On the occasion of Shakespeare’s 456th birthday, we thought we’d join in the #SaluteToStratford celebrations by reminiscing (only slightly self-indulgently) about our various brushes with the town over the years. It’s (almost certainly) true to say that Stratford holds a special place in our hearts (and that’s not entirely because of the excellent coffee and percussion instruments we have purchased on Rother Street over the years…)
It was 2010 when we first hooked up with David Curtis, then Artistic Director of Orchestra of the Swan, and cooked up Space Odyssey (a musical version of Homer’s Odyssey, set in space). Working with young people from Welcombe Hills, Thomas Jolyffe and Wilmcote schools, plus a top notch cast of professional performers (Matt Sharp, Georgia Ginsberg, Louise Wayman and Jake Oldershaw) we premiered Space Odyssey at Stratford Civic Hall. We also very much enjoyed the chance to work with David Bradley, who managed to carve a few days out of his Harry Potter filming schedule to perform the role of the narrator with such panache! There’s a not-brilliant-quality-but-entertaining-nevertheless potted video version here – archived from the livestream put together by students from Stratford College.
Having ‘done’ the Odyssey, we all felt that it was only right that we should tackle the Illiad, which we did in 2013. We set it in the year 3000, where Odysseus is at home with his wife, son, robot and electronic goldfish when he is summoned to the war on Troy, a planet on the other side of the Galaxy. He might be the cleverest of all Earth’s Generals but has he got enough horse sense to defeat the Trojans? And can he get home through hyper space – which is packed with Sirens, nine headed monsters and giant one eyed sheep farmers? And will he get back before his wife gets fed up of knitting duvet covers and marries somebody else? We performed the Illiad and the Odyssey together under the banner title of Troy Story in 2013. This also featured a huge cast of Stratford young people and was performed at the Civic Hall in Stratford (then reprised at Birmingham Town Hall). Listen to the music, performed by Orchestra of the Swan with David Colvin, Sam Frankie Fox, Louise Wayman and Jake Oldershaw, here.
The Birds’ next project in Stratford was more Shakespearean – as (with Orchestra of the Swan) we won the public vote on the People’s Lottery, which gave us the funding to make Ant & Cleo – The Musical! By this time (2014) the Civic Hall had become the Stratford ArtsHouse and David Curtis again conducted the amazing Orchestra of the Swan and our brilliant young cast (plus the slightly older professional cast Sam Frankie Fox, Jake Oldershaw, Themba Mvula and Louise Wayman) in the premiere of this family-friendly opera about the world’s most famous couple. Luckily, all the icky love stuff had already been written about by Plutarch and Shakespeare, so our version was free to concentrate on Antony and Cleopatra’s lesser known ice cream eating competition, noodle-fishing and games of knock-and-run. We’ve got a trailer that you can watch here, or you can sit back and listen to the audio of the entire show, streamed live from Stratford in November 2014 or even watch the whole thing here!
Finally, last year, we were commissioned by the Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust to make The Festival of Lost & Found for Shakespeare’s New Place in December 2019. 250 years after heavy rain and floods washed out David Garrick’s legendary Shakespeare pageant in Stratford, our hapless cast had to unravel two and a half centuries of stories and enlist the audience’s help in order to bring to life the greatest show that never happened.
So there you have it – that’s The Birds’ #SaluteToStratford, a most peculiar town: space travel, ancient Greece, top flight musicians, rolling pins, coffee, percussion instruments, tents and knock & run. Happy Birthday Mr Shakespeare!