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Winter School 2019

Leisure Learning at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

Nick Walton

Last week the Education Department of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust hosted its annual Winter School, which attracts leisure learners from across the country, and from overseas.

This year’s programme was based around the Royal Shakespeare Company’s (RSC) season of shows, which includes A Christmas Carol, Timon of Athens, and Tartuffe. Lectures on the works helped provide our guests with insights into the contexts in which the novels and plays had been written and helped audiences get more from the productions themselves.  

We were joined by Professor Emma Smith from Oxford University (Hertford College), who gave a fascinating talk about what has often been referred to as Shakespeare’s ‘bitterest and most negative play’, Timon of Athens. Further insight was given into this play with a talk about the drama’s performance history from Dr. Nick Walton, while Dr. Darren Freebury-Jones spoke about the process of collaboration between Shakespeare and Thomas Middleton to produce this rarely performed work.

Winter School 2019

We were delighted to welcome the president of the Worldwide Dickens Fellowship, Professor John Bowen, to speak about A Christmas Carol ahead of our viewing of David Edgar’s recent adaptation. Professor Bowen has worked as the academic consultant for this production so was perfectly placed to speak about some of the decisions that had gone into moving the work from the page to the stage. Dr. Stephen Purcell from Warwick University also gave a useful introduction to Molière’s Tartuffe, which served as a helpful springboard into the current production, which has relocated the action to modern day Birmingham.

As ever, one of the highlights of the course was the opportunity to discuss the productions with one another the morning after the show, and then the chance to hear from members of the RSC company, who were able to speak about their own experiences of working with the plays on stage, and offer brilliant insights into the rehearsal process. We were very lucky to be joined by Nia Gwynne and Sagar Arya who play Apemantus and the Painter in Timon of Athens, and Simon Nagra and Asif Kahn who play Imran Pervaiz and Tahir Taufiq Arsuf, in the company’s striking new take on Tartuffe.  

It is always so uplifting to start the new year in the company of so many people who share a passion for theatre, Literature and good conversation. We are always pleased to hear how much our guests enjoy the course, and here are just a few comments from last week’s event:

“The group discussions were led exceptionally well by the facilitators”

“The standard of lectures was high – informative and well delivered”

“I loved the atmosphere and the commitment to open discussion and embracing and encouraging diverse views”

“I think the balance is a perfect mixture of preparation for performances and enlightening post-performance discussion as well as interesting lectures”

“A marvellous course all round”

It will be another year before our next Winter School, but if you would like to join us for similar courses throughout the year, you might be interested in hearing more about our Living Shakespeare Course, which will be running in May and July. You will find full programmes for both courses on our Leisure Courses page