This year marks the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, and there’s never been a better time to celebrate his work as a playwright, actor, and poet. “The Bard,” as he’s known, divided his time between the city of London and Stratford-upon-Avon. He proved himself a prolific playwright writing a staggering thirty-eight original works in his lifetime, not to mention 150 sonnets penned before his death in 1616. The plays live on, and at any one time there might be three or four performed in the main houses of London theaters, and perhaps a few more at the fringe venues all over town. If you have time for a day trip, head to Stratford-upon-Avon, a two-to-three-hour train ride from London, to visit Shakespeare’s birthplace and the cottage where he courted his future wife Anne Hathaway. If you prefer a fictionalized version of history, the play Shakespeare in Love opened earlier this year to rave reviews.
Shakespeare's Globe Theatre
Shakespeare’s plays were first performed at London’s Globe theater several centuries ago. It was lovingly re-built near the original location in 1997, and the new venue is covered but open to the elements, so be sure to bring a raincoat. There are some seats, but for a true Shakespearean experience, purchase a “groundling ticket” and stand the whole show.
Noel Coward Theatre
Sixteen years after the film was lauded with seven Academy Awards, Shakespeare in Love’s transition to stage played to excellent reviews when it opened at the Noel Coward Theatre earlier this year. The show provides a bit of context, albeit rather fictional, to Shakespeare’s plays themselves, especially if your Bard knowledge is a bit rusty.
Royal Shakespeare Company at The Barbican
The Globe may be the home of Shakespeare, but the RSC at The Barbican surely gives it a run for its money. Less married to the traditional than the former, RSC’s adaptations are re-worked and modernized making Shakespeare accessible to an audience without losing any authenticity in the process. This season a short run of Macbeth played with an interesting twist. It was adapted in the context of refugee performers fleeing from Congo. Hamlet, staring Benedict Cumberbatch, is the hot ticket for next year. Meanwhile, Henry IV Parts I and II run from November 2014 to January 2015 so book your tickets now.
Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
Sister theater to the legendary Globe, the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse opened earlier this year, but in contrast to its historic neighbor, the playhouse is a completely indoor space, allowing for year-round productions. This fall, be sure to catch the theater’s Concerts by Candlelight series featuring Shakespeare’s sonnets put to music by British jazz musician Andy Sheppard.