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Young actors with learning disabilities perform Hamlet to over 3,000 people

  • Date: 23 May 2014
  • Artform: Theatre
  • Area: South West
The touring cast of Hamlet posing for a group photograph The Touring Cast of Blue Apple Theatre's Hamlet (Ros Davies, Anna Brisbane, James Elsworthy, Katy Francis, Tommy Jessop, Lawrie Morris), William Jessop

An award-winning theatre company in Hampshire worked with actors with learning difficulties to bring Hamlet, one of Shakespeare's most popular plays, to five counties in England.

Blue Apple Theatre in Winchester was awarded £24,660 through our Grants for the arts funding scheme. This unique and inclusive adaptation of Hamlet was performed by young actors with Down's Syndrome and other learning disabilities in Shakespeare's original language.

The ambitious project coincided with London 2012's World Shakespeare Festival, successfully touring to over 18 venues and to an audience of over 3,000 people in 2012. In the same year, Blue Apple Theatre was also awarded the Queen's Award for Voluntary Service. Its production of Hamlet also featured on a recent BBC3 documentary, Growing Up Down's. This followed the actors over the course of an emotional year working on the show.

Life changing project

Hamlet opened the doors to the actors being considered for significant roles in mainstream theatre. Two of the actors performed in What You Will: Pop-Up Shakespeare and continue to be employed by the Globe on their annual sonnet walks. Some of the actors have also been offered other mainstream film roles and voiceover work.

James, who played Polonius and Laertes, said: 'I never thought I'd understand Shakespeare, but now I do. We showed the audience that we can be actors. It was really amazing.'

Jane Jessop, Director of Blue Apple Theatre said: 'We wanted to make Hamlet accessible to new audiences and for the tour to shatter any negative pre-conceptions around performers with learning disabilities. Nowhere else would our actors have had this opportunity to play these big Shakespearean characters on big public stages to such a wide audience.'

You can learn more about the fantastic work Blue Apple Theatre do on their website.

For more information about Grants for the arts, see artscouncil.org.uk/gfta

For further advice, phone 0845 300 6200 or email  enquiries@artscouncil.org.uk