Shakespeare's 400th anniversary launches with a revival of the original Garrick Ode to Shakespeare and a new tribute from the Poet Laureate.

Scholars from University of Birmingham’s Shakespeare Institute in partnership with Ex Cathedra Choir and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust have commissioned a project for the 2016 Shakespeare anniversary in which renowned actor Sam West and Ex Cathedra Choir will revive David Garrick’s historic 1769 Shakespeare Ode performed in Stratford Upon-Avon’s Holy Trinity church where Shakespeare is buried.

West Midlands based choir Ex Cathedra will unveil the second part of this commission, a contemporary tribute to Shakespeare by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, set to music by the composer Sally Beamish. 

Shakespeare West

Sam West, pictured above with a bust of Shakespeare, said: "Garrick is an amazing figure – someone who could seem at once more realistic and more elevated than previous actors, and who got the theatre taken seriously as never before.

"And with this poem he got Shakespeare taken seriously, as a focus for real public social action, right across Europe. Without this Ode, there’d be no National Theatre and no RSC, and I’d probably never have had a job. So it’s wonderful to get the chance to bring it back to life."

University of Birmingham scholars Professor Michael Dobson and Professor Ewan Fernie will be interviewed during the interval and will discuss with BBC Radio 3 presenter Suzy Klein how and to what effects Stratford, Britain and the world have fallen in love with the Bard since 1769.

Professor Michael Dobson, Director of the Shakespeare Institute said: "Garrick’s great multi-media homage to Shakespeare was the focus of the first major public event to celebrate an artist in the town of his birth. The 1769 Shakespeare Ode, masterpiece of baroque rhetoric and music that it is, also marks the birth of the modern fan festival, the inception of a tradition by which successive generations have taken up Shakespeare’s flame for themselves. It is only fitting that our current Poet Laureate should have added her own contemporary tribute as a second half for this powerful public event."

Professor Ewan Fernie, Chair of Shakespeare Studies at the Shakespeare Institute, said: "We decided to mark Shakespeare's 400th anniversary with an historic revival of the Garrick Ode, but one which taps back into and refreshes its originally progressive spirit. That was why we commissioned an exciting new tribute to Shakespeare from Carol Ann Duffy, the Poet Laureate, and Sally Beamish, one of our most eminent and adventurous contemporary composers.

"Like Garrick, we want to share Shakespeare as widely as possible. And the Shakespeare we want to share is a living force: a tradition turned towards the present and future, one which bridges the distances between Shakespeare's England, 1769 and 2016."

The sold-out event is to be held at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon, where Shakespeare is buried and was also baptised, on Friday 22 April, the start of the weekend anniversary celebrations.

It will also be broadcast live via video link globally and in audio live on BBC Radio 3 – as part of the BBC Shakespeare Festival.

Ends

For media interviews or further information, please contact Rebecca Hume in the University of Birmingham press office on +44 (0)121 414 9041. Out of hours, please call +44 (0)7789 921165 or email the press office.

Notes to editors

  • It was Garrick’s original performance in 1769 which put Stratford on the map and established Shakespeare as the world-champion playwright we recognise today. 
  • The Shakespeare Odes project is a collaboration between the Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, and Ex Cathedra choir.
  • There will be further performances featuring different performers in Birmingham, London, Hereford, Southwell and Wolverhampton.
  • The University of Birmingham was named University of the Year for Graduate Employment 2016 and University of the Year 2013/14 in The Times and The Sunday Times. It is ranked among the world’s top 100 institutions. Its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers and teachers and more than 5,000 international students from over 150 countries.
  • The Shakespeare Institute at the University of Birmingham is an internationally renowned research institution established in 1951 to push the boundaries of knowledge about Shakespeare studies and Renaissance drama.