Shakespeare is a man for all ages. If you tried Ben Jonson’s rave review on your average school student they probably wouldn’t agree, instead the very name William Shakespeare could be enough to make them look confused, yawn with boredom, or tremble with fear. If you sat them down in front of a play, however, they just might believe it.
In January 2010 I joined the eight to twelve-year-olds of Claremont School, Kingsbury, as the Royal Shakespeare Company performed a seventy-minute version of Hamlet. Black and Asians pupils made up most of the audience, and many were watching Shakespeare (and even theatre) for the first time. Children are the harshest critics, but this group offered their undivided attention and had absolutely nothing negative to say at the end.
I, a Hamlet virgin, joined them. I was reminded of when I’d make my way to the Oxford Playhouse as a young teenager, often surrounded by an older white middle-class crowd. I felt out of place. But once the action started, and the jester laughed, lovers kissed, siblings reunited, there was nothing differentiating me from everyone else.
So if someone were to ask: what does Shakespeare mean to you? Shakespeare breaks down barriers. Everyone, including the pupils of Claremont School and myself, can be transported into his world.
Years later from being in the Oxford Playhouse, I went on to work with the Royal Shakespeare Company. I was responsible for attracting new audiences to the theatre, and have continued to seek out weird and wonderful Shakespeare plays, seeing his work danced, rapped, and even tweeted. A man for all ages? Certainly.
Written as a part of Happy Birthday Shakespeare, runs till April 30.