Celebrating Shakespeare

Celebrating Shakespeare

Event: Late at the Library: World Book Night Celebrates Shakespeare 

Venue: The British Library 

Report by Eleanor Baggley

In 2016’s literary calendar, last week was pretty important. On top of World Book Night it was the bicentenary of Charlotte Bronte’s birth and we celebrated four hundred years of William Shakespeare. Saturday night saw a whole host of events around the capital and the UK honouring the Bard, but it was Late at the British Library that drew me in.

The evening was hosted by Passion in Practice Shakespeare Ensemble and thought up by the ensemble’s founder, Ben Crystal. It was a truly immersive and intimate experience. Crystal said the theatre company Punchdrunk had influenced him and this became clear as the night wore on. On arrival we were given a programme with what looked like a page for collecting stamps. The idea was to search out the various Shakespearean characters milling around the audience who would suddenly break into monologue. Romeo and Juliet had their balcony scene from two levels of the library, and Isabella, Iago and Caliban, to name a few, roamed free.

As well as members of Passion in Practice, the performers included folk duo The Askew Sisters, Sir Trevor McDonald, June Brown, John Agard and spoken word poet LionHeart. All the performers had a very clear enthusiasm for Shakespeare and contributed with gusto.

Is Shakespeare dead?

My favourite of the evening was LionHeart, who gave a stunning performance of a poem he’d written to commemorate the day. He talked of the relevance of Shakespeare in today’s society: ‘Is Shakespeare dead? Yes, but no’. This sentiment was later reflected in theatre company The Big House’s contribution to the evening.

After we heard a reading of the introduction to the First Folio in original pronunciation, Sir Trevor McDonald took the stage. He talked of growing up in the West Indies and how Shakespeare was ‘forced to be part of [his] life’, which he thought rather wonderful. He read his favourite sonnet – number 81 – and laughed that it was actually more applicable to celebrating the anniversary of his death rather than his birth. Thankfully, the date remains the same either way.

June Brown, a well-loved stage actress and known for her role as Dot in EastEnders, brought some unexpected comedy to the evening. Her presence on the stage was incredible and she had the whole audience in stitches before performing excerpts from Twelfth Night and Anthony and Cleopatra.

After a slightly shaky start (a bit more of an indication about what was happening and where would have been welcome), the evening ended on such a high note. There was a palpable enthusiasm for Shakespeare in the room that was a joy to be around and thoroughly reignited my own passion for his works.

Events such as this remind us why and how Shakespeare’s genius is so enduring – he truly is the people’s playwright.

Report by Eleanor Baggley

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