The Oxford Times: Thursday 21st January 2016
Writer Stuart Macbeth on Oxford’s year of Shakespearean celebrations
Sonnet parcels, animated assassinations and hip-hop Shakespeare in night clubs. These are among the intriguing events planned for Shakespeare Oxford 2016.
The nine month-long “festival” has been devised by participants eager to mark the quatercentenary of the Bard’s death.
The Oxford events form part of Shakespeare Lives, a global programme designed to celebrate Shakespeare’s works, and his influence on culture, education and society on the 400th anniversary.
Events will run between March and December, and have been carefully planned following conversations between enthusiasts at the Bodleian Libraries, the University of OxfordEnglish Faculty, the Oxfordshire Country Library Service, Blackwell’s Booksellers, Oxford University Press, and Experience Oxfordshire.
Festival co-ordinator Jacqui Ibbotson, tasked with pulling the programme together, promises something for everyone: “First and foremost, there are the plays,” she says, noticeably excited, unveiling the festival team’s ambition to present the Complete Works of Shakespeare at venues across the city throughout the year.
Performances of most plays are already in the calendar, after the festival invited professional and semi-professional theatre companies, cinemas and schools to step up to the challenge of presenting the full canon of Shakespeare’s plays in Oxford in 2016.
“We’ll have the Globe Theatre on Tour, a roving performance by Creation Theatre Company, an Oxford Shakespeare Festival of plays at Oxford Castle, Oxford Shakespeare Company in Wadham Gardens and English Repertory Theatre in University Parks,” she begins, trawling an impressive list. “Oxford Playhouse, The Old Fire Station, The North Wall and Pegasus Theatre will also be programming ground-breaking Shakespeare performances.”
here will be specially commissioned works, many of which aim to show how Shakespeare packs a punch for modern audiences: “One of the new plays we’re commissioning is inspired by Pericles, a play which features a father on a long journey over perilous seas. The reworking will very much talk about the migration and immigration crisis today,” says Jacqui, who is the cultural tourism executive for Experience Oxfordshire.
“These sorts of plays are a very good example of why Shakespeare is still important. There is always something in a play like Pericles that touches on issues which are prevalent today. Shakespeare’s plays still touch people’s lives and hearts.”
A bumper bill of “Jubilee” events is planned for the actual anniversary of Shakespeare’s death (and birth) on April 23. They include a revival of Oxford’s Shakespeare Birthday Parade. Once an annual event, the commemorative walk hasn’t taken place in the city since the 1940s.
The parade will be followed by live music and more unusual events, including Shakespeare-themed manga (Japanese-style cartoon) workshops and a performance of Richard II in the unlikely surrounds of the O2 on Cowley Road, performed by the Hip Hop Shakespeare Company, a young ensemble who dare to demonstrate how “modern hip-hop shares many similarities with the themes, language and rhythm used by The Bard”.
“Earlier in the day we want to encourage lots of singing and dancing around the Weston Library,” smiles Jacqui. “It’s all about bringing Shakespeare to life around the city, for both town and gown.”
She adds, temptingly: “We’re also trying to produce Shakespearean drinks, and lovely ales that could have been imbibed by the bard himself.”
The involvement of local schools is an essential ingredient. Jacqui is keen to highlight the Shakespeare Schools Programme which will include a range of workshops, professional performance opportunities for school productions, animation classes and Shakespeare themed carnival puppet-making for Cowley Road Carnival.
“For instance, Blackbird Leys Primary School have done a lovely piece for us,” she elaborates. “They’ve looked at the Shakespeare phrases we use in modern life, because so much of our language derives from Shakespeare, without us ever realising.”
While many Shakespeare nuts will be flocking to Stratford-Upon-Avon to mark the anniversary, Jacqui hopes that the festival will place Oxford squarely on the map, as a “must stop-off location” for fans.
“Oxford is the right place to hold these events, and visitor numbers will be great for the local economy too,” she says.
“One of the events I’m expecting to bring people flocking to the city is Shakespeare’s Dead, a major new exhibition at the Bodleian Library, curated by the University of Oxford’s English Faculty.”
The library is home to the Bodleian First Folio – a collection of Shakespeare’s work, published posthumously in an ambitious publishing project involving his fellow actors John Heminge and Henry Condell, and a publishing syndicate headed by Edward Blount.
Other events feature the 2016 launch of Oxford University Press’ landmark New Oxford Shakespeare: “I’m so excited and delighted that so many organisations within the cultural community in Oxford are collaborating to make a huge success of this town and gown initiative,” Jacqui concludes.
So what does she think the man himself would have made of all this fuss?
“Oh, I think Shakespeare would have absolutely loved it,” she laughs courteously.
“He might even have found it all very amusing,” she adds,” because he should have been celebrated much more during his lifetime.”
WHERE & WHEN
For more details, and to find out about how you can participate, visit shakespeareoxford2016.co.uk