All the World’s a Stage

At least it feels that way in Stratford-upon-Avon

By: Susan James

The play’s the thing,” remarked Hamlet, and England’s Royal Shakespeare Company agrees. Between April 2006 and April 2007 in Stratford-upon-Avon, birthplace of the Bard, the RSC is mounting the first ever Complete Works Festival, presenting productions of all of William Shakespeare’s writings. Not only Shakespeare’s plays but his sonnets and longer poems, too, will be performed during the festival year that features visits from a myriad of guest companies from around the world.

In addition to the stages of the RSC’s two major theaters the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and the Swan four other performance venues have been drafted, including Holy Trinity Church, site of Shakespeare’s burial place, and the purpose-built Courtyard Theatre.

Adding to the glamour of festival events will be appearances by well-known stage and screen actors in some of Shakespeare’s best known works. Patrick Stewart will be appearing in “Antony and Cleopatra” and “The Tempest,” and Judi Dench will appear as Mistress Quickly in a musical production of “The Merry Wives of Windsor.” In March 2007, Ian McKellen will star in “King Lear” at the Courtyard Theatre while across town at the Swan, F. Murray Abraham will take on the role of Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice.”

Complementing these theatrical riches is an exceptional roster of special events and exhibitions focusing on the life, work and times of Stratford’s favorite son. The RSC is presenting a plethora of options for visitors, from brunch discussions led by notable writers and artists, to pre- and post-play creative team talks, where audience participants can question directors and actors about their approach to the plays. A program called Practicing Theater offers on-stage workshops involving actors from both the RSC and visiting companies and gives the audience a glimpse into how actors prepare a character for performance.

The Shakespeare Trust, the organization which operates Stratford’s Shakespeare Library has organized a series of one-day courses focusing on Shakespearian topics and themes, concerts featuring music from Shakespeare’s plays and a 2007 Poetry Festival that will feature poems written about Shakespeare’s Stratford. Garden tours at the area’s Shakespeare houses will focus on Tudor plants and herbs and there is even a nature walk from Mary Arden’s Wilmcote cottage featuring views of local birds and wildlife.

The year of the Complete Works Festival is just the beginning of a major transition period for the RSC. When the festival ends in April 2007, the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, the company’s 1,000-seat, 1920’s theater in Stratford, will close for a three-year, $180-million-plus makeover that will turn it into a state-of-the-art performance venue.

The play may be the thing, but in Stratford over the next four years, plays will be just one chapter in the town’s Shakespearian folio.

Royal Shakespeare Company
44-870-400-8182
www.rsc.org.uk

WHERE TO STAY

For the complete Shakespeare experience, the four-star, 16th-century Shakespeare Hotel on Chapel Street, only five minutes walk from the theater, is a comfortable hostelry with bar and restaurant, low beams, overstuffed sofas and enormous fireplaces with copper hoods. Although smallish, its 74 rooms have an Elizabethan air, with en-suite bathrooms and tea-making equipment.

The Shakespeare Hotel
Chapel Street, Stratford-upon-Avon
44-870-400-8182
www.shakespearehotel.net
Doubles: $112-$265; singles: $224-$470
Commission: 8 percent plus VAT discount

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