Promenade performance looks at an eccentric Shakespeare scholar

Marc Rees. Picture by Warren Orchard
Marc Rees. Picture by Warren Orchard

Meet James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps, 19th-century joker and world-renowned Shakespearean scholar who lived on the outskirts of Brighton.

There in his ‘rustic wigwam’ (a series of conjoined sheds), he obsessively curated a huge hoard of Shakespearean rarities.

Marking the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, artist Marc Rees has devised a unique promenade performance through Roedale Allotments, close to the site of this eccentric recluse’s former home.

Marc’s Brighton Festival show offers you the chance to explore sheds and hideaways, discover an assortment of Shakespearean characters reborn in knitted form and gather a wealth of horticultural tips along the way.

You’ll also meet the Allotmenteers and other community participants, Marc promises.

“It’s just extraordinary really,” Marc says. “I first came across him in an article in The Guardian. He was this fascinating character who lived in these conjoined sheds in the early-19th century. We do know a bit about him. He was one of the world’s greatest Shakespeare scholars, and he had lots of rare papers and manuscripts on Shakespeare but was also pivotal in saving and preserving where Shakespeare was born in Stratford. In honour of Shakespeare, he even clad his conjoined sheds in mock Tudor style.

“I was just drawn to him and thought it would be fantastic to do something about him. I went to where his sheds where, but what I came across was this beautiful valley full of sheds. I thought it would be great to work with all the allotment holders to celebrate the story. I approached them, and they were intrigued and were wanting to know more. The idea was born that I would work with them. They are not performers. They are not participating. The idea is that it is a trail. Part of the trail goes between these 12 sheds, and I have found a way of working with certain of Shakespeare’s characters who are reborn in knitted form.

“Framing it is this character Halliwell-Phillipps who is being portrayed by a Spanish dancer. He is extraordinary. I wanted to explore this character physically, but he won’t speak. But we will also have the original person (Charles Nicholl) who wrote The Guardian article, Shakespeare’s Scholar Tramp.

“It is all very specific. You get bused from Brighton. We don’t want masses of people. We want to respect the allotments, and it will go ahead whatever the weather. Hopefully it will be lovely weather in May. But really we want people to come prepared. They should bring wellies and raincoat and sun cream!

“I will be your guide. We are working with a youth group that will represent the fairies form A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and at certain points on the trail, there will be interventions…”

The trail is open on Brighton Festival weekends, Saturday and Sunday May 7 and 8, 14 and 15 and 21 and 22, 10.30am and 2.30pm. Meeting point: Old Steine bus stop S (opposite Royal Albion Hotel) for your journey to Roedale Valley Allotments.

James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps will be portrayed Guillermo Weickert Molina.

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