Wheely fantastic time as Stratford stages Shakespeare Birthday celebrations

STRATFORD celebrated the 460th birthday of its most famous son at the weekend.

The Shakespeare Birthday Celebrations transformed the town into a centre of pomp and pageatry once again for a packed-programme of events.

Crowds lined the streets for the annual birthday parade on Saturday morning (April 21) featuring dignitaries from around the world and closer to home, as well as school children, ‘Mr Shakespeare’ and a plethora of local organisations.

The VIP procession paraded to Bridge Street for the unfurling of the flags before continuing on to Holy Trinity Church in Old Town via High Street, Chapel Street and Church Street, where flowers were placed on Shakespeare’s grave.

And one highlight which attracted a captive audience was Parade – The Giant Wheel – a choreographed procession created by Autin Dance Theatre in collaboration with the RSC.

A star-studded Shakespeare Birthday Luncheon was held in the Theatre Gardens, which also saw Dame Vanessa Redgrave awarded the Pragnell Shakespeare Birthday Award.

The lunch for 420 guests hosted by Alexander Armstrong was attended by the likes of Jonny Weldon, Susan Wokoma, Alfie Enoch, Rebekah and Charlie Brooks, Ronni Ancona, Sophie Stanbury, Edla Spencer-Churchill, and Sue Barker.

The Lunch was opened by Cedric Neal, who then later performed a song from his most recent West End musical, Guys and Dolls.

Daniel and Tamara Evans, directors of the RSC, performed the immortal memory speech to celebrate the worldwide legacy of William Shakespeare.

There was a musical interlude from Carly Bawden, who sang a selection of Joni Mitchell songs

And the event ended with Dame Redgrave performing Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day.

On Sunday (April 22) the celebrations continued with the arrival of Mr Shakespeare at the Town Hall to ceremoniously offer the Quill to the King Edward VI Captain of School.

A procession then saw the Quill taken to Holy Trinity Church where The Shakespeare Service took place.

The Quill was received and placed in the hand of Shakespeare’s effigy above his grave. The service included the Shakespeare Sermon and performance of verse and music.