Sunday, 26 April 2015

Shakespeare in Loughborough: Macbeth, pubs and, um framework knitters!

Shakespeare in Loughborough

Last week was the birthday of our most famous playwright, William Shakespeare, who was born on 23 April 1564. Incidentally, he also died on 23 April, 52 years later in 1616. So, what better way to celebrate the occasion by experiencing a production of one of his plays, in Loughborough itself.

The Festival Players are a Loughborough-based amateur dramatic society, who began life in 1954. The history of the society  shows that they have played many types of productions, including musicals, and plays in many genres. However, I couldn’t find a mention of any Shakespeare in there, so I’m assuming that last week’s performance of Macbeth was a first for them. And what a first it was!

The Festival Players were lucky enough to be taking part in The Royal Shakespeare Company’s Open Stages initiative, which gives selected amateur performers access to workshops, support and mentoring from the RSC, and this was evident in FP’s Macbeth, especially in the battle scenes, which felt realistic, and yet safe!

The acting was great, the set was versatile, and the whole atmosphere dark and scary, made all the more realistic by the venue – Sir Robert Martin Theatre at the university – having a floor level stage area, rather than a traditional raised stage. Interestingly, the inaugural production of the Festival Players - Young Wives’ Tale - took place in Martin Hall, which is the building in which the Sir Robert Martin Theatre is found.
In their time, the Festival Players have played in Stanford Hall Theatre, in Martin Hall, Hind Leys Theatre, The Cope Auditorium, and Loughborough Town Hall.

Back to Shakespeare though. As he is our most famous playwright, I suppose it is to be expected that there will be plenty of things named after him. I’m thinking roads, pubs, theatres etc.. We know Daniel Defoe – he of Robinson Crusoe fame – passed through Loughborough, and wasn’t hugely impressed, suggesting our little market town was of no note, but I wonder if Shakespeare ever passed through? He must surely have known Francis Beaumont (1584 – 6 March 1616), born at Grace Dieu and (I think) a descendant of the former Lords of the Manor, a fellow playwright who also wrote for the King’s Men. Beaumont often collaborated with John Fletcher, and in his turn Fletcher collaborated with Shakespeare on Henry VIII, the play said to be jinxed as it was during a production of this play that the Globe Theatre in London burnt down.

The former Shakespeare / Crown & Thistle

Anyway, at one time, and certainly in 1889, we had a pub called the Shakespeare, on Sparrow Hill. This changed its name to the Crown and Thistle, closing in 1922, and latterly being a flower shop owned by Sid Powell, which can be found next to Caravelli’s. Of course, we still have Shakespeare Street in town – just like other places have, e.g. Nottingham, Southport, Newcastle, Lincoln, and Glasgow – which has Shakespeare Street School at the end of it. This locally listed building in gothic-revival style has had various uses over the years, including being used by the university for its chemistry department (I think it was chemistry) and as an annex for Limehurst School.

Moving from Loughborough to Leicester, we find there was a Shakespeare’s Head pub on Southfields Road, although this can have had no relation to Shakespeare the bard, as the name was actually the Shakespeares Head, a grammar error that Shakespeare is unlikely to have made! This 1960s pub closed in 2012 and has recently re-opened as a sports bar, grill and café called the Fat Budha. There is also a pub called The Globe in Leicester, on Silver Street, which has been going since the 1720s. Rather naively and until relatively recently, I thought this was some reference to Shakespeare, but I now know this is a reference to the framework knitters who may well have drunk here: The globe refers to a globe-shaped glass cover that the framework knitters placed over their candle in order to better spread the light whilst they were working on the frame. And I’d better stop there before I completely lose you! Sorry, this week’s post has turned out to be a bit of a ramble, but I do hope you’ve found it entertaining!


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