Is it true that Shakespeare, himself, graced the stage of St. George’s Guildhall Theatre in 1592? Hard to believe when looking at this Grade I listed building in need of much love, care and renovation. But yes, it is true!
It is “known in Shakespearian academic community that Shakespeare performed in King’s Lynn. We are very clear about this. There is new researchby Professor Matthew Woodcock of the UEA. He will be talking about it at the Shakespeare Festival. Shakespeare Guildhall Trust has done further researh to flesh out theories and there are academics within the Shakespearian world who have been researching this link for years, who know that not just Shakespeare came here. All of the key players in Elizabethan theatre and if any of you have watched Shakespeare in Love every single player that performed in that performed here in this theatre and that’s worth knowing about. It’s Robert Armin, it’s Richard Tarlton, it’s William Kemp. Big Elizabethan actors and comics.” Tim FitzHigham
But the first documented theatrical use of St. George’s Guildhall goes back to 1442. This makes it the oldest working theatre in the UK by hundreds of years.
It is in this building that a packed crowd sat on Sunday 27 January 2019 listening to Tim FitzHigham telling us all about the Shakespeare connection and Ivor Rowlands giving us a brief history of the building and its uses in the past.
The aims and visions of the recently formed Shakespeare’s Guildhall Trust bring a buzz of excitement to the full house. The pride of the potential jewel that King’s Lynn is starts to be felt.
We should also be proud of the long history of royal patronage from Queen Alexandra, Queen Mary who paid money to refurbish theatre in the 50s, the Queen mother, a patron for 50 years and through to Lady Fermoy, grandmother of Diana Princess of Wales, patron of the King’s Lynn Festival. Prince Charles stated on Radio 3 over Christmas his love of music started watching performances on the Guildhall stage. We shouldn’t underestimate the value of living history.
It is not just the theatre that the Trust is talking about, it is the whole arts complex and it must work as a whole. it is the theatre, though, that has the potential to bring the venue to the international level. The interest in Shakespeare worldwide is phenomenal.
The vision presented by FitzHigham, “We would like to unlock the full financial and marketing potential of it being the oldest theatre, the oldest working theatre and the oldest theatrical space in the UK. If you go to google and put into google, ‘What is the oldest theatre in the UK?’ and a lot of people do, I suspect primarily from abroad, this doesn’t even come up in the top 10 and that needs changing because it’s older than all the rest of them by 100s of years. Now clearly people are interested in going to visit the oldest theatre in the UK but if you don’t tell them that this is it they’re not going to come.”
The Trust plan to maintain all groups that are current users of the complex. “It would be mad not to do that.” says FitzHigham. Work with schools, colleges and an international summer school are being talked about. There needs to be access for all.
For this vision, funding is needed. In the short term a feasibility study for the development needs to be realised. The costs are set at £50-100k. In the medium term £5-10m will be needed to transform the complex.
If you can help the trust in any way, financial or otherwise, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
The trustees of the Shakespeare’s Guildhall Trust are (left to right):
Nick Balaam, Chair King’s Lynn Preservation Trust, Heritage Management Consultant.
Veronica Sekules, Director of GroundWork Gallery, Author and Art Historian.
Ivor Rowlands, Company Director, King’s Lynn Town Guide, West Norfolk Tourism Forum.
Tim FitzHigham, FRSA FRGS, Actor, Explorer, Comedian, Theatre Producer.
Adrian Parker, Friends of St Nicholas Chapel, Retired Planning Consultant.
Michael Hankinson, International Music Director and Composer.
To conclude, the aims of the Shakespeare’s Guildhall Trust
- Promote the knowledge, understanding, and enjoyment of performance and visual arts through the use of St George’s Guildhall, King’s Lynn.
- Celebrate and continue its 600 years’ history as a living arts venue.
- Provide educational and learning opportunities for all.
Background information regarding the Arts Centre and LArCH
Link to EDP recording of Public Meeting on facebook
Shakespeare’s Guildhall Trust http://www.kingslynnshakespeare.com
Shakespeare Festival http://www.kingslynnshakespeare.com