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Bigging up the Bard: RWCMD's new Shakespeare Prize final

Five of our second year actors took to the Royal Court stage this week, performing a Shakespearian sonnet and a speech in front of a panel of judges including the esteemed actor Ian McKellen.

James Mace was named the winner of the College’s very first Shakespeare Prize of £5000, with his performance from Hamlet, and Sonnet 143, My love is as a fever, longing still.

'I'm very grateful to have won the College's very first Shakespeare prize. His plays and heightened text require so much of you as an actor.

Training in classical work is so important, and this experience has been so useful, learning how to train my imagination while also committing to the truth and circumstances of his characters.'
James MaceWinner of RWCMD's inaugural Shakespeare Prize
The finalists Nathan Kirby Mya Pennicott James Mace Saskia West Alyson Handley

The other finalists were Nathan Kirby, Mya Pennicott, Saskia West and Alyson Handley, pictured above with James in the middle.

Ian McKellen commended them all, saying they were a credit to the whole class of second year actors, who he worked with before Christmas, and to the College. He also praised their confidence, ease and clarity of speech.

The other judges included RWCMD graduate and Fellow Rakie Ayola, Sean Mathias, the College’s Director of Drama Performance, Jonathan Munby, and Head of Voice, Alice White.

Winner James Mace with the judges – Rakie Ayola, Alice White, Ian McKellen, Jonathan Munby and Sean Mathias
'At the moment, Shakespeare training is in danger of falling off the radar and becoming less of a priority. Our prize shows our commitment to studying classical texts and the importance of the power of language.

Working on Shakespeare’s plays gives a depth of craft that is also transferrable to any medium. The different elements of training support each other, challenging and enriching them as actors.

If you can speak Shakespeare, you can tackle any text.'
Jonathan MunbyDirector of Drama Performance at RWCMD

Graduate Rakie Ayola, one of the judges, remembers falling in love with Shakespeare while training at RWCMD:

'I arrived at the College as an 18-year-old with a deep-seated loathing of Shakespeare and all things Shakespearian. So much so that when, in my second year, I was cast as Lady Macbeth, I very dramatically slid down the wall in tears. I'd wanted to play a Fairy in 'The Dream'. I tried in vain to be recast.'

'Yet it was during that second year project that a world of linguistic possibility opened up to me. A world of words, imagery and rhythm.  A world that was nothing like my own, yet filled with feelings and emotions that I recognised and understood.

A world that allowed me to truly enjoy the muscularity of language.

To enjoy how it felt in my mouth, how it exercised my jaw and my tongue, how it could soar and fly when coming out of my mouth, a world where eloquence is everything and people have words and phrases at their command ready to use without pause or ponderance.'
Rakie Ayola

We’re hugely proud of our grad’s work with Shakespeare. Recent highlights include Isobel Thom, who went straight from graduating in acting last summer to their critically acclaimed eponymous performance in I, Joan at The Globe. Isobel has just been announced as Helena in The Globe’s new Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Graduate Katy Stephens is currently leading an all-female Titus Andronicus at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. She’s also an Associate Artist at the Royal Shakespeare Company.

At the RSC, Thalissa Teixeira is currently appearing as Brutus in Julius Caesar, Heledd Gwynn was Ariel in its recent production of The Tempest, and Arthur Hughes was its eponymous Richard III last year.

First published: 04/04/2023 

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