Hannah Dutton

The Brilliant Bard Festival

Let me set the scene. It’s 10.15am, a Saturday morning. Associate Director of the Everyman theatre and famed Globe director Nick Bagnall has just pelted a plastic chair across the room… and it’s heading towards me. I pelt it back, whilst reciting Shakespeare… Macbeth to be exact. The whole situation is a surreal amalgam of being star struck and nervously sweating from places I didn’t think existed, never mind perspired. How did I end up here? Thanks to the fabulous staff at Liverpool’s Everyman theatre and in particular Allan Williams, the theatre’s Learning Manager.

After seeing an advertisement for The Brilliant Bard festival, Ellipsis’ very own Culture Editor, Rachael, and I decided to research further. What we found lit up our faces with Renaissance-fuelled, geeky joy. ‘A week of masterclasses, workshops and opportunities; discover more about the brilliant bard.’ Williams and his team had planned a week jam-packed with Shakespeare- themed events.

The sheer variety of the event was what truly impressed us; from kiddy-friendly ‘The Magic of Storytelling: Macbeth’ to an academic symposium, the week held something for everybody. The task of choosing which events was a trauma in itself; between lectures and independent study there was no way that we could have attended all of the events… (Which is a shame, because I think Rachael would have given a stunning rendition of Macbeth’s ‘is this a dagger I see before me’ speech in front of an audience of toddlers.) We decided on two events: ‘Speaking Shakespeare,’ a guide to understanding and performing the words of the bard and ‘Here is My Space,’ a symposium curated by our University of Liverpool’s queen of all things Renaissance, Esme Miskimmin.

The first of our bookings (Speaking Shakespeare) kicked off the wonderful week. Aiming to ‘debunk the language of the bard,’ the aforementioned Williams and Bagnall held a two hour practical workshop based around valuing the sound and rhythm of Shakespeare’s work rather than the dry analysis which had reportedly turned many attendees off plays like A Midsummer Night’s Dream in their school days. Bagnall expertly worked through various exercises with our fellow group members, transforming their original readings of excerpts into performances that wouldn’t look too far out of place on the Globe stage (almost.) The atmosphere was relaxed and inviting, without the stiff-upper-lip that one might expect from such an event, as Bagnall managed to nurture the wide range of abilities the group brought. This, of course, is where our article begins; a sweaty, chair throwing, me.

Nick, if you’re reading this: your techniques were exciting and marvellous and I can wholeheartedly say that everybody left that session with a reignited passion for Shakespeare, (and for theatre-related fitness, if my experience was anything to go by.)

Our second booking took place on the penultimate day of the festival. ‘Here is My Space’ was a day-long symposium, comprised of four sessions discussing spaces in the bard’s work. Skilfully planned by Dr Miskimmin, the day began with ‘Real Spaces: Shakespeare’s London and Stage,’ with speakers Dr Louise Wilson (LHU), Dr Timothy Keenan (LHU), and UOL’s very own Dr Katie Knowles introducing the audience (inclusive of wide-eyed Rachael and I) to the real London which would have been Shakespeare’s home. They displayed fascinating research, a stand-out being Dr Knowles’ argument that the plagues, which chronologically sandwiched the writing of 2 Henry IV, could be seen throughout the play. The second of the sessions discussed a more metaphorical reading of space, with PhD students from UOL giving short speeches on spheres and motifs throughout plays such as Merchant of Venice, Titus Andronicus and Much Ado About Nothing.

Seeing their wealth of knowledge made a very intimidated Rachael and I want to drop out and apply for PhDs both at the same time. In all seriousness, it was wonderful to be able to engage with people who show us where our education could lead in the next few years. The event gave the chance for academics to be brought together at all stages of their careers and learning to discuss topics which excited them.

Unfortunately, this is where our experience with the event ended as seminars required our attendance (and we’re good students.) But gosh, we wish we could have stayed. It was inspiring to see like minded people sharing and learning from each other.

Thank you to the immense talent of Allan Williams, Nick Bagnall, Esme Miskimmin and all who contributed to the festival. The aim was to bring an unintimidating version of Shakespeare to the public, and it was absolutely achieved. Thank you to all at the Everyman for making Shakespeare fans of all ages and abilities, not to mention two enthusiastic (if not a little geeky) Literature students, thoroughly inspired.

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