Last month — April 23 to be precise — marked the 400th anniversary of the death of the world’s greatest playwright, William Shakespeare. The Bard was born and raised in Stratford-upon-Avon, but he spent a large proportion of his working life in London, making the British capital the ideal place to commemorate his death.
Here’s our round-up of top Shakespeare events taking place, from theater and opera to walking tours and exhibitions.
The Complete Walk
Shakespeare’s Globe, the stunningly modern re-creation of the 17th-century playhouse where the Bard presented so many of his greatest plays, is showing a series of short films in commemoration of the anniversary. The Complete Walk is a 2.5-mile route between Westminster and Tower Bridge where you can stroll and watch these shorts for free on April 23 and 24. The 10-minute films, one for each of Shakespeare’s 37 plays, feature the likes of actors Simon Russell Beale, Meera Syal and Jonathan Pryce.
At the famous outdoor theater itself, catch the return of Hamlet, which has performed in nearly every country in the world over the last two years (April 23 and 24), and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the first production in new artistic director Emma Rice’s inaugural season (to September 11). The theater’s winter season in its indoor venue, the Sam Wannamaker Playhouse, winds up this month, too, with final performances of Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest.
For something a little different, head along to the Leicester Square Theatre for a high-spirited telling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream featuring four sober actors playing opposite one extremely inebriated one (from April 26). A cast member chosen at random each night begins the show already inebriated, and proceeds to drink throughout the performance, as her or his fellow company members attempt to keep the 70-minute, pared-down version of Dream on track.
As you’d expect, no two shows are the same, bringing something of the raucousness of Elizabethan Shakespeare performance to the 21st-century stage. More than 3,000 cans and bottles of beer have been consumed on stage by company members since they began doing these versions of Shakespeare’s plays at the Brighton and Edinburgh Fringe festivals in 2012. The shows are great fun for those familiar with the Bard and an excellent, light-hearted introduction to his work for beginners.
The Winter’s Tale
It’s not just through theater and film that you can get in on the Shakespearean act this month — there are opportunities for dance fans, too. The Royal Ballet is reviving its award-winning 2014 production of The Winter’s Tale, Shakespeare’s famously-difficult-to-stage late romance about the trials and tribulations of King Leontes of Sicily. The luxurious show, choreographed by Royal Ballet artistic associate Christopher Wheeldon, is playing at the Royal Opera House through June 10.
“Shakespeare in Ten Acts”
The British Library, meanwhile, is presenting an exciting new exhibit on iconic performances of Shakespeare’s work over the centuries. “Shakespeare in Ten Acts” (to September 6) looks at the work of performers such as Richard Burbage, one of the Bard’s contemporaries; Ira Aldridge, the first black actor to play Othello, in 1825; and movie star Vivien Leigh, who starred as Lady Macbeth opposite her husband, Laurence Olivier, at the Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford in 1955.
The exhibit draws on rarely seen manuscripts, playbills and diaries from the British Library’s collection. Costumes, autographs and more paint a picture of the Bard’s changing reputation in the light of upheavals in the worlds of politics and performance, and is essential viewing for fans of the playwright.