To some, the sheer fact that 'Shakespeare 400' is a thing may still be a mystery to some.
After all, he did die 400 years ago and so his relevance in today's society is always debated. He tells us a lot about 'what it is to be human' (Trevor Nunn), but there still may be a groan when his name is uttered. For this reason, I took my best friend to 'The Play's The Thing' exhibition at the newly refurbished 'Swan Theatre' in Stratford-Upon-Avon. The best way to learn is to be involved, the Royal Shakespeare Company RSC know this as their new immersive exhibition brings the production experience to life through various state-of-the-art attractions.
Ascending into the Reading Room, we were greeted by the three minute film showing the beautiful programmes from the RSC archives. Of course the exhibition is family friendly, there are short animations from Salty's to keep the information concise and simple, which also helped some of the adults too! The main event, alongside the famous Chandos Portrait (the only portrait of Shakespeare which is the most lifelike, arguably of course) and the first folio, was the costume mirror where you could dress up as Cleopatra, King Lear and Hamlet and have a selfie. I did like this part, my friend liked it a lot more, however I could not master the technology and looked a bit like a rabbit caught in headlights. I expected nothing less than perfection when it came to costumes, as I was surrounded by Vivien Leigh's finest frocks alongside perhaps the most blingiest King Lear get-up imaginable. As an English student, Lear's deposition from luxury to 'tattered robes' makes the play a must-read, so the ability to feel that change was enchanting as the costume becomes less perfect and more natural, like Lear. It's also fair to say that one cannot get tired of seeing Vivien Leigh either.
Next, was the chance to play Hamlet on the RSC stage, which definitely created an atmosphere. Will the RSC be calling me back? Who knows. I wasn't sure what to make of it as you were thrown in the deep end with the scene, and it was so lifelike! As a creative, I also enjoyed seeing how the 'Director's Desk' showed us two productions of the same play, 'Romeo and Juliet', but taught us how directors reinvented the same plays.
Overall, the exhibition was enjoyable and my partner in crime did set the trend by taking a selfie with the Chandos Portrait. How millennial, I know. If possible, perhaps extending the exhibition would be a good idea as we both thought the exhibition itself was smaller than projected. Although we countered this by becoming total Shakespeare fangirls by visiting his birthplace, 'New Place' and resting place. The staff were as wonderous as the event itself and should be praised for their hard work of putting together an event as multi-sensory as this, alongside of course all of the talented costumers, directors and actors who created the stimulus and inspiring the world.
Shakespeare meets virtual reality is a new revelation I know the RSC are skilled enough to pull off and maybe that will happen in 'Shakespeare 401'?
The Royal Shakespeare Company is an Arts Award Supporter. You can see their profile here.