• A celebration of Shakespeare

A celebration of Shakespeare

This April will commemorate 400 years since the death of William Shakespeare. Hundreds of events are planned across the country to mark the occasion, with plenty happening here on Merseyside.

To make sure you don’t miss out, Your Move has tracked down the best and most unique performances and plays taking place while also taking a closer look at the Bard’s links with the city region.

Around the city region

Hillbark Players present ‘Shakespeare’s Midsummer Madness’
Royden Park, Wirral

The Hillbark Players have been performing open-air Shakespeare on Wirral since the company was founded in 1964 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth.

Every other year a 450-seat theatre is constructed in Royden Park, Frankby – just outside West Kirby – and a work of the great Bard is presented in the traditional way using the best local talent.

This July, the Hillbark Players will return with a small-scale production. Ann Warr, one of Hillbark’s most experienced directors, has devised ‘Shakespeare’s Midsummer Madness’.

Split into two halves entitled ‘What an ass am I?’ – Bottom’s story from ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and ‘What a fool am I?’ – Malvolio’s tale from ‘Twelfth Night’, the comic pieces are designed as a light-hearted taster for an audience which may not be too familiar with Shakespeare’s work.

The Merchant of Venice
The Playhouse
June – July

Former artist director and Everyman alumnus Jonathan Pryce returns to Liverpool for the first time since 2009 to reprise his role as Shylock in the critically acclaimed production of ‘The Merchant of Venice’, which was first brought to the stage of London’s Globe last year.

Bardolph’s Box
Various venues
From 1 March

Up The Road Theatre and Liverpool’s Unity Theatre have joined together to create ‘Bardolph’s Box’ – a scaled down Shakespeare themed production for eight to 12-year-olds.

Spread over five weeks, the tour will start at Unity Theatre on 1 March before heading out to schools, libraries and theatres across Merseyside including Childwall Library, Liverpool Central Library and West Derby Library. It will finish at The Citadel Arts Centre, St Helens on 3 April.

Much Ado About Nothing
Paul McCartney Auditorium, LIPA
10 – 12 March

Performed by third-year LIPA acting students, Shakespeare’s classic comedy is transported from Sicily to modern day London and follows a tense election night in the capital.

Expect plenty of laughs and songs in this unique spin on one of the Bard’s most popular works.

Two Gentlemen of Verona
Liverpool Everyman

Shakespeare’s Globe teams up with the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse to present ‘The Two Gentlemen of Verona’. The co-production will play internationally before heading to the Everyman in October.

Everyman and Playhouse associate director, Nick Bagnall is one of a select number of directors working with the Globe during Shakespeare’s anniversary year.

Hamlet performed by the Festival Players
Crosby Hall
24 July 

All male repertory company, The Festival Players brings an open-air production of ‘Hamlet’ to the surrounds of the Grade II* listed Crosby Hall.

Founded in 1986, the company is committed to presenting performances that can be enjoyed by a whole range of audiences.

Picturehouse at FACT
FACT Picturehouse
Screenings from February

Picturehouse at FACT has prepared a strong Shakespeare offering for 2016 with the first season of Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company Live promising a special series of plays from London’s Garrick Theatre.

The series gets underway on 21 February with a showing of ‘The Winter’s Tale’ starring Dame Judy Dench, before ‘Romeo and Juliet’ screens on 7 July.

A selection of live productions by The Royal Shakespeare Company will also be screened throughout 2016 including ‘Hamlet’ on 8 June, ‘Cymbeline’ on 28 September and ‘King Lear’ on 12 October.

The Hillbark Players have been performing on Wirral since the company was founded in 1964 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth.

A literary local?

One area that has certainly kicked off Shakespeare’s anniversary year with a bang is Knowsley.

In the last few weeks the Shakespeare North Trust, an organisation aiming to celebrate the Elizabethan heritage of Knowsley, has submitted plans for the construction of a 350-seat Shakespeare theatre built to plans originally drawn up in 1629.

The proposed four-storey playhouse will provide the only actor training programme in Shakespearean Performance Practice in the UK with space and facilities for teaching, community performances and film screenings.

If you ask most people to talk about Shakespeare, the last place they would probably mention would be Merseyside. However the region does in fact have a particularly strong link to the man himself.

The story goes that in the small town of Prescot during the 1590s stood the only purpose-built Elizabethan era playhouse outside London.

It is widely believed that Shakespeare – seeking shelter from the Great Plague in London – spent a period of time at Knowsley Hall in the service of the fifth Earl of Derby.

There is also evidence to suggest that Shakespeare supervised the production of some of his earlier works at the original Prescot playhouse.

Alongside the proposed new playhouse in the area, Knowsley Hall has a number of events planned throughout the year, starting on 14 June with a visit from the Shakespeare School Festival which will be giving young students the chance to perform a number of the Bard’s plays.

On 11 August, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men will perform ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ on the back lawn of the hall’s grounds in authentic Elizabethan costume.

The Lord Chamberlain’s Men are the direct successors of the Derby’s Men who Shakespeare was allegedly a member of for a short period when they were known as Lord Strange’s men.

The links between Shakespeare and Knowsley are still a matter of much debate, so to make more sense of the subject Knowsley Hall will host a special study day on 19 October.

‘Shakespeare, The Earls of Derby & the North West’ will bring eminent academics and researchers together to discuss the Bard’s history within the area as well as a range of other topics including a closer look at Elizabethan playhouses.

The story goes that in the small town of Prescot during the 1590s stood the only purpose-built Elizabethan era playhouse outside London.

Knowsley theatre plans.

Plays in the pipeline

A host of other cultural organisations around the region are lining up events for the anniversary, with full plans still remaining under wraps.

Writing on the Wall will commemorate the 400th anniversary of the death of the Bard by bringing him up to date with the Hip Hop Shakespeare Company.

Further details will be announced for the event soon, which will run as part of Liverpool’s WoWFest 2016 in May.

The Reader Organisation at Calderstones Park is also working on a special anniversary event.

A number of open-air performances have been held in the grounds of the Mansion House since the Reader Organisation took over its stewardship from Liverpool City Council, including ‘King Lear’ in 2013, ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ in 2014 and ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in 2015.

As Your Move went to press, St George’s Hall confirmed it is also planning its own Shakespeare event with details to be revealed.

About Author: Lawrence Saunders

Lawrence is a journalist at Move Publishing. He can be contacted via email at lawrence@movepublishing.co.uk or by phone on 0151 709 3871.