If you’ve ever freaked out about a milestone birthday, spare a thought for poor old Will Shakespeare for whom 2014 marks the 450th anniversary of his birth. It certainly puts the big 40 in perspective.
As, understandably, the Bard isn’t around to raise a glass, we are passing the buck to theatregoers all over London to pay their tributes to the greatest playwright the world has ever known.
Before you scuttle off to Stratford-upon-Avon in your best Elizabethan ruffs, however, check out our top five suggestions for how to celebrate in the capital. While London may not be able to compete with the historic town’s themed tea shops by the dozen, it’s undoubtedly the best place for bloody stage productions and acclaimed exhibitions.
1) Watch Shakespeare’s work in its (almost) original setting
The capital’s famous Shakespeare’s Globe stands just a few hundred yards from the original site of the original Globe Theatre, where Shakespeare staged his plays for Queen Elizabeth I and fell in love with women dressed as men (according to the almost certainly 100% historically accurate Shakespeare In Love, anyway).
While the audiences are slightly less rowdy nowadays – the Globe sell ponchos in case of rain rather than mouldy fruit to throw these days – it’s still the most authentic Shakespearean treat you’re likely to experience this side of the 21st century. The 2014 season opens on Wednesday 23 April with the revival of Lucy Bailey’s critically acclaimed and bloodily brutal Titus Andronicus. The Observer said about its 2006 run: “Quentin Tarantino, eat your heart out” and we think Will would approve.
2) Take a walk in Shakespeare’s shoes (figuratively speaking)
Choose from two options: Shakespeare In South London Walk or the Shakespeare In The City Walk. While at first glance the later may sound a bit like you’ll eat cupcakes and talk about shoes, both tours will in fact see actor and researcher Declan McHugh take you off the beaten tourist track to discover some of the lesser known locations across London that boast connections to Shakespeare’s life, friends, loves and work.
The tours – described by McHugh as ‘leisurely’, for anyone feeling sluggish after inhaling a year’s worth of sugar in one Easter weekend – take 90 minutes and, according to the website, will teach you all about Shakespeare’s ‘complicated’ personal life as well as facts about his work and include performances by McHugh of Shakespeare’s legendary speeches. Visit the website for more details and to book.
3) Visit Shakespeare in Leicester Square
Last September, a Grade II listed sculpture of the Bard returned to its rightful home at the heart of Leicester Square after restoration work. Situated in the central park in the famous square, unbelievably it’s the only outdoor statue of the playwright in central London, meaning it’s the only place you can visit this week to take a celebratory selfie with the man himself.
Some facts about the statue: it was designed by James Knowles, it has a line from Twelfth Night inscribed on it – “There is no darkness but ignorance” – and it is situated a stone’s throw from our ticket booth TKTS, meaning you can say hi to Will and pick up tickets to a show that night with the greatest of ease.
4) Celebrate with royals Victoria and Albert
Kensington’s stunning V&A Museum has been busy celebrating Shakespeare’s birthday all year, but things really get into the party swing this week. There is a jam-packed line-up of workshops, debates, exhibitions and live performances taking place from The Live Literature Company’s experiential workshop focussing on that most famous of moments, Romeo And Juliet’s balcony scene, to discussions on what Shakespeare means to a multicultural Britain, but we’re – somewhat predictably – most excited for The Birthday Bash on 23 April when The Live Canon will be performing all 154 Sonnets throughout the day of celebrations.
Check out the V&A’s website for full details and to find out how you can get an invite.
5) Discover the first Twelfth Night
Populated with dozens of glittering West End theatres, The Strand is also home to the place one of Shakespeare’s most loved comedies is thought to have received its first ever performance; the imposing Middle Temple Hall. Malvolio’s yellow stockings premiered here at the feast of Candlemas in 1602 and the venue remains virtually unchanged to this day having survived the Great Fire of London and both World Wars.
While Middle Temple Hall is now used primarily for private functions, Shakespearean productions continue to return to play in its historic surroundings and tours are available to book.