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VIDEO: Blackpool brushes up its Shakespeare

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Three day festival will show that where there is a will there is a way...

To the right of the Mayor’s chair in Blackpool Town Hall there’s a painting of the last desperate charge of Richard III.

It’s called the Final Horse Charge of Richard III at Bosworth Field and painted by artist JR Brown in 1901.

Richard looks every inch a villain. “That bottled spider, that foul hunchback’d toad” as William Shakespeare dubbed him - to curry favour with the Tudor court back in 1591.

Will wrote his play more than 100 years after Richard’s death on Bosworth Field - and a year before Plague closed London theatres.

Centuries on historians reckon Richard’s press went from Bard to worse.

But, for our purposes, there couldn’t be a better setting for the action below in the main council chamber of the town hall.

Enter, stage left, veteran Labour warhorse David Owen, son of a celebrated actress, husband of a former ballet dancer, choreographer and producer.

David’s played Richard III himself - as well as Henry V and Viola - and has London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art gold medals for public speaking verse and prose.

He’s also vice president of the theatre he battled, far from in vain, to save from demolition long ago - the Grand Theatre.

Here is a man who knows that all the world’s a stage and, as a politician, appreciates the difference between Love’s Labour’s Lost and Love, Labour’s Lost.

So if anyone’s going to put Blackpool back on the country’s cultural map it’s him.

And David, deputy mayor, is urging Blackpool to brush up its Shakespeare.

Much ado about nothing? Not with the 450th anniversary of the Bard’s birth in April.

And not with close on 40 community groups across Blackpool already rallying under the glowering gaze of Richard III ready to play their part in the Bard’s Blackpool birthday bash.

Many have now started rehearsals of their role in the public performance of some 37 plays, 154 sonnets and six long poems.

The curtain will rise on a three day festival at an Elizabethan banquet at the Spanish Hall of the Winter Gardens on the evening of Wednesday, April 23 - with performances to come on Thursday, Friday and Saturday across Blackpool and beyond.

Precise dates and locations have yet to be announced.

The good news - as you like it or lump it - is that the players won’t have to perform the works in their entirety.

Cue a collective sign of relief in the council chamber - scene of some the unkindest cuts of all in recent years.

The Shakespeare festival shows that where there’s a Will there’s a way - with community groups coming forward to help make Blackpool blithe and bonny.

True it is that we have seen better days but sigh no more, Live Poets and Dead Good Poets, for Blackpool Libraries, the Motor Neurone Disease Society, Fylde Coast Youth Dance Company, Grand Theatre Play Reading Group, Thornton Library Borrowers Group, TramShed Theatre, Rossall School, St Annes Under 14 Girls Football 11, Strung Out (Puppet) Theatre, Friends of Stanley Park and umpteen others are at your side.

Hubble bubble here comes trouble as Anchorsholme Primary pupils brave Macbeth’s witches - and Claremont Community Group members ask whether it’s to be or not to be Hamlet or Othello?

The Fylde Coast young dancers will rise to the challenge of Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, the Grand’s Play Readers take on Anthony and Cleopatra or a sonnet or two, Poulton’s Hodgson Academy has set itself the challenge of delivering Macbeth in 30 minutes, soliloquies and all, and even throw in some sculptures.

Revoe-lution Choir will sing hey, and a ho, and a hey-nonny-no,

And this being a very Blackpool celebration of Shakespeare venues reflect the many facets of Britain’s premier resort and surrounds. Performances will be presented in Lightworks (Illuminations depot), Lytham Hall, North Pier, the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes, Grundy Art Gallery, Grand Theatre Studio, Brunswick Reading Room, Stanley Park bandstand, Marsh Mill... and more.

There will be open air readings, “promenade” performances on the Comedy Carpet, and nothing to stop Shakespeare popping up hither thither and even in the form of a flash mob if organisers are willing.

Vocal coach and actor Robert Beckett is running master classes to help with clarity, diction, metre within text, standard English, dialect or colloquialisms. “I think it’s absolutely wonderful.

“People will get a great deal out of it. Blackpool is an extraordinarily creative town.”

Shannon Staveley, 16, and Laurel Fail, 18, from the Fylde Coast Youth Dance Company which was formed in July, say it’s a Dream come true.

In every sense. Shannon admits: “I’ll have to read up on Midsummer Night’s Dream, we studied Romeo and Juliet for English and that was really good.” Lauren adds: “We’re doing dance pieces. I think it’s going to be difficult but fun.”

Coun Owen’s quest has won the blessing of the Royal Shakespeare Company which has linked up with the Grand through the RSC Learning and Performance Network.

The RSC’s First Encounter: The Taming of the Shrew runs at the Grand from February 27 to March 1 as part of Young Shakespeare Nation, to broaden the range of Shakespeare texts studied in schools. It follows the success of Young Shakespeare Nation versions of Hamlet, The Comedy of Errors and King Lear.

Blackpool’s very own Shakespearean celebration starts with performances and an Elizabethan Banquet in the Spanish Hall at the Winter Gardens on Shakespeare’s birthday, Wednesday, April 23, with other performances at venues across the town and further afield in the Fylde on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, April 24-26.

All’s well that ends well? David concludes: “I’m hoping it will be the start of a lifelong love of Shakespeare - as it was for me all those years ago.

“To perform the whole of the canon of Shakespeare is a tall order but we have all these groups willing to give it a bash.

“My only disappointment is that more schools in Blackpool aren’t involved - there’s still time. Shakespeare is for everybody.

“It is something we can all share, read, listen to, play music to, dance to - and celebrate.

“And where better than Blackpool?”

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