This morning we headed to Stratford to check out the new interactive exhibition at the RSC, The Play’s The Thing. Tucked away on the other side of the RSC Café, the exhibition brings to life some of Shakespeare’s most famous works.
What is The Play’s The Thing?
When I think of an exhibition, I imagine something relatively static. Definitely not the sort of thing my children would be particularly interested in. But the beauty of The Play’s The Thing is that it uses such a wide range of formats to reach visitors that it really does keep people’s attention.
When you first enter, you watch a short animated film introducing you to the exhibition. The video uses lines from the works of Shakespeare delivered by an animation. I wondered whether the girls would sit still through this due to the use of traditional language. However they seemed to be totally engaged with the concept and the video only lasted for three minutes.
After the film, you are invited to make your way upstairs to the exhibition. There are three flights of steep, narrow stairs to navigate but there is an alternative access route via a lift.
The Play’s The Thing – Exhibition
The majority of the exhibits are contained within one large room. They vary from original artwork to digital media, to costumes and props used on set, to dressing up outfits, to games and everything in between.
When we entered the room, I noticed that there was a security guard in there and I wasn’t sure why. Later on my husband got chatting to him and he explained that he was there because of a painting that is currently on display.
The Chandos Portrait is thought to be the only painting of Shakespeare that was created during his lifetime. It is on loan to the RSC and on display in The Play’s The Thing until 18th December 2016. Historians will also be interested to see one of the first Folios of The Tempest.
There are several costumes dotted around that have been worn in performances of Shakespeare’s plays over the years. I liked the fact that many of the costumes are accompanied by hands-on exhibits explaining what the costume is made from. You can touch each fabric and get an idea of what it would have been like to wear.
Interactive Elements at The Play’s The Thing
There are digital displays to watch and listen to, telling stories of Shakespeare himself and of performances of his works. These vary from television screens to holograms, to audio devices. Other interactive displays include pulleys to show how people fly across the stage and clothes that you can button up to see if you’d make the grade for a quick change. You can even make up your own story by choosing a play and deciding how you’ll set the scene.
By far the girls’ favourite part of the event was being able to try on hats and props that would be used in the theatre. They were then able to go behind a curtain and practice delivering their lines to an interactive screen with an actor on it. This would be ideal for older children because it asks them to read out the lines as they appear on screen.
The Red Room
On exiting the main exhibition, you go into a more relaxed area. There is a large picture on the wall with spy-holes to look through. Behind each is a different small image. You can also look through a large window to see the room you’ve just come from.
As well as the visual element, the red room has some sofas in it with audio to listen to. You pick up a receiver and press a person’s face to hear their story about Shakespeare.
The Play’s The Thing – The Verdict
We all thoroughly enjoyed The Play’s The Thing. It was a relaxed environment where the children could get immersed in what was going on without me worrying too much about them knocking over anything valuable.
The exhibition is recommended for children aged seven and over. Whilst ours did gain a lot from it, I can see they would benefit more if they were able to read and had a basic knowledge of Shakespeare. I would also highly recommend The Play’s The Thing for adults – there are so many incredible elements to it, the likes of which most people won’t see in their lifetime without visiting.
Tickets cost £8.50 per adult and £4.25 per child. There are also various concessionary rates. You can either book in advance or turn up on the day subject to availability. Rates and further information are available on their website. Here are some more ideas for things to do in the West Midlands as a family.