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Theatre industry must fight to give children the chance to see Shakespeare plays, say arts leaders

Actors Paul Hawkyard and Leandra Ashton at the launch of Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre in Blenheim Palace. Photo: Charlotte Graham
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Creatives involved in a new pop-up Shakespeare theatre have urged the industry to fight to allow schoolchildren to experience the playwright’s works amid cuts to the arts in education.

Artistic director Damian Cruden, directors Juliet Forster and Lucy Pitman-Wallace, and fight director Jonathan Holby were speaking at the launch of a temporary Shakespearean theatre in the grounds of Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire.

Pop-up Shakespeare Theatre at Blenheim Palace gets green light

Their comments follow a survey of schoolchildren conducted by LAMDA in October last year that found that a third of respondents did not know that William Shakespeare was a playwright.

Forster said: “You get to imagine yourself differently when you go to the theatre, you see people in different circumstances from yourself and you imagine yourself into that space, and that’s really powerful.

“Shakespeare is just the master of it all, and his plays, generally speaking, don’t date, so of course people should still recognise and celebrate him. To let that disappear and become sidelined would be terrible.”

She added: “It has to be a lobbying of government [for the importance of the arts in education]. I think schools do recognise the value a lot of the time, they just don’t feel they can prioritise the arts because they’re being given so many other priorities.”

Pitman-Wallace said it was important to keep teaching Shakespeare in schools because he is “part of the DNA of our country”, while Cruden argued that children need to experience the plays live.

He said: “Shakespeare shouldn’t be taught in schools as an off-the-page experience or even as a televisual experience. [Seeing the show live] means it will become a much more memorable experience and they will engage with the narrative and be able to recall the narrative a lot longer than if it’s in the classroom or on the television.”

Holby echoed his comments, adding: “I think [watching a Shakespeare play] forces you to ask questions of that live performance, of those characters and their actions. Then you tend to ask questions of your own, and hopefully [that can prevent] you from going off on the wrong path.”

One third of schoolkids ‘do not know who Shakespeare is’

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