call Batsford Arboretum on 01386 701441.

Feast on a special ‘Bards Banquet’, a themed 22-dish banquet designed to honour the man himself at El Greco, a Greek restaurant in Stratford-upon-Avon. Enjoy this Greek-style Mezzes menu every day throughout 2014, except Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Lunch and pre-theatre is £22.95 per person and dinner is £24.95 per person. All the food goes in the middle of the table for everyone to share!

The Bell in Alderminster are offering a free overnight stay on Monday 28 April for visitors who are staying during ‘Shakespeare’s 450th Birthday Sleepover’ on Saturday 26 & Sunday 27 April. Visit www.thebellald.co.uk and quote SHAKE450 for the offer.

To celebrate the anniversary, Avonlea Guest House in Stratford-upon-Avon is offering 50% off a Sunday night when 3 or more nights are booked including a Sunday. Quote “Bard’s Birth” for availability and T&C’s. Visit www.avonleaguesthouse.co.uk

The Carter Company have unveiled a brand new cycling trip, ‘Shakespeare’s Way’, which traces the route from the Globe Theatre in London back to Shakespeare’s home in Stratford-upon-Avon. The route can be taken in slowly as ‘Shakespeare’s Way 10 night trip’, or more speedily as ‘Shakespeare’s Way 7 night trip’. It travels through the beautiful countryside of the River Thames, the Cotswolds and the Chilterns and past some of England’s finest attractions. Visit www.the-carter-company.com

Shakespeare’s anniversary isn’t the only one being celebrated in Warwickshire, with a number of businesses marking their own milestones with special events.

The Heritage Motor Centre is 21 in 2014, and the collection at Gaydon is a selection of the best of British motor cars difficult to rival, including some of the world’s most well-known pieces of automotive design. To celebrate this auspicious occasion, the HMC have chosen 21 products and people that represent the very best of British motoring and put together for a special exhibition. From the Mini and the Jaguar E-type via tyres and Cat’s Eyes, to Alec Issigonis and Colin Chapman, all embody the pioneering spirit of Britain’s contribution to the motor industry. For each of the 21, the exhibition will explore their history and why they are so important to Britain’s automotive evolution.

2014 is also a milestone year for Compton Verney, as it will be 10 years since the award-winning art gallery opened its doors for the first time. The gallery opened its season on Saturday February 15 and is celebrating with two special exhibitions. The first, an inspiring exhibition of works by two of the greats of sculpture, Moore Rodin, and the second a major survey of British Folk Art, apt for the gallery as it is home to the largest collection of British Folk Art in the UK. For more information, visit www.comptonverney.org.uk

The Stratford-upon-Avon Literary Festival celebrates its 7th successful year in 2014 with a host of events and activities from April 26 - May 4 including a Children’s Book Day with leading authors and illustrators. The Festival is a highlight of the regional calendar and is a significant literary festival in the UK, attracting thousands of people who share one passion: a love of books, writing and reading. For more information, visit www.stratfordliteraryfestival.co.uk

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More information on Shakespeare’s England can be found at www.shakespeares-england.co.uk

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