A shopping centre and a theatre company are joining forces in an unlikely alliance to help celebrate the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare – and the Great Bard’s Welsh connections.
Swansea’s Quadrant Shopping Centre and its neighbour The Grand Theatre want to encourage the people of Swansea celebrate the poet and playwright who died on April 23, 1616, his birthday.
Over the course of 2016 there will be various events and activities to mark the Bard’s life and work and the Quadrant is embracing the festivities.
As well as hosting local performers within the centre they are helping the theatre promote a series of Shakespeare plays by the resident Fluellen Theatre Group.
The group’s artistic director Peter Richards said: “With it being 400 years since Shakespeare’s death we did want to do something a little bit special. We always do at least one of his plays each season, but for 2016 we’re doing four.”
The professional actors have already presented Richard III in the Grand Theatre’s studio, in February and will follow that up with As You Like It in April, Macbeth in September and The Tempest in November.
Peter said: “We haven’t just chosen four plays at random – we have one history, one comedy, a tragedy and a romance – each of the four genres we credit Shakespeare with.
“They also follow a timeline too of his life, with Richard III being one of his earliest works and The Tempest being his last play.”
By the time the Fluellen Theatre Group close their season, more than 3,000 people will have enjoyed watching the Bard’s work performed by the group, who took their name from one of his 37 plays.
“Fluellen was a character in Henry V,” Peter explained: “While there is no record of Shakespeare ever having visited Wales that shows that he must have had some link with the country.
“Of course Owain Glyndŵr appears in Henry IV too and speaks some Welsh so there must have been a Welshman in his company at the very least.”
Four hundred years later the great playwright’s influence is going strong as his work remains the most celebrated and performed in the world.
Lisa Hartley, Manager of the Quadrant Shopping Centre, is a big fan of live theatre and she said: “Having the Grand Theatre next door it seemed like a great idea to link up with them and to help each other.
“We’re hoping to get the Fluellen actors in to do some scenes from Shakespeare to help promote their shows and it will bring an added extra to the shopping experience for our customers.
“Hopefully it will also inspire them to go along and support the wonderful theatre we have here in the city.”
Peter, who is married to a fellow actress and lives in Swansea, said: “This is the wonderful thing about Shakespeare. He is still as popular today as ever and nobody really, either before or since, has written as well about the human condition.
“That is what keeps his work relevant. We all have these shared feelings and experiences whatever age we happen to be living in.”
The four shows by Fluellen will use traditional scripts but may feature the odd tweak such as contemporary costumes or settings and each performance will involve between 100 and 200 people either on or behind the stage.
Alongside this epic undertaking, Peter has also organised several Shakespeare-related lunch time theatre shows as well as entertainment days throughout the year at various venues and a revival of a Swansea favourite.
Kevin Johns’s one-man show, Taffy Shakespeare, which is based on the utterly false claim that all Shakespeare’s plays were actually written by a Welsh stand-up comedian, is hugely popular and local fans will be delighted to hear that he will be performing it once again as part of the festival.
Kevin, aged 53, said: “I adore Shakespeare. I love the comedy parts but I’m also a huge fan of his writing in general. He was a great observer of life and wrote as he saw.
“The issues of then, such as young people fighting over the person they love, are the same issues young people deal with today because life never changes.”
Kevin, who has always acted but also studied theology and trained as a church minister, will perform Taffy Shakespeare but also plays a comedy part in As You Like It with Fluellen.
He said: “Taffy Shakespeare is a comedy, obviously, but all the events in it and characters are accurate so the historical detail is there.
“I play the first half as Ianto, the world’s first stand-up comic, who makes his way from Wales to London and meets a very depressed Shakespeare in a tavern.
“He ends up writing all his plays for him and I play the second half as Shakespeare and tell the story from his point of view.”
Kevin is married with two children and his daughter, also an actress, will be joining Swansea’s Shakespeare celebration taking the lead role of Rosalind in As You Like It, which they are starting to rehearse next week.
Kevin has not ruled out a taster performance of Taffy Shakespeare within the Quadrant Shopping Centre and more details will be released when this can be confirmed
For tickets and more information about Taffy Shakespeare and the rest of the Fluellen Theatre Group events, visit www.fluellentheatre.co.uk