Stratford all set for special weekend of Shakespeare celebrations

The Shakespeare Birthday celebrations will be back in full force in Stratford this weekend.

Mr Shakespeare and Stratford Mayor Cllr Kevin Taylor get ready for the return of the Shakespeare's Birthday celebrations

The wide-ranging events will take place on the Bard’s 458th birthday this Saturday, April 23, and then on Sunday – but they follow a special star-studded ceremony tomorrow, Friday.

For that is when the restored David Garrick Shakespeare statue will be officially unveiled by Dame Judi Dench and Sir Kenneth Branagh at Stratford Town Hall at 1pm, when they will also be given the freedom of the town.

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The restoration of the statue was funded by a special fundraiser, Shakespeare’s Coming Home, which saw a series of play readings at the town hall – and match funding from Pragnell the jewellers.

Garrick’s Shakespeare Jubilee event in 1769 is a landmark moment in the history of Shakespeare celebrations. He was invited to arrange it by the town council to mark the opening of the then new town hall, was made the first honorary freeman of the town and he donated the statue - which has now had a long-overdue restoration.

After such a great occasion, the weekend follows on, looking much like its pre-Covid self, with the traditional celebratory procession on Saturday morning marking the start of a busy two days.

Mayor of Stratford-upon-Avon Cllr Kevin Taylor has spoken of his deight that the celebrations for Shakespeare’s Birthday are back in full.

He said: “With the event cancelled outright in 2020 and online-only in 2021, Stratford has had to wait a while for the celebrations to return.

“We’ve really missed celebrating Shakespeare’s birthday over the last two years, so we’re set to mark it in style this year.

“On the Saturday, we will have a full procession with the Air Training Corps band, schoolchildren, flag unfurling ceremony and of course, Mr Shakespeare and his quill.

“And on the Sunday, the quill will be transferred to Holy Trinity Church and placed in the hand of Shakespeare above his grave by the head boy of King Edward VI School, William Warner.

“It’s great the traditional events will be held again, but it’s also fantastic that Dame Judi Dench and Sir Kenneth Branagh will be appearing on the Friday to unveil the restored statue.

“What better way to mark the return of this annual Stratford tradition than by two Shakespearean masters coming to the place of his birth and unveiling his most famous statue?

“It’s fair to say we’re really looking forward to the event, and we would love to see residents and visitors joining in after their long wait.”

Paul Workman, who has led the processions as Shakespeare since 2017, will again hold up the quill to mark the unfurling of the ‘birthday banner’ and an explosion of confetti cannons in Bridge Street.

He added: “Shakespeare’s Birthday is my favourite time of year, so to miss the full celebrations for two years in a row was such a shame not only for me but for the town as well.

“Although it was held online last year, celebrating the Bard’s big day is just better for all when done in person.

“The great man once wrote that ‘all the world’s a stage’ – so I am really looking forward to playing my part properly and entertaining my audience after a long wait.”

For details of the key events, click here.

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