It’s Shakespeare Week this week, a UK initiative to get primary school children (that’s aged 4-11) to engage with Shakespeare.
There’s lots going on – a rather fun-looking child-acted Henry V, a live screening of the RSC’s Love’s Labours Lost into schools, Shakespearean writing at the Mary Rose, and an astonishing range of events in libraries up and down the country. If you have children, or can pass as a ten-year-old, I’d recommend checking out the website here. I am rather jealous!
It’s got me thinking about my earliest Shakespearean memories – the ones I can place.
I definitely remember a rather odd day in primary school, pretending to be shipwrecked at the start of Twelfth Night, and at the same event (or possibly a year later?) a semi-interactive production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. At secondary school I remember, as well as the English lessons, the school biennial Shakespeare Festival where each form had to put on a mini-production*. I particularly recall some of my friends (who shall remain nameless, since they are still my friends, I hope), putting on their best yokel accents to do The most Lamentable Comedy and most Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisby. “Oh sweet and lovely wall” is a phrase which really lends itself to a fake West-Country burr…
I remember the Branagh version of Much About Nothing coming out when I was at an impressionable age, and passionately wanting to love in Tuscany and wear white linen**. I also remember an odd weekend where my dad rented both the Laurence Olivier and Kenneth Branagh Henry V’s and we had a bit of a double-bill. In probably one of my earliest acts of criticism, I know I felt strongly that Olivier’s Agincourt was too clean and filled with pretty prancing ponies to seem convincing.
In terms of seeing the plays performed – well, there was a school trip to Regent’s Park, and a really annoying Puck on a scooter. I remember other plays perfectly well – a catchy musical version of The Little Match Girl with a chorus of prostitutes***, going to the Barbican to see The Venetian Twins and being fed on the stage. But nothing much else of Shakespeare – either he was absent, or it just didn’t stick with me.
I’m certainly making up for it now, and I hope all those school children out there getting a taste of Shakespeare this week get more lasting memories than I seem to have done!
* It was very much that sort of school. I think it was meant to build character…
** To be honest, I still want to do this. With Kenneth Branagh.
*** No, seriously. And this was in primary school.