With all the Shakespeare talk that’s been going on this week in the run up to the 400th anniversary of his death, I’ve been trying to remember when I saw my first ever live Shakespeare. I’m fairly confident it was when I was at 6th form and our English group went on a trip to the Theatre Royal in Norwich to see Hamlet – one of our A level texts. It was a pretty good first production to witness, seeing as it starred Derek Jacobi as Hamlet. Since then I’ve seen many productions, some as part of my degree course when we spent a week at Stratford and I saw a mesmerising performance by the late Bob Peck as Iago in Othello and Judy Dench in both Cymbeline and a Winter’s Tale, and more recently a good many outdoor productions as part of the travelling theatre companies’ summer productions.
Luckily I can say that our children came to Shakespeare much earlier than my husband Geoff and I did and they now both share our love of his plays. We all have very fond memories of our first family summer of outdoor productions in 2004. It all began when Geoff took our son Tom to see The Scottish play at Castle Acre Priory. Tom was nine at the time but we thought that our daughter, four year old Reya, might be a little too young for Macbeth as her introduction to Shakespeare. However, she was pretty disappointed at being left out so, about a month later, we all went to see As You Like It on a glorious summers evening at a village playing field in New Buckenham. Like most outdoor productions, there was very little in the way of scenery and many of the characters doubled up but it didn’t matter. We didn’t care. It was one of those magical evenings that we all will never forget.
Our final production of 2004 was The Tempest at Blickling Hall late in the summer. It was a very hot and sticky night and a real thunder storm brewed overhead. This created a blur between the magic of play and our own sense of reality. It only helped transport us further into the dream-like world created in front of us. It says something that, four hundred years on, the wonder of Shakespeare transcends generations, capturing us all with it’s poetry and carefully crafted story-telling.