As part of the 400th anniversary celebration of Shakespeare’s First Folio, Trinity is exhibiting two copies of this foundational work and the Shaffer Playwright-in-Residence Tom Murray is developing his play North Star, following a staged reading at Norwich Theatre Royal recently.
Tom’s play is one of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 37 Plays – an initiative to encourage new writers and existing playwrights to chart the varied experiences of living in the UK today. The national competition attracted more than 2000 submissions and the 37 plays selected are being shared this autumn in readings at theatres across the UK.
On 8 November 1623 Mr William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories & Tragedies was published, bringing together in one volume or folio for the first time the playwright’s 37 plays, seven years after his death.
Without this effort by his friends John Heminges and Henry Condell, it is thought that half of Shakespeare’s plays would have been lost.
Between 750 and 1000 copies of the 1623 First Folio were printed, of which 235 are known to have survived. There are four copies in Cambridge, of which two are in the Wren Library.
Sub-Librarian Steven Archer said: ‘For the 400th anniversary we have decided to display both side by side for the first time so that visitors can see the famous portrait frontispiece and the opening of King Lear.’
Members of the public can visit the Wren Library Monday to Friday 12-2pm and on Saturdays 10:30am-12:30pm during term time (until end of November 2023).
Tom Murray writes about his first term as Shaffer Playwright-in-Residence at Trinity and how his play was received by audiences at the Norwich Theatre Royal recently.
Recently, a reading of my play ‘North Star’ was recorded with Norwich Theatre Royal in front of a live audience of invited guests. It had been selected as one of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 37 Plays carefully curated to represent what it’s like to live in Britain today. The recording will be published, along with the script, on the RSC website later this year. It’s part of a wonderful initiative designed to inspire support for new writing across the country.
Many theatres outside the M25 now act solely as receiving houses, with comparatively few commissioning new work. The fear is that there isn’t a market for unproven material. Blustering this is the assumption that places like London have more cultural capital, so audiences have greater tolerance for the experimental/new. This strikes me as a self-fulfilling prophecy. How can audiences acquire a taste for new work if they aren’t exposed to it? How can cultural capital be obtained in our regions if culture never leaves the capital?
What the 37 Plays has demonstrably proven is that there’s massive demand for new work in the very spots where it’s most absent. If we built it, they will come. My experience in Norwich was no exception.
We only had two days to rehearse before the performance, which, thanks to the team’s talent and efficiency, felt like a luxury. By Friday evening, I was so smug and cocksure, that I barely winced when a bird pooed on my head as I waited for my train. However, time, the great leveller, came in a hurry and the following morning, disaster struck. All trains to Norwich were cancelled due to floods. Many of those expected to be welcomed (including delegates from the RSC) were sadly now unable to make it. A literal and figurative cloud loomed over the day.
Fortunately, we rallied together, and the team did a phenomenal job. I’m massively grateful to all of those from Norwich who came – and especially my parents, who ferried my family to and from Cambridgeshire so they could attend! I’d also like to thank Helen from the RSC, who came down from Hull, braving the roads (now closer resembling canals), to ensure the event was recorded.
The reception was far better than I could have hoped. Some said the piece made them cry, others thought it was hilarious – which is precisely the sort of emotional ambivalence I aim to incur in my audiences. One woman, who I assumed was either asleep or dead for she was so rigidly still, said she enjoyed it so much she intends to come to the reading next week.
What’s next for North Star, I’m afraid, is in the lap of the gods… or a production house. Either way, I’m immensely thankful for the opportunity to stage a piece so close to my heart. Sadly, its themes seem more poignant than ever.
Settling into my position at Trinity has been a bit of a whirlwind. I think it was on the second day that I was ushered into the Wren Library to sign a giant book with all the other postgraduate signatures. Next to it was the scrawled name: “Isaac Newton”, after which I had to lay down for a bit.
The first week was so full of adrenaline I found myself incapable of doing any work at all. (Apart from the two days it took for me to work out how to get on the Wi-Fi – a system I think even the Pentagon would struggle to crack). I’ve since found my feet though and have begun to write. I’ve been reading all the plays available in the College Library, as well as attending lectures and Union Society debates on AI, which is to be the subject of my next play: The Melancholy Death of William Huskisson. I’m especially interested in the near-future sociological consequences of AI – what it means for racism, misogyny, ageism, ableism – and how it perpetuates these trends in our society, rather than the stereotypical “robots will takeover” apocalypse, which seems an exhausted theme.
Alarmingly, the deeper I delve into the subject, the more it seems to vindicate my instinct that this is potentially catastrophic for humanity. As with North Star, I find myself in the morally conflicting position of on the one hand being pleased my ideas are relevant, but on the other hand terrified my ideas are relevant. There’s much more work to do – and I can’t wait to get started.