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Shake It Up! Festival celebrates Shakespeare’s Shoreditch

Last updated on February 18th, 2021

Grab your ruffs, London! The site of Shakespeare’s first London playhouse, The Theatre, is soon to become a permanent exhibition space. Ahead of its opening in March 2020, the Theatre Courtyard Gallery is hosting Shake it Up! A Shakespeare Festival for Shoreditch. The series of events celebrating the Bard and Elizabethan culture will run across the weekend of the 23 and 24 August in venues throughout Shoreditch.

Shake It Up Festival, Shoreditch

Buried beneath a new development is the site of the original theatre where Shakespeare first made his mark as a playwright and actor. It’s thought to be the venue where ‘Romeo and Juliet’ was first staged, although the site of the Curtain Theatre a few metres away also competes for this accolade. The Tudor foundations of The Theatre were discovered 11 years ago and will form part of the new Courtyard Gallery.

The Theatre, Shoreditch, Shakespeare

Reconstructed view of the entrance to The Theatre, Shoreditch (copyright David Toon, Lee Sands and MOLA)

The Theatre, Shoreditch, Shakespeare

What The Theatre looks like today (art wall and image by Global Street Art)

The Shake It Up! Festival includes Shakespearean performances, Elizabethan music, workshops, walking tours, and even some yoga. The free and ticketed family events throughout the weekend include:

 The Choicest Music of the Kingdom: by Harry Christophers and The Sixteen

Shake it Up, Shoreditch, The Sixteen - Choicest Music of the Kingdom

The Sixteen – Choicest Music of the Kingdom

Internationally acclaimed choir The Sixteen presents an exclusive programme of Elizabethan and Jacobean choral works, spanning the life of Richard Burbage, the most illustrious actor of his age. The programme will be interspersed with stories of everyday London, from Shakespeare and his players, to the groundlings of the theatre and the monarch herself, as actors deliver a true celebration of Elizabethan London. This extraordinary evening of drama and song will be performed in the atmospheric surroundings of St Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch, where Burbage and several of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (the acting company for which Shakespeare wrote) are buried. Ticketed.

Shakespeare’s Shoreditch Walking Tour with Look Up London

Shake it Up, Shakespeare walk, Shoreditch

LookUp London’s Katie Wignall

Explore east London as William Shakespeare would have known it. See the surviving remains of Elizabethan Shoreditch and handle fascinating contemporary objects from the Museum of London Archaeology collection. Ticketed.

Shakespearean Yoga

Combining strength, flexibility and breathing exercises with quotes by William Shakespeare, this relaxing yoga session will include a live lute musical accompaniment and 16th century aromas by AVM Curiosities. Don’t forget to pack your yoga ruff!

Room of Ruffs

Drop into an Elizabethan ruff factory. Try a few on for size and pose for a te-ruff-ic selfie! Join in the making and help build a new ruff for the 21st century out of Shoreditch-friendly coffee filters and paper doilies. Free, drop in.

From Marchpane to Mutton: a sniff of Shakespeare’s time

Tasha Marks, AVM Curiosities

Tasha Marks of AVM Curiosities (Photo: Ash Kingston)

Join Tasha Marks, an award- winning food historian and artist, for a visual and aromatic lecture exploring the food that Shakespeare would have eaten. Free, drop in.

Can You Cut a Caper?

An Elizabethan dance workshop, suitable for all abilities. Led by Sian Williams, dance expert and choreographer, who has been directing dance at Shakespeare’s Globe for the last 19 years. Free, drop in.

Before Shakespeare: Rethinking London’s Earliest Playhouses

Join historical theatre investigators Andy Kesson, Lucy Munro and Callan Davies as they present bite-sized lectures on the beginnings of London’s commercial theatres, 1565 – 1595. Talks will feature Elizabethan London’s cosmopolitan crowds, female playhouse owners, and bowling, brawls, and broomsticks. Free, drop in.

You can book tickets to Shake It Up! Festival via the website.

About The Theatre

The Theatre, Shoreditch, Shakespeare

MOLA archaeologists excavate the outside areas of The Theatre in 2018 (copyright MOLA)

Pop-ups are nothing new – they had them back in Will’s day too. The purpose-built polygonal playhouse was London’s first and built in 1576 by the actor James Burbage. The Lord Mayor of London had just banned plays in the City as a precaution against the spread of the plague via crowded spaces. Shoreditch was in a vicinity directly outside the City, known for its brothels, boozers and gaming houses and consequently labelled the suburb of sin. In 1577, the Curtain Theatre would pop-up just around the corner, making Shoreditch the original theatrical district in London.

Curtain Theatre, Shakespeare

This marks the spot where the Curtain Theatre once stood. Some of its foundations lurk behind the pub.

Burbage was the leading actor in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men which also employed a young novice called Shakespeare (‘Romeo and Juliet’ would be performed at The Theatre). By 1598, Burbage’s company lost the right to lease the land, so they dismantled the theatre in the dead of night on the 28 December 1598. The timbers were ferried across the Thames to Bankside where they were used in the construction of The Globe the following year. By the time the Globe opened, Shakespeare was the star of the Golden Age.



15 Reasons to visit Bankside



A London arts and culture blog featuring articles about art, theatre, opera, dance, music and design.


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