New Shakespeare statue unveiled in the Bard’s historic home town of Stratford-upon-Avon

A new life size statue of William Shakespeare was unveiled in Stratford-upon-Avon on 23 February as part of the town’s celebrations commemorating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.

Young Will
Situated in Bancroft Gardens, the statue entitled ‘Young Will’ has been gifted by sculptor Lawrence Holofcener, who travelled from the USA to present the town with the sculpture on his 90th birthday.

Young Will close up
The multi-talented Mr Holofcener, who in previous careers was a successful Broadway actor, songwriter, and playwright, dedicated the sculpture to the actors, tourists and townspeople of Stratford with a personalised poem.

Unveiling the statue
The statue portrays a young William Shakespeare with one leg raised on a bench, holding a scroll of parchment.

Mr Holofcener revealed during the ceremony that the scroll that young Will is holding is not a play but the lines for one actor, a technique that Elizabethan actors were accustomed to.

Lawrence Holofcener stands with Young Will
Stratford district council hopes ‘Young Will’ will prove a popular spot in the town –  it’s certainly the perfect place for a Shakespeare selfie.

Go here for more on Lawrence Holofcener.

Go here for more on Stratford-upon-Avon’s 2016 Shakespeare Celebrations.

West Midlands artist Geoff Tristram has painted this amazingly life-like portrait of William Shakespeare to commemorate 400 years since the Bard’s death

Shakespeare scan low res
Stourbridge-based artist and novelist Geoff Tristram has been commissioned by Stratford-upon-Avon Council to create a brand new oil painting of Shakespeare to mark the 400th Anniversary of the Bard’s death.

The resulting portrait is a photo-realistic treat for Shakespeare fans. Taking elements of the First Folio’s Droeshout engraving and the Shakespeare effigy in Stratford’s Holy Trinity Church, it presents a version of Shakespeare in prosperous middle-age. Quill in hand, he looks reflective, wise and instantly recognisable.

“I wanted you to believe he was a real bloke,” Geoff says, “not an old, badly-drawn etching!”

Large prints of Geoff’s Shakespeare portrait will be available – signed and numbered in a limited edition of 400 – priced £195 plus postage & packing.

For further details, contact the artist via email: gt@geofftristram.co.uk

The Royal Shakespeare Company’s Gregory Doran completes his ambitious ‘King and Country’ tetralogy with rising star Alex Hassell in the title role of Henry V

[Images by Keith Pattison for the RSC]

Henry V_c_ RSC_RsC.HenryV.4110
With the 600th anniversary of Agincourt on 25 October, Doran’s production of Henry V at Stratford-upon-Avon’s Royal Shakespeare Theatre is a standout tribute to both Shakespeare and the battle that helped define British history.

Returning to the role he so effortlessly made his own (opposite Antony Sher’s Falstaff) in Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, Alex Hassell is undoubtedly the star of the show.

Henry V_c_ RSC_RsC.HenryV.2880
By the time he’s reciting the legendary St Crispin’s Day speech, Hassell deploys Shakespeare’s words so powerfully that the audience is ready to leap up and follow him into battle.

Hassell also brings some comedy to role of the English king who has left his notoriously misspent youth behind him.

Henry V_c_ RSC_RsC.HenryV.4263
A particular highlight is the meeting of Henry and the French princess, Katherine, played by Jennifer Kirby. Hassell plays the scene as a Hugh Grant-type character as he petitions his prospective wife to love him whilst overcoming a language barrier.

Alex Hassell is definitely an actor to keep a close eye on as he progresses through his Shakespearean career.

Henry V_c_ RSC_RsC.HenryV.3427
Other performances that stand out include Oliver Ford Davies as the cardigan-wearing Chorus, Antony Byrne as the fiery Pistol and Jane Lapotaire as Queen Isobel.

Despite Lapotaire only appearing in Act V, her presence is spellbinding and it’s a pleasure to witness her commanding the stage.

Henry V_c_ RSC_RsC.HenryV.2760_1
The entire production was captivating from start to finish, and certainly a strong ending to the RSC’s run of history plays over the last couple of years.

Henry V will transfer to London’s Barbican Theatre in November before moving the New York in April 2016.

Henry V_c_ RSC_RsC.HenryV.3516
Go here to book tickets for Henry V at the Barbican.

Check out the trailer and clips from brilliant Shakespeare comedy film BILL, arriving in UK cinemas Friday 18 September

The funniest Shakespeare film of the year is upon us.

The UK comedy heroes who brought us Horrible Histories have tackled the mystery of Shakespeare’s “lost years”.

Matthew Baynton as Bill Shakespeare in BILL

Matthew Baynton as Bill Shakespeare in BILL

 

The result is BILL, a Shakespeare film that pulls off the neat trick of being brilliantly silly while packing in enough literary and historical references to satisfy the most ardent of Shakespeareans.

Quite possibly the most entertaining Bard film since Shakespeare in Love, it’s also a razor sharp parody of Tudor costume dramas like the Elizabeth films.

Helen McCrory as Queen Elizabeth I in BILL

Helen McCrory as Queen Elizabeth I in BILL

 

But don’t take our word for it. Check out the trailer and four clips below for a taste of BILL’s many mirthful moments.

We’ve also added cinema links at the end, so you can book your tickets right now!

TRAILER:

“People will remember the name Shakespeare… twenty years from now!”

CLIP 1:

Richard Hawkins versus King Philip of Spain

“Do look me up if ever one of your Armadas pans out…”

CLIP 2:

Shakespeare gets in a spot of bother at the meat market

“No problem. Just a salad that needs… addressing”

CLIP 3:

Queen Elizabeth and the King of Spain

“I came straight here. No funny business”

CLIP 4:

Marlowe meets Walsingham

“What are you doing in a pie?”

BILL (94 minutes, Cert: PG) is released in the UK on Friday 18 September.

Go here to book tickets for BILL at Cineworld Cinemas.

Go here to book tickets for BILL at Odeon Cinemas.

Go here to book tickets for BILL at Vue Cinemas.

Go here to book tickets for BILL at Showcase Cinemas.

Shakespeare Magazine 08 celebrates the theatrical event of 2015: Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet

image

Our 10-page feature explores Benedict’s Shakespearean story and includes beautiful images and a full Barbican review.

Also this issue: our essential visitor’s guide to Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon (with a nod to Stratford, Ontario).

Plus! Shakespeare in Scotland, Shakespeare Video Games, Richard III in California, and Painting Shakespeare with artist Rosalind Lyons.

As always, Shakespeare Magazine is completely free, so please read it and share it, and help us spread the word of the Bard!

Go here to read Shakespeare Magazine 08

“Shakespeare Smoked Dope?” Shakespeare Magazine Editor Pat Reid investigates the clickbait headlines and reveals the dodgy research and unbelievably shoddy journalism behind the sensational claims

Gamut Theatre's 2015 Hamlet uses drugs to make its point. But Shakespeare himself probably didn't.

Gamut Theatre’s 2015 Hamlet uses drugs to make its point. But Shakespeare himself probably didn’t.

 

You’ve probably already seen the spurious “Shakespeare Smoked Dope!” headlines that are flashing around the internet – if not, I won’t dignify them by reposting a link.

What you may not know is that the story – which seems to have been revived by The Independent – is actually 15 years old.

It’s based on claims by a South African academic, who says he’s found residue of cannabis in 17th century pipes unearthed in Shakespeare’s garden in Stratford-upon-Avon.

He also claims to have detected cocaine residue in similarly-dated pipes found elsewhere in Stratford.

The academic in question, Francis Thackeray, believes that a line in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 76 about “invention in a noted weed” is a reference to cannabis.

Thackeray, a palaeoanthropologist, admits there’s no evidence that any of the pipes belonged to Shakespeare.

But this hasn’t stopped the world’s media gleefully publishing lurid, attention-grabbing “Shakespeare was a Stoner!” headlines.

What’s distressing is that none of the major media brands – including iconic names like The Telegraph and Time – have subjected these claims to even the most cursory analysis.

Instead, legions of so-called journalists have merely cut-and-pasted the original Independent story before adding their own byline and picture.

Whatever your opinion on Shakespeare or drugs, this is clickbait churnalism at its most egregious.

To counterbalance this tsunami of Shakespearean misinformation, I’ve done a little reading, thinking and questioning – three things which are supposedly part of the job for any professional journalist.

First of all, cannabis. Hemp was harvested on an industrial scale by the Tudors (for multiple uses including rope-making, fabrics and remedies). But the variety in use was apparently lacking in psychoactive properties, and it has never been thought that Shakespeare’s contemporaries were smoking it.

Tobacco from the New World was certainly being smoked during the Elizabethan and Jacobean era. However, there are no references to tobacco in Shakespeare’s works.

As for cocaine, this wasn’t even synthesized until the 19th century. And, to my knowledge, reports of people smoking cocaine only date back to as recently as the 1970s.

The concept of “smoking weed” didn’t catch on in England until centuries later, so Thackeray’s interpretation of the line in Sonnet 76 is fanciful at best.

Incidentally, there are numerous uses of the word “weed” in Shakespeare. All refer to either clothing (in the sense of “widow’s weeds”) or lowly species of plant-life.

In the latter sense, the references are overwhelmingly negative, although there is an example of ‘weed’ as a term of endearment in Othello.

There are certainly no clear examples of ‘weed’ used to mean cannabis. Thackeray’s clutching at the elliptical line in Sonnet 76 seems like a desperate manifestation of confirmation bias.

There are plenty of references to drugs in Shakespeare. They take the form of remedies, potions and, in Romeo and Juliet, deadly poisons. What you won’t find is any mention of smoking cannabis or cocaine.

And finally, there are several references to pipes in Shakespeare’s works – usually in the sense of musical instruments, but sometimes in the sense of veins as pipes containing blood.

And, you guessed it, there are absolutely no references in Shakespeare to pipes being used for smoking.

I should state at this point that I personally don’t have any problem with the idea of William Shakespeare experimenting with mind-altering substances. After all, many of my favourite musicians did. But the likes of Hendrix and Bowie were frying their minds 400 years later. There’s simply no evidence that Shakespeare did so in the 16th and 17th century.

Certainly, Shakespeare’s language can be ultra-vivid, dizzyingly complex and brain-stretchingly surreal. He had huge appeal for the generation of Romantic poets that came later – some of whom did partake of substances that we would recognize as mind-altering drugs.

But perhaps we should accept that Shakespeare’s legendarily imaginative deployment of language was ultimately just down to him being a great writer.

I use Open Source Shakespeare to check quotes and references in Shakespeare’s works. And you should too.

Shakespeare Magazine is a completely free online publication all about Shakespeare. Go here to read all our issues so far.

Actor Danny Steele achieves his ambition to play Shakespeare’s Richard III on the hallowed turf of Stratford-upon-Avon – with just three days of rehearsal!

Earlier this summer, I played the Duke of Gloucester – and King Richard – in the Oxford Shakespeare Company’s Richard III. Excitingly, the production was staged in the Dell Gardens, close to the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon.

We performed twice in one day at and then, a few days later, in Bosworth Field. But what made this performance unique – and really tested us all as performers – was that the company had got together to fully rehearse and bond just three days earlier.

Queen Anne (Emma Fitchett) gets chatted up by the Duke of Gloucester (Danny Steele)

Queen Anne (Emma Fitchett) gets chatted up by the Duke of Gloucester (Danny Steele)

Yes, you read that right. Three days earlier. When I told fellow teachers and actors about the schedule their responses ranged from puzzlement to outright disbelief. And it was pretty unbelievable. No, there was none of the luxury afforded to the RSC with their six month rehearsal period.

Performing Shakespeare is already difficult enough, but this new dimension certainly added an extra level of frisson to the performances – and gave me, as the lead, sleepless nights.

The two murderers (Mia Norton, Matthew Domenico) joke about Clarence’s death

The two murderers (Mia Norton, Matthew Domenico) joke about Clarence’s death

The Oxford Shakespeare Company is owned and run by Ron Song Destro, an American Director and Shakespeare Scholar. Half the cast were from the US and came over the week before. We all met at the start of the week in London before leaving for Stratford-upon-Avon.

The audiences were great, and we were able to ‘mingle’ with them in each two-hour performance. Especially Queen Margaret, as played by Rachele Fregonese, who sat next to audiences on the bench and the lawn as she delivered some of her lines.

The murdered twins visit King Richard (Danny Steele) and Richmond (Andrew James Gordon) while they sleep

The murdered twins visit King Richard (Danny Steele) and Richmond (Andrew James Gordon) while they sleep

As part of the schedule, we had the opportunity to work with the RSC’s celebrated voice director Cicely Berry, as well as receiving direction from theatre veteran Malcolm Mckay.

Two days before the show I had an attack of the ‘actor’s fear’. I felt nauseous, couldn’t eat and didn’t sleep. During the shows, however, all those worries fell away and although some lines were missed, the objectives stayed.

The Group ensemble at the RSC with renowned voice coach Cicely Berry

The Group ensemble at the RSC with renowned voice coach Cicely Berry

Would I put myself through it again? Hell, yes! Ron’s work has inspired me to stage another production of Richard III. This one will be set in the 1990s, and will be staged in London in early 2016. Watch this space!

To find out more about Ron Song Destro’s Oxford Shakespeare Company, go here.

Shakespeare Magazine witnessed the 2015 Shakespeare Birthday Parade held on 25 April in the Bard’s Stratford-upon-Avon birthplace

1

The Air Training Corps Band led the parade through the streets of Stratford. The route was extended this year to incorporate Shakespeare’s birthplace on Henley Street – taking the parade from cradle to grave.

2
A staple part of the celebrations is the town’s William Shakespeare and his wife at the front of the walking parade.

3
The big birthday cake this year was themed around the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, a battle which features in Shakespeare’s Henry V. The cake was decorated by local school children and artists.

4
Gregory Doran, Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, taking part in the walking parade to leave flowers at Shakespeare’s grave in Holy Trinity Church.

5
The annual handing over of the quill between Shakespeare and the head boy of King Edward’s School, which Shakespeare attended as a boy. This recent tradition was added to the parade at the suggestion of Gregory Doran, who felt it would symbolise that Shakespeare’s writing lives on.

6
The unfurling of the flags saw 451 gold and black balloons being released. Each balloon represented a year since Shakespeare’s birth.

7
There was plenty of entertainment around Stratford. At the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Keith Osborn read sonnets at the top of the viewing tower. We were treated to ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day’.

8
The view from the Royal Shakespeare Theatre tower, looking towards Holy Trinity Church.

9
There was street entertainment on every road. This was the Shakespeare Morris Dancers outside the town hall.

10
Holy Trinity Church: Shakespeare’s grave and monument beautifully adorned by all the floral tributes that were left from visitors around the world.

Actor and director Sir Kenneth Branagh receives prestigious Pragnell Shakespeare Birthday Award in Stratford-upon-Avon

Shakespeare superstar Kenneth Branagh.

Shakespeare superstar Kenneth Branagh.

Sir Kenneth Branagh has received the 2015 Pragnell Shakespeare Birthday Award.

The distinguished Shakespearean actor/director and award-winning international film star was chosen to receive the award by representatives of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Shakespeare Institute chose.
The award was presented on Saturday 25 April at the Shakespeare Birthday Luncheon held at the Theatre Gardens in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Sponsored by Stratford-based jewellers George Pragnell Limited, the award is given annually “for outstanding achievement in extending the appreciation and enjoyment of the works of William Shakespeare or in the general advancement of Shakespearean knowledge and understanding”.
Last year’s award was presented to Sir Nicholas Hytner. Other acclaimed recipients include Sir Ian McKellen, Sir Patrick Stewart, Sir Peter Hall, Dame Judi Dench and Dame Harriet Walter.

Belfast-born Branagh joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1984, where he received acclaim for his performances in Hamlet and Henry V. His most recent Shakespeare production, Macbeth (Manchester International Festival and the Armory, New York), marked his 25th Shakespeare production.

Five-times Oscar nominated Branagh has directed and starred in several film adaptations of William Shakespeare’s plays, including Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, Othello, Hamlet, Love Labour’s Lost and As You Like It.

He has recently announced the launch of his own Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company which will stage Shakespeare plays The Winter’s Tale and Romeo and Juliet.

Sir Ken said: “I am honoured to be this year’s recipient of the distinguished Pragnell Shakespeare award. To be in the company of such illustrious predecessors is both touching and meaningful. I look forward very much to returning to Stratford, a town I love, and of course, to a delightful lunch to celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday!”

Shakespeare Magazine's Emma Wheatley with Sir Kenneth Branagh in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Shakespeare Magazine’s Emma Wheatley with Sir Kenneth Branagh in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Professor Stanley Wells, Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Honorary President said: “Kenneth Branagh is more than worthy of this prestigious award, both as a great actor and director of Shakespeare on stage and as an innovative, prolific and highly successful director and actor in films of Shakespeare that have brought his plays to global audiences who would never otherwise have been able to enjoy them.”

The President and Master of Ceremonies for the afternoon was distinguished historian Michael Wood, while the toast to the Immortal Memory of William Shakespeare was delivered by writer and broadcaster Gyles Brandreth.

Stand-up comedian, actress, writer, vegan and all-round clever clogs Sara Pascoe is a big fan of William Shakespeare, and she’s not afraid to shout about it

SARAPASCOE_mickperrin_image1
How on earth?

“I’ve got an English degree, and a big part of my life at university was throwing off the misunderstandings and misapprehensions I’d had about Shakespeare at school and coming to appreciate him properly. At school I think we got taught Macbeth and King Lear and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the teacher would say ‘Oh, you see what he’s saying here? He’s saying this’, and I would think ‘How on earth?’ I just didn’t believe them, I thought the teachers were making it up. Then when I was at university we had to read virtually all of the plays and we went into much more depth. That was when I suddenly realised how clever Shakespeare was, and it was mind-blowing.”

My favourite play…

“I did love the Sonnets. I think they’re so accessible and they have such universal themes – death, and time, and how we replicate ourselves. If I had to pick a favourite play… I really loved The Winter’s Tale actually, and I remember thinking Measure for Measure was brilliant, but I think probably Hamlet is my favourite.
“The one I seem to have seen most is As You Like It. I saw an RSC production of Much Ado About Nothing which had Tamsin Greig as Beatrice. They set it I think in Cuba or South America and it was just fantastic, really rhythmic and hilarious.”

If Shakespeare were here today…
“Shakespeare nowadays? Oh gosh, it would be something incredible, wouldn’t it? He was so fantastic at creating these flawed heroes where you could absolutely see how life had made them behave in a certain way, and because of that behaviour drama just unfolds everywhere around them. He’d put everyone else to shame because he’d be writing comedies and dramas and films all at the same time. Even now, people would probably be saying ‘Is it really just one man? It must be a committee of people doing it secretly!’”
Sara Pascoe - Large Library Image

He always sees the full picture
“I just think he understands human psychology so brilliantly. He understands cause and effect, he understands how people can be trying to be good, but also that their worldview might be slightly too myopic to enable them to see anything larger. However, he as the writer always manages to see the full picture and always, especially in the greatest of the plays, manages to create such a viable world that it doesn’t seem fictional. I recently saw the Macbeth they did at the Globe where they made the play a comedy, very successfully. And I thought that was so fantastic because the ambitions of the Macbeths had such lightness of touch all of a sudden, and the play still held together, it still felt true.”

Ten Things I Hate About You
“I think what was always surprising, probably because of the age I was when they came out, was finding out that things like Ten Things I Hate About You was The Taming of the Shrew. It’s always great when you think ‘Oh! Yes, I see, it’s that story!’ I’ve been watching House of Cards, and they’ve very clearly jumped off from Macbeth.”

On being a teenage skateboard fairy
“I do talk about Shakespeare in my show that I’m touring with at the moment. I have a little routine about being told that A Midsummer Night’s Dream was a comedy and how as a 15, 16-year-old having teachers try to say ‘Look, here’s the joke – the queen loves a donkey!’ you just think ‘I don’t get it’. The routine’s about that and how in our production we were trying to liven it up. Everyone wants to do their own ground-breaking thing with Shakespeare, even though it’s all already been done. So I played Puck, but I was on a skateboard and I knocked myself out. Twice. I wasn’t very good at the skateboard. We really thought this was ground-breaking at the time.”
Sara Pascoe press pic

All about the attitude
“I think that’s what’s so interesting about new productions, they make you meet characters again in a different way. I really like Hermione from The Winter’s Tale. I think that her speeches are so brave and courageous. I’ll always love Kate from The Taming of the Shrew too, but she doesn’t even really talk very much in the play. It’s much more the attitude and the performance of her, isn’t it?

“Beatrice and Benedick’s whole repartee with each other, it’s so brilliant to watch on stage because it doesn’t come across on the page in the same way. Trying to overhear somebody else’s conversation while hiding behind a pot plant, I always think that’s so hysterical.”

Women with brains and activity and thoughts
“I think in terms of his time he was incredible. This was a time when women weren’t allowed on the stage. To be born a woman and want to be creative was impossible. You couldn’t own property, you couldn’t earn money, you were either born into a rich family to be married off, or you were born with no money and very limited options. Shakespeare did write women with brains and activity and thoughts, and I think in some plays the women are as varied as the men in terms of morality and intelligence. Although now for actresses the number of men on stage to the number of women is probably a bit frustrating, it could be a whole lot worse, so I think he should be respected for that.

“Also people are now putting on all-female productions. That’s so exciting because in Shakespeare’s day it would have been an all-male company, and now the opposite is completely possible.”

Most Shakespeare thing I’ve done…
“This isn’t so much a Shakespeare thing as a me thing, but I’ve been to the RSC twice to do stand-up. I got to do stand-up on the stage at the Swan, and that was amazing. Stratford-upon-Avon is a wonderful place. You walk around thinking ‘Oh my god, this is where Shakespeare was born’. Then I remember that I live in London – where he chose to live.”

Go here to find out more about Sara and check out her latest tour dates.

This interview originally appeared in Issue 6 of Shakespeare Magazine. Go here to see the original version.