The Urban Guide to the Countryside

Shakespeare’s Birthday Weekender, Fri April 21-Sun April 23

19 Apr 2017

Will the real Will Shakespeare please stand up? A Memorable Mask Moment, Shakespeare’s Birthday Parade 2016

Here’s 15 of the best ways to celebrate Shakespeare’s 453rd birthday in style this weekend – with or without children. It’s going to be a busy one! Expect Saturday’s traditional Birthday Parade, a collection of exciting performances, including an acrobatic Shakespeare-themed performance, Rome-inspired cocktails, stunning costumes, free entry into some of Shakespeare’s family homes and schoolroom and a kids’ Knights & Nymphs garden party (plus strawberries & Prosecco for grown-ups!)…Next year there’s plans for a new and bigger carnival event over several days!


Must-See for nature-lovers: A Walk in Shakespeare’s Garden, Shakespeare’s New Place, Stratford-upon-Avon, Fri April 21 & Sat April 22

The gorgeous Great Garden at New Place

Friday is bound to be quieter than the weekend so a good time to see this promenade-performance, which debuted in Milan last April for the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. A Walk in Shakespeare’s Garden is a theatrical experience designed to appeal to all five senses. It reveals Shakespeare’s deep love and knowledge of the natural world and particularly of gardens. Watch scenes from Hamlet, The Tempest, Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, Richard II, and enjoy the songs and music of the Elizabethan age – as you walk among the plants, flowers and trees in the beautifully landscaped gardens at New Place, Shakespeare’s final home. Both performances start at 2pm


Good for families and fashion-lovers: The Play’s The Thing, Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, every day

Vivien Leigh played Lavinia in Peter Brook’s ground-breaking 1955 production of Titus Andronicus.

See this stunning white dress worn by Oscar-winning 1950s film star Vivien Leigh – of Gone with the Wind fame – on the RSC stage in Titus Andronicus.  Lavinia is viciously assaulted and has her tongue and her hands cut off to stop her from revealing her attackers’ identity. This simple white dress featured hidden pockets stitched into the sleeves to hide the actor’s hands and create the impression they were missing. It’s one of several rarely-seen exquisite costumes added to The Play’s The Thing, a wonderfully interactive family-friendly exhibition launched earlier this year in the new wing of the beautiful Swan Theatre.

Other new costumes include Antony Sher’s red nose and bowler hat worn in King Lear (1982), Paapa Essiedu’s graffiti-style suit in 2016’s Hamlet and David Tennant’s costume in his RSC debut as Touchstone in As You Like It (1996). Take a magical journey through 100 years of theatre-making in Stratford-upon-Avon.  Get hands-on and celebrate the creativity behind the scenes and some wonderful props.

Tickets: £8.50 (adult), £4.25 (child).  Book in advance via


‘The State of Shakespeare’: The Shakespeare Birthday Lecture by Critic Michael Billington, The Shakespeare Institute, Fri April 21 

Leamington Spa-born critic Michael Billington. Photo: Daniel Farmer

The UK’s longest serving drama critic, Michael Billington OBE will present The Shakespeare Birthday Lecture in conversation with the University of Birmingham’s Professor Michael Dobson. An hour packed with insights and memories. Michael Billington first started writing for The Guardian in 1971. He will be discussing Shakespeare in the theatre then, now, and in the future. Tickets £10. Booking is essential, 4-5pm (doors open from 3.30pm).

The Shakespeare Institute, Church Street, CV37, 6HP,, Tel: 01789 204016.


Shakespeare’s Birthday Parade, Sat April 22

Handing over of the Quill by ‘Mr Shakespeare’ to the Head Boy at Shakespeare’s former school King Edward VI Grammar (KES) who holds it aloft

The procession starts at 10am with the West Midland Fire Service Band and Coventry and Warwickshire Rock Choir in Bridge Street. They will be joined by the town’s primary school children, dignitaries and ‘Mr Shakespeare’ (10.30am-11am).  At 11am Mr Shakespeare’ hands the quill to this year’s KES Head Boy Oliver Gardner, followed by the unfurling of the birthday banner and flags and the National Anthem. A birthday parade would not be complete without a round of Happy Birthday, Three Cheers for William Shakespeare and the launching of confetti cannons along the route. Escorted by marching bands the procession moves towards Holy Trinity Church and the laying of flowers at Shakespeare’s grave, ending at 12noon.


Mimbre presents Wondrous Strange, Bancroft Gardens, Sat April 22 

After its highly successful inclusion in 2016’s Birthday Celebrations, where it was enjoyed by more than 5000 people, acrobatic theatre company, Mimbre, returns with its 45-min performance Wondrous Strange. It features some of Shakespeare’s most iconic characters: cheeky fairies taunt Bottom (from A Midsummer Night’s Dream) in a raucous dance, Romeo and Juliet court each other on a balancing ladder, multiple Hamlets manipulate a stream of skulls, Kings fight and die at a relentless pace, and Ophelia (from Hamlet) slowly floats by on a bed of flowers. Performances at 12 noon and 2.30pm. Free, no booking – just turn up.


Have a birthday drink on the Bard, RSC Rooftop Restaurant, Stratford-upon-Avon

Et, tu Brute?

Indulge in a new range of cocktails inspired by the RSC’s Rome series.  Et, tu Brute? – a punchy mix of sparkling white wine, Italian herbal liqueur Galliano and blue Curacao syrup – reflects the blood thirsty betrayal of Rome’s most famous general,  Julius Caesar. Queen of the Nile, is a creamy, coffee delight, including a shot of Italian grape-based brandy Grappa. Bloody Titus uses a mix of port, vodka and grenadine to create a bold blood-red fusion and the Coriolanus inspired Cocktail of War, completes this liquid line-up – a concoction of spirits and orange juice guaranteed to get anyone into action.


Will you be the Golden Sonnet prize-winner?

Hidden inside one of 10,000 Shakespeare’s Birthday scrolls to be given away at Shakespeare’s Birthday Parade from 9.30am is a Golden Sonnet. Like Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket, one lucky visitor could find themselves in possession of the prized scroll and winner to some superb hospitality prizes organised by Shakespeare’s England. They include an overnight stay at Stratford’s Grade II listed neo-Jacobean mansion, the Welcombe Hotel, Golf Club and Spa, entrance to Shakespeare’s Family Houses, a visit to Shakespeare’s Schoolroom & Guildhall and a chance to visit the RSC’s exhibition, The Play’s The Thing.


Check out the RSC’s Rome Series: Julius Caesar & Antony and Cleopatra, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, until September

Photo: Helen Maybanks

Shakespeare’s Birthday performance was Julius Caesar which runs until Sept 9. Also, showing in rep is Antony and Cleopatra with Josette Simon, and new comedy The Hypocrite by Richard Bean (he of One Man, Two Guvnors fame) starring Caroline Quentin and Mark Addy in The Swan., 01789 403493


The Stratford-upon-Avon Literary Festival, now until Sun April 30

Celebrating its 10th year, expect an exciting mixture of debate, ideas, celebrity author events, workshops and humour. This festival attracts some big political, academic & literary hard-hitters. Andrew Marr has already sold out. Girl with a Pearl Earring author Tracy Chevalier, historian Alison Weir, Mary Berry and Guardian journalist Gary Younge are among the guest speakers. They join the likes of Lord Roy Hattersley, Terry Waite and Ken Livingstone. I like the sound of Salon London’s 300 Books You Won’t Need to Read– a serious short cut to the most important books you can’t find the time to read. There’s also a brilliant Children’s Day on Sun April 30 with literary themed workshops, a Big Draw Challenge with top illustrators, authors and children’s show Elmer the Patchwork Elephant.


Shakespeare’s Circus, Henley Street, Stratford-on-Avon,  Sat April 22

As well as the circus there will be song, dance and theatre performances by local community groups including Morris dancing.

Spectacular rope walks, interactive hoola-hooping and spellbinding contact juggling are just some of the acts in Shakespeare’s Circus, compered by the larger-than-life American showman Barnum, who has an audacious plan to ship Shakespeare’s Birthplace to his museum of curiosities in New York.  This free, family-friendly programme as well as circus skills workshops will run all day in Henley Street, outside Shakespeare’s Birthplace. Stratford-upon-Avon (CV37) residents can also enjoy free entry to the Shakespeare houses and a slice of birthday cake, while stocks last, 12pm-4pm


Shakespeare’s Birthday Knights & Nymphs Children’s Garden Party, Hall’s Croft, Old Town, Stratford-upon-Avon, Sat April 22

The garden at Hall’s Croft

The annual Knights and Nymphs garden party is a must for little people to celebrate Shakespeare’s Birthday in style at the home of Shakespeare’s daughter, Susanna. They can dress up as a Knight or a Nymph, get their faces painted and indulge in a delicious bbq. A Tudor storyteller will also be telling tales of the birthday boy and his works. There’s plenty of family fun including strawberries and Prosecco for the grown-ups! Free entry for all CV37 residents (proof of address required),12– 4pm.


Free family-friendly RSC activities in the Demonstration Zone, The Studio Theatre, The Other Place, Sat April 22

Activities are suitable for ages 8+ starting with a Technical Rehearsal (11.30am), Theatre Design Q&A (12.30pm), Vocal Warm-up (1.20pm); State Fight Demo ( 2.15pm) and Rehearsing Shakespeare (3.15pm). There’s also Roman Crafts for all ages in the Upper Foyer (11.30am-4pm) and live music. Tickets are free available to book in person on the day from 10am at the RSC box office., 01789 403493


 Shakespeare’s Birthday: Harvard House, 26 High Street, Stratford-upon-Avon, Sat April 22

On Shakespeare’s birthday, Harvard House is opening its doors to the public free of charge. The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust has been caring for this three-storey town house with its amazing oak carvings and 16th century stained glass windows, on behalf of Harvard University since 1990. Explore Stratford’s oldest town house and discover its connections with the famous American university, 12-4pm


Sonnet Ferry, Stratford Chain Ferry, outside The Other Place, Sat April 22

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre scenically located on the River Avon in Stratford-upon-Avon Photo (C) RSC: Sara Beaumont

Listen to Shakespeare’s poetry as you cross the River Avon, read to you by RSC actors. 50p per crossing, 12-4pm.


Celebrate the first anniversary of Shakespeare’s Schoolroom & Guildhall, Sat April 22

Shakespeare’s Schoolroom first opened its doors in 2016, exactly 400 years after the death of its former pupil, William Shakespeare. Visit this atmospheric, architecturally beautiful and important buildings for free this Sat. There’s also a balloon giveaway. With each balloon, there’s the chance to win one of 10 family tickets to visit the attraction, which will also be carrying out special tours and introducing new family activities, 10am-5pm.


Something For Teens: reIMAGINE history, Swan Theatre building

Inspired by the RSC’s exciting stage history and The Play’s The Thing exhibition, the reIMAGINE group brings the RSC’s heritage to life with events created by young people, for young people. A group of 13-16 year olds from Coventry and Warwickshire have worked together for the past 3 months with theatre professionals to explore the RSC’s history and create special activities for the Birthday Celebrations. 11.30 – 4pm. Free


Draw New Mischief, PACCAR Room, Level 2, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, until October 15

Draw New Mischief new commission by Christian Adams

Fancy a little chuckle? Check out this free exhibition exploring 250 years of Shakespeare and political cartoons. All day.



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The Urban Guide to the Countryside -
Warwickshire Edition