Shakespeare in Shoreditch festival: 1,000 plays performed in 10 days

Three Loose Teeth by Thomas McMullan, produced with Backsbroke

Three Loose Teeth by Thomas McMullan, produced with Backsbroke - Credit: Archant

Shoreditch 2016: a sea of art galleries, pop-ups, trendy bars and hipster coffee shops.

Best Pies in London by Abi Zakarian, produced with Youaremine

Best Pies in London by Abi Zakarian, produced with Youaremine - Credit: Archant

A lot has changed in 400 years, but not many know that even then, the neighbourhood was still London’s creative centre, the birthplace of the burgeoning theatre scene.

Even fewer know that Shakespeare lived and worked here in the 1590s, putting on performances of Henry V and Romeo and Juliet at the Curtain Theatre – the remains of which were discovered by archeologists in 2012.

But the Shakespeare in Shoreditch Festival is aiming to change all that, and make more people aware of the Bard’s historic connection to the neighbourhood across 10 days next month to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death.

Festival co-founder Francesca Duncan says: “If you go to Stratford-Upon-Avon, the whole place is an homage to Shakespeare as a child and then as an old man. Then on Bankside, you have the Globe, but there’s nothing to celebrate his time in Hackney.

The Rude Mechanicals theatre company will tour across Hackney performing 1,000 plays

The Rude Mechanicals theatre company will tour across Hackney performing 1,000 plays - Credit: Archant


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“Our festival is in Curtain Road, where the Curtain Theatre was, and they are continuing to find the remains of the first London theatres.

“It’s extraordinary that there’s not a Shakespeare museum commemorating one of world’s most famous playwrights in the heart of Shoreditch.”

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A heritage centre where tourists can view the remains of the excavated Curtain Theatre is planned, however, as part of a new £750million residential development, adding to the already crane-filled Shoreditch skyline.

This juxtaposition between old and new is one the festival has seized upon, so those looking for traditional takes on the Bard’s classics will be left disappointed.

Four full-length plays re-imagine his works for the modern age, drawing on issues affecting ordinary Hackney residents, such as gentrification and the housing crisis.

Asked why there are no straight adaptations, Duncan says: “His plays are amazing but we wanted to delve a bit deeper into looking at a community that has changed a lot in the last 400 years, and even in the last four years.

“It’s about Shakespeare but it’s just as much about Shoreditch.”

This is the second Shakespeare in Shoreditch festival, the first being held two years ago to coincide with the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth.

Just as in 2014, the organisers will stage a world record of 1,000 mini-plays across 10 days – that’s 100 every single day.

Written by the festival’s playwright-in-residence, Annie Jenkins, the pieces will be performed by the Rude Mechanicals theatre company on a replica medieval pageant wagon.

They will tour the whole of Hackney – down the River Lea and up Kingsland Road – in the style of the medieval performers of old, staging plays in parks, schools, and train stations to reach out to an audience who might not traditionally access Shakespeare.

Back at the festival’s hub at BL-NK in Curtain Road, a series of workshops, film screenings and talks will invite audiences to share and write their own stories on a “Hackney Story Map”.

“We are not too precious about Shakespeare,” Duncan says. “We encourage our writers to be flexible. Sometimes Shakespeare is felt as being something you need to read a lot about and that you have to know every detail.

“We wanted to say that you can take the stories or the characters and play with them in a new format.

“We wanted to breathe new life into Shakespeare as sometimes people expect the same kind of things from a Shakespeare play or adaptation. But we are playing with it in a new and exciting way.”

Shakespeare in Shoreditch runs from April 20 to April 30. Rude Mechanicals is funded by the Hackney Community Fund. Visit shakespeareinshoreditch.in or newdiorama.com for more information and to book tickets.

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