Expert insights: Shakespeare & England
Deborah Shaw - Director of 'World Shakespeare Festival
eborah Shaw is Director of 2012’s World Shakespeare Festival , which showcases England’s greatest bard through a variety of art forms and cultural interpretations. She’s been with the Royal Shakespeare Company for six years, with stints before that directing the Bath Shakespeare Festival and more productions than you can shake a quill at. She’s also a firecracker of energy. In her own words, “I’m quite a good Hermia – small, loud and feisty!”
Here she gives us her expert insights into Shakespeare, England, and how best to experience them together.
For me, all of Warwickshire is absolutely infused with references that you can pick up in Shakespeare’s plays. I used to live in Snitterfield, a village four miles from Stratford-upon-Avon . The farm down the road was owned by Shakespeare’s grandfather. I often walked my dog to Stratford, through some orchards, across some bridle paths, and over the Welcombe Hills. I was forever doing that route and thinking that Shakespeare must have known this; he must have walked to his grandfather’s.
Shakespeare’s life only got exciting when he ran away to London. When you see the Thames it brings alive the story of how, one cold night when the river was frozen over, Shakespeare and his friends took the theatre to pieces, carried it across the river and rebuilt it on the south bank . Before, the theatre was within the city limits and they were in all kinds of trouble with the city authorities at the time.
I don’t know what Shakespeare would find most inspiring today, everything? He had a hugely enquiring mind. Maybe the multicultural nature of Britain and the fact that some of the things he wrote about, like honour, religion and how to be a good ruler, are very current within different communities at different times and in Britain we’re so enriched by having such a range of cultural references and examples in society. That’s an area he could mine forever.
At the moment, my favourite play is The Winter’s Tale. I would like to perform it in an old country house, using the whole house and the grounds and possibly with some kind of conceit of it being filmed and then reality striking around it. I’d love to be let loose on Hampton Court Palace – The Winter’s Tale would work brilliantly there in the winter. A cold night in Hampton Court Palace with lots of fires and tapestries and candlelight, and a bear let loose in the grounds…
My favourite view in the world is a simple, familiar sweep of rolling farmland and a small copse of oak trees. You see it as you turn a particular corner along the footpath called The Monarch’s Way , which cuts through Warwickshire on its way to the coast. The full trail follows the escape route of Charles II when the Royalists were defeated at the Battle of Worcester and he fled to France.
The vicar of Stratford-upon-Avon’s Holy Trinity Church, Martin Gorick, does the most amazing secret tour of his church. Stratford , when Shakespeare was a boy and in his father’s time, was in the midst of the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation. That church is full of the scars of the Reformation and you can feel what it must’ve been like to be a local townsperson living in the face of all this turmoil. The local story is absolutely fascinating, and it’s the soil that Shakespeare was writing on.
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