image for Festival item typeThe King's Lynn Shakespeare Festival at King's Lynn Arts Centre

Festival, Fri 26 - Sun 28 Apr 2019, £8.50

The Artistic Director

The Artistic Director

Performance, Historical investigation into Shakespeare's King's Lynn Connection, and Shakespearean Acting Workshops - over one Celebratory Weekend in April 2019


29 King Street,
King's Lynn,
PE30 1HA

Events at this Venue

date event
Fri 26 - Sun 28 Apr The King's Lynn Shakespeare Festival


Andrew Jarvis –
The Artistic Director of the King’s Lynn Shakespeare Festival Theatre Company –
writes :
I have been a professional actor for 50 years. The last 40 of those years have been spent predominantly in the works of Shakespeare – and as a result, he has become my major passion and focus. As well as my work as an actor, director, and actor trainer in and around the works of Shakespeare, I am the President of the Sunday Shakespeare Society. I am also a Board Member of the British Shakespeare Association, and Chair of its Fellowship Committee.
I became a resident of King’s Lynn just over three years ago and live in the village of Clenchwarton just outside the town. Since arriving here, I have learned more and more about the town’s extraordinarily rich history, and it is a journey which has lead me to believe that a life for the performance of the works of Shakespeare would be something which the town both warrants and deserves. Indeed, its contemporary cultural life is a further factor which lends encouragement to my belief.
I have, therefore, been considering the possibility of creating Shakespearean performance here in King’s Lynn for some time. However, the specific impetus to hold a Shakespeare Festival fully materialised when I became aware of evidence which might lead us to believe that Shakespeare, the man, the player and the writer, has a very specific and personal relationship with the town.
In terms of the history of the town which relates strictly to the time of Shakespeare, there is an equally fascinating body of evidence leading us to believe that the Guildhall of St. George in King’s Lynn, whilst being probably the oldest and largest Medieval Guildhall surviving in the country, also qualifies as the oldest Guildhall to have once offered working theatre.
The evidence pointing to the specific possibility that Shakespeare may have performed at the Guildhall of St. George lies in several areas :
The Town Book records a payment of 20 shillings being made to the Earl of Pembroke’s Men in 1592, while they were on tour that year. This was a company of actors who had been forced to tour because of the closure of the London theatres due to the Plague. However, that factor was not the only reason that the tour took place. All the evidence regarding performance practise at that time suggests the fact that touring theatre was a much more prevalent form than we sometimes think. That is, the act of touring performance, as opposed to permanent amphitheatre building-based performance, was more of the norm. We know that there were definite touring “circuits” which theatre companies exercised – one of the hubs of which was certainly in East Anglia.
Now to consider whether Shakespeare was indeed a member of a troupe of players.
In 1592 he was still relatively early in his career, his foremost role as an actor remaining the main element in the learning, but increasingly effective practise, of his trade. However, he was also an aspiring and increasingly competent young dramatist.
Those two factors together could easily make us believe that being a part of a theatre company would be the logical place to be. This, I believe, he had done several years before – during the “lost years”. But by the time that we are focussing on, there is already written evidence that he was considered a good actor. Henry Chettle, in late 1592, describes him as “exelent in the qualitie he professes.” How do actors attain that level of description – well, the only way is by doing it over and over again through many years. So, I am convinced that it is fair to assume that Shakespeare was a working actor and writer – and had been for several years.
Now to connect him more specifically with this one company – the Earl of Pembroke’s Men.
There are certain of the plays of Shakespeare, which we know from the frontispiece of the earliest printed versions, were seen as “Pembroke Plays”. That is, plays which “belonged” to that company. That in itself would suggest a Shakespearean involvement as a writer – or almost “Producer” – as we might nowadays think of it. As a writer he actively wanted that particular company to perform his plays. The strongest evidence that Shakespeare the actor – but also the writer - was indeed a part of that Pembroke touring company is expressed by one of our greatest Shakespearean scholars - a man who is a particular authority on the Shakespearean Playing Companies – Andrew Gurr. In his book The Shakespearian Playing Companies (1996) he states :
“I am almost convinced that Shakespeare was with his plays in Pembroke’s Company in 1592 and 1593. My reasons are not just the number of his plays showing evidence that some of Pembroke’s players were in them (2 and 3 Henry VI, in the versions known as The Contention and Richard Duke of York, and The Taming of the Shrew and Titus Andronicus), but the evidence in the quarto and octavo versions of The Contention and Richard Duke of York which indicate that he was on hand when they were staged.”
Professor Gurr then goes on to give textual examples to support the proposition of Shakespeare’s presence as a writer. (See Andrew Gurr – The Shakespearian Playing Companies – P. 271)
So, there seems to be evidence to support a dual role for Shakespeare in King’s Lynn in 1592 – fulfilling the requirement of being both actor and writer.
If that were to be the case, it leaves room for the contemplation that King’s Lynn could be of central importance as a location for Shakespeare’s work.
These possibilities alone make a celebration of the work of Shakespeare even more appropriate to the town of King’s Lynn.
In this introduction I have merely skimmed the surface of the evidence. We must go further.
And so we begin – with our inaugural Shakespeare Festival.
During these three days we wish both to celebrate the work of the greatest dramatic poet that the world has ever known, and we also strive for the fullest exploration that the known evidence will allow, to trace and to understand our town’s possible connection with the man and his work.
The content of the Festival will be in three areas :
A celebration of the Works of our greatest dramatic poet – three performances :

The Opening Shakespeare Festival Celebratory performance :

“The Ages of Man” – a Shakespearean selection of readings arranged by Sir John Gielgud and George Rylands - performed by the Festival Director : Andrew Jarvis

Two Performances by Sir Ian McKellen of his new One-Man Show : “Ian McKellen on Stage – Tolkien, Shakespeare, Others – and YOU”

Academic interrogation
Five leading Shakespearean Scholars will lead an investigation, interrogation, discussion and extrapolation of the nature of Shakespeare’s theatre, its traditions, its history – its whole nature. Specifically, they will investigate all of the evidence which exists regarding Shakespeare’s possible appearance in King’s Lynn as both an actor and a writer.

The Scholars are :
Emeritus Professor John Drakakis (University of Stirling)
Emeritus Professor Richard Dutton (Ohio State University and Queens
University, Belfast)
Professor Alison Findlay (University of Lancaster)
Dr. Matthew Woodcock (University of East Anglia)
Dr. Peter Smith (Nottingham Trent University)

A Shakespearean Acting Workshop for young people aged 16+ :
Lead by the Festival Director : Andrew Jarvis

Coach parties acceptedCredit cards accepted (with charge)National Trust PropertyPublic toiletsAccepts groups

Event details

Dates Times
Fri 26 - Sun 28 Apr 2019 10:30 to 21:30


Each event over the weekend is priced at £8.50 (excluding Sir Ian McKellen). However there is a concessionary weekend ticket priced at £30.00 for all events (excluding Sir Ian McKellen).
Tickets for Sir Ian's two performances are Sold Out.


See location of King's Lynn Arts Centre on Google mapsSee location on Google maps

Map reference: TF 616202  Lat: 52.75523 Long: 0.39314

Parking: free

Accessible by Public Transport: 2 miles from King's Lynn station


  • Coach parties acceptedCoach parties accepted
  • Credit cards accepted (with charge)Credit cards accepted (with charge)
  • National Trust PropertyNational Trust Property
  • Public toiletsPublic toilets
  • Accepts groupsAccepts groups