Home » Events Calendar » Shakespeare: Greatest Living Playwright at the Victoria and Albert Museum , 8 Feb – 21 Sept 2014

Shakespeare: Greatest Living Playwright at the Victoria and Albert Museum , 8 Feb – 21 Sept 2014

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William Shakespeare’s First Folio 1623-Printed by Isaac Jaggard and Edward Blount
(c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London

In celebration of the 450th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth on 23 April 2014, this exhibition will explore Shakespeare’s works as inspiration for a multitude of theatrical interpretations through the centuries and across the globe.
Shakespeare: Greatest Living Playwright will take Shakespeare’s First Folio as its centrepiece. This collected edition of 36 of Shakespeare’s plays (excluding Pericles ) was published in 1623 and contains the first known versions of many of the plays. Without it, eighteen of the works would be unknown today, including Macbeth , The Tempest , and Twelfth Night . Surrounding the Folio will be new interviews, archive footage and photography, and twenty-five objects from the V&A collections, to explore how the plays have been interpreted and re-imagined by successive generations.
At the heart of the display will be a specially commissioned audiovisual installation by Fifty Nine Productions featuring interviews with contemporary theatre practitioners.  Leading actors, directors and designers will consider their relationships with Shakespeare’s plays, including Simon Russell Beale, Lucy Osborne, Edward Hall, Julie Taymor, Cush Jumbo, Sinéad Cusack and the Belarus Free Theatre. Illustrating the interviews will be recorded excerpts of Shakespearean performances from the V&A’s National Video Archive of Performance, and images from the Museum’s collections. This material will be projected onto a constellation of screens to represent the seeming infinity of interpretations of Shakespeare’s works.
Objects on display, including props, costumes, set models, design sketches and printed ephemera, will illustrate past productions of Shakespeare’s works. Amongst these are a skull used by Sarah Bernhardt during her role as Hamlet in 1899, and the embroidered handkerchief used by actress Ellen Terry whilst playing Desdemona in 1881 at the Lyceum Theatre.

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Headdress worn by Vivien Leigh in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Old Vic – 1937
Designed by Oliver Messel – (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Costumes include a headdress by the prominent society designer Oliver Messel, worn by the actress Vivien Leigh during performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1937, and a pair of red boots worn by actor-manager Henry Irving in an 1877 production of Richard III . With a stacked right heel, the boots helped Irving to perform with the character’s distinctive limp.

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Boots worn by Henry Irving in Richard III – 1877 – (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Shakespeare: Greatest Living Playwright will be accompanied by a varied programme of activities and events at the V&A celebrating the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth and examining the enduring influence and popularity of the world’s most famous poet and playwright.

Shakespeare: Greatest Living Playwright will be shown in the V&A’s Theatre and Performance Galleries from 8 February to 21 September 2014

• The V&A is open daily from 10.00 – 17.45 and until 22.00 every Friday

• Admission is FREE


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