Shakespeare at Smallhythe Place
PUBLISHED: 19:23 25 March 2016 | UPDATED: 19:24 25 March 2016
This month marks the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death, and 2016 is packed with events, productions and activities to commemorate Britain’s most famous playwright.
At National Trust-owned Smallhythe Place, former home of Victorian actress Ellen Terry, Susannah Mayor, house steward, explains the strong connection with Shakespearean drama. “As a famous actress, in 1899 Ellen Terry bought Smallhythe Place as a bolthole away from her hectic London life.
“She played many passionate leading ladies from Shakespearian plays, including Lady Macbeth, Portia, Beatrice, Viola, Juliet and Mistress Page from The Merry Wives of Windsor.
“We’re very lucky to have a large number of Ellen’s props and costumes on display here, including a dramatic green dress made from hundreds of shimmering beetle wings that she wore while playing Lady Macbeth.”
The beetle wing dress, which was restored in 2011, was made for Ellen to wear in Henry Irving’s acclaimed production of Macbeth in 1888. It is part of a collection of theatrical accessories, props and scripts that form a museum set up at Smallhythe Place by Ellen’s daughter, the theatre producer Edith Craig, in 1929, in her mother’s memory.
Also on display are beautifully illustrated scrapbook albums containing hand-written lectures given by Ellen Terry, as well as a small box formerly owned by the actor and theatre manager, David Garrick, made from a piece of the Mulberry tree said to have been planted by William Shakespeare in Stratford-upon-Avon.
At Smallhythe Place not only are there many fascinating costumes, accessories and thespian exhibits to admire, but also Shakespearean-themed activities, including Venetian-style mask making for children, puzzles, games and costume talks, behind-the-scenes tours and a half-term children’s trail leading families around the garden and theatre (28 May-5 June).
As the home of the only theatre owned and operated by the National Trust, it’s very fitting that Shakespeare fans can also watch live performances in the thatched 17th-century Barn Theatre, built in the grounds of Ellen’s former home. On the bard’s birthday, 23 April, The Summer Theatre Company presents Celebrating Shakespeare, a humorous romp through the great man’s plays and characters. Tickets cost £12 (booking fee applies), available online or via the box office on 0844 249 1895.
Later in the year, the Barn Theatre will play host to more live theatre, including Jane Austen’s Emma by The Hotbuckle Theatre Company on 15 May (ticket details as above).
Find out more
To find out more about Shakespeare at Smallhythe Place and other events and activities taking place at the National Trust in Kent this spring, please visit the website at: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/southeast.