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To Bard, or not to Bard? That *is* the question…

play on maltings arts theatre

In case you don’t already know, this year is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.  And there’s loads going on – literally loads – to mark this momentous occasion.  Because we’re proper cultured here at Muddy Herts, we’ve put together your very own guide to what’s happening locally Bard-wise – so it’s time to pop on your doublet and hose (you do have some, right?), polish up your iambic pentameter, and start asking to Bard… or not to Bard…?  That is, after all, the question.

Here in Herts

Shakespeare’s Work in Concert, St Nicholas Church, Harpenden, 23 Apr, 7.30pm

Feeling musical?  Harpenden Choral Society is presenting Shakespeare’s Work in Concert at St Nicholas Church – a celebration featuring the work on Tallis, Byrd, Gibbons, Vaughan-Williams and Rutter, as well as settings of songs from the plays and his contemporaries, as well as Bernstein’s West Side Story and Verdi’s Macbeth.  Veritable feast for the ears, by the sounds of it.

Shakespearean Hertford, Hertford Town Centre, 23 Apr, 2pm

This is a guided walk around the town, exploring what it would have been like to live there during the time of Shakespeare.  You’ll set off from Salisbury Square and – hoorah! – end up at the Leaf Café, and you know how delicious the cakes are there.

Shakespeare on the Streets, Watford Town Centre, 23 Apr, 1.30-4pm

Enjoy Shakespeare while you’re shopping – with Watford Palace Youth Theatre taking Will’s words out and about on the streets of Watford.  It’s all part of Watford’s Big Word Fest, Watford’s first literary festival, so there’s lots more going on as well.

pendley shakespeare festivsl

Pendley Shakespeare Festival, Tring, 3-7 & 10-14 Aug

We’ve got fabulous outdoor Shakespeare right on our doorstep – and this year it’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest.  Two cracking plays that work so well outdoors and will make for a cracking night out.  There’s something brilliant about watching Shakespeare while listening to the eerie cries of the Pendley peacocks – perfectly spooky for both of this year’s plays.

St Albans Shakespeare

St Albans is going positively bonkers for the Bard this summer with performances – traditional and otherwise, concerts, roving players, the lot.  Head on over, Will-he-was fans!

Merry Regiment of Women, Maltings Arts Theatre, 23 & 29 Apr, 8pm

This sounds hilarious.  Lady Macbeth is fed up with old Will not having written enough good roles for women, so she enlists some others you might recognize – Desdemona, Cleopatra, Juliet, and so on – and starts organizing their protest.  It all gets a bit messy, though, when some of the other, male characters arrive.

Shakespeare in the City, various locations in St Albans, 23 Apr

On the day itself, award-winning theatre company OVO will be taking Shakespeare to the streets of St Albans, performing scenes and speeches out and about.  There’ll be Henry V and Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet and Twelfth Night, and more.

Romeo and Juliet, Maltings Arts Theatre, St Albans, 5 May, 1.30pm & 7pm

romeo and juliet maltings arts theatre

A super-high-energy hip hop production of Romeo and Juliet – with R’n’J texting each other,their words projected onto the backdrop, their costumes and their bodies.  Music, dancing, cyber-bullying – it’s the Bard brought bang up to date.

Play On, Maltings Arts Theatre, St Albans, 8 May, 8pm

Fancy getting your directorial teeth into some Shakespeare?  The cast will be taking direction all through the evening from the audience as they put together some of the funniest scenes from his plays.

Twelfth Night, Abbey Theatre, St Albans, 13-21 May

Ah, Twelfth Night.  All unrequited love and mistaken identity, twins no one can tell apart – even though one’s a girl and one’s a boy – and only the tiniest bit of gratuitous hilarity at someone else’s expense.

Jacqui Dankworth, Maltings Arts Theatre, St Albans, 20 May, 8pm

Jacqui Dankworth will be revisiting the 1964 album “Shakespeare and All That Jazz” – composed by her late father, Sir John Dankworth, for her mother, Dame Cleo Laine.  She’s got some serious musicians accompanying her, some gorgeous music to sing, and a stonking voice.  One for the jazz fans among you?

As-You-Like-It roman theatre of verulamium

As You Like It, Roman Theatre of Verulamium, St Albans, 26-28 May

Ok, so we’ve got As You Like It — Shakespeare from the 1600s, being performed in a Roman amphitheatre, but updated to 1967 and the summer of love.  Okey-doke.  I am so up for that.

A Shakespeare Serenade, St Albans Cathedral, 4 June, 7.30pm

Anything going on in St Albans Cathedral is usually magical – how can it not be in that setting?  So, a concert of choral music by the Mosaic Chamber Choir and readings by the OVO Theatre Company is going to be great.  You know it is.  And the main piece?  Ralph Vaughan William’s Serenade to Music.  Gorgeous.

a shakespearre serenade - st albans cathedral

What’s on in London

Of course, there’s loads going on in the capital — so here’s just a tiny flavour of it for you.

Late at the Library: World Book Night celebrates Shakespeare, British Library, Euston Road, London, 23 Apr, 7.30-10.30pm

April 23 is World Book Night and Shakespeare’s birthday and the anniversary of his death – coincidence…?   I think not.  And what better place to spend it, if this is your thing, than at the British Library with a bard-packed evening of words, music and performance.  Favourite scenes, readings, specially-commissioned pieces, and all sorts – and your ticket includes entrance to the new Shakespeare in Ten Acts exhibition.  There’ll also be an astonishing human Sonnet jukebox – as well as Shakespeare-themed cocktails (yum!) from The East London Liquor Company.

The Complete Walk, River Thames, 23 Apr, 10am-10pm, & 24 Apr, 10am-8pm

the complete walk - Copy

There are  37 specially-made 10-minute films being screened along the Thames between Westminster Bridge and Tower Bridge, each one exploring one of Shakespeare’s plays and including shots from the locations he wrote about – the Pyramids, the castle and Elsinore, the ghetto in Venice, and so on.  There’ll also be extracts from iconic early silent films and Globe On Screen filmed stage productions.  And they’ll be running continuously, so you can dip in and out as you choose.  Sounds fab.

Much Ado About Nothing, The Rose Playhouse, Bankside, 22 Apr, midnight

This is a ‘midnight matinee’ – reduced to just 45 minutes – of Much Ado About Nothing at the Rose Playhouse, the first Elizabethan theatre on Bankside and the original home of many of Shakespeare’s plays.  Once the play’s done, you can toast the Bard with a complimentary G’n’T, then dance the night away, 1940’s Swing-style.

Late at the Library: Spymonkey’s Shakespeare Cabaret, British Library, Euston Road, 15 Jul, 7.30-11pm

Not your average production, this one.  An evening of comedy, cabaret, roving performance, music and dance from a physical theatre company that Time Out reckons are ‘four of the greatest clowns working in Britain.’  This evening is based on their touring show The Complete Deaths, featuring all 74 onstage deaths in the works of Shakespeare.

henry V regents park open air

Henry V, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, 17 Jun-9 July

You know how Shakespeare had men playing women?  Well, in this production of Henry V, Henry himself is played by Michelle Terry.  Neat, huh?    And what better time to re-explore a play that’s all about Britain’s relationship with its European neighbours…?  Well…?

shadow king malthouse theatre

The Shadow King, Malthouse Theatre

Right, imagine King Lear as the head of a remote mining community in the Australian outback — rather than the going-mad king of a small damp island.  It’s told in modern English, in Kriol languages, and with a live band onstage — as well as in including new text, video and Aboriginal ‘dreamtime’ songs.

Hamlet & Japan, Shakespeare’s Globe, 7 July, 7.30pm

hamlet and japan

Hard to imagine, perhaps, but Japan fell in love with Shakespeare in the 1880s – and they’ve never really fallen out.  In 2014, there were more than 180 Shakespeare-inspired productions just in Tokyo.  The Globe is having a good old look at this fascination with an evening of talks and performances including the first serious Japanese translation of ‘To be or not to be’ and a comic version from 1874, as well as the Kabuki-inspired Visions of Ophelia by renowned Japanese actress Aki Isoda.

Sh*t-Faced Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Leicester Square Theatre, 26 Apr-11 Jun, 7pm

First time in London for this one by Magnificent Bastard Productions.  It’san odd one – an entirely serious Shakespeare play with a genuinely drunken professional actor selected at random every night.   It’s been touring all over the UK and the USA, and it’s definitely one for the grown-ups.  Past performances have included nudity, crowd surfing, transvestitism, simulated sex acts, unconsciousness, and – oh, the shame – Justin Timberlake impressions.

shit faced - midsummer

The Merchant of Venice, Southbank Centre, 17 Jun, 26 Jun & 10 Jul

Same as the other Sh*t-Faced Shakespeare one, only a different play ….  And a different theatre.  Oh, and probably a different inebriated actor.

Ophelia’s Zimmer, Royal Court, Jerwood Theatre, Sloane Square, London, 17-21 May

This one’s a collaboration between the Royal Court and the Schaubühne Berlin, and it’s in German with English subtitles.  It’s exploring Ophelia without Hamlet – putting her right at the centre of her own story, rather than as someone who gets used by the men around her.  And there’s a post-show talk on 18 May, with the director, writer and actor.

Romeo and Juliet, Garrick Theatre, Charing Cross Road, 12 May-13 Aug

romeo and juliet garrick theatre

If the production of The Winter’s Tale at The Garrick earlier this year was anything to go by, they’ve really cracked Shakespeare there.  This version of Romeo and Juliet stars Richard Madden and Lily James (Tring Park School alumni!) as the star-crossed lovers and sounds brilliant.

Shakespeare on Film Season, BFI

There are all sorts of Shakespeare-related films screening as part of the BFI’s Shakespeare on Film season this summer.  Check out Akira Kurosawa’s 1984 classic Ran, or Theatre of Blood with Vincent Price as a wronged and murderous Shakespearian stage actor.  There’s Yellow Sky (Western, odd), or Hamlet with Laurence Olivier (classic, not odd).  Something for everyone?


If you want to get all authentic, of course, Stratford is – obviously – the place to be (or not to be, that is the… etc etc).

hamlet stratford

Hamlet is playing now until 13 Aug at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Waterside, with Paapa Essiedu as Hamlet – and some cracking reviews to encourage you to pick up a ticket.  Then there’s Cymbeline (have to confess it’s one of the ones I’ve not read…) from 29 Apr-15 Oct, which is apparently all about power, sexuality and identity and has been updated to 21st-century Britain.

If you can wait a bit longer, The Tempest will be coming up 8 Nov-21 Jan, with Simon Russell Beale heading to the RSC after 20 years to play Prospero.  It’s being billed as their ‘family show’ and the perfect intro to the Bard for the smaller folk.

For the littlies…

Shakespeare Untold, Watford Palace, 21-23 Apr

This is a great way to introduce any younger folk to Shakespeare – or help them understand it better and, wonders may never cease, enjoy it.   This double bill includes Romeo Untold, told through the eyes of the Capulet Ball’s party planner, and Titus Untold, with the goriest of his tragedies seen from the kitchen of Titus’s piemaker.

And if you don’t want to head out, plop any children you have down in front of the telly or the laptop.  CBBC has a whole Shakespeare thing going on – including a truly terrible song from Ed and Iain – and CBeebies has a version of Midsummer Night’s Dream that is properly sweet.

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