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Abigail Rokison- September 2011

As I recall, the seeds of this project were sown in a supervision between myself and Kiran – we had almost certainly become side-tracked from matters academic. I mentioned the planned Cambridge Shakespeare Conference – ‘Shakespeare: Sources and Adaptation’, and she told me about her work with Tom, creating paintings and poems, some inspired by Renaissance literature. When the three of us began to talk in earnest it soon became clear that Tom and Kiran’s work might not only form the centre-piece of the conference in the form of an ‘Ekphrasis’ exhibition, but might also be extended into an education project – inspiring young people to create art and poetry inspired by Shakespeare’s work. Little did I imagine that these early conversations would lead to such a wealth of vivid and evocative work, or that the proposed education project would lead to Kiran and Tom being invited to run sessions at the Saatchi gallery in London on A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Over the past 18 months, Kiran and Tom have worked closely to create an artistically rich and varied collection of paintings and poems. The paintings take inspiration from the production history of Shakespeare’s work – Elizabeth Siddal as Ophelia and Ian Charleson as Hamlet; scenes from the plays – The Blinding and A Midsummer Night’s Dream; and some of the plays’ central themes of violence, love, lust and familial relationships. In turn, the poems take their inspiration from the rich tapestry of the paintings, spinning off in a range of directions to create something new and original, and yet intimately linked to Shakespeare’s writing.

I am absolutely thrilled that the project has succeeded in linking Shakespeare, art, poetry and education, creating works that are inspiring in themselves, and also encouraging young people to look afresh at Shakespeare’s themes, images and characters, and to use this insight in creative ways. I can think of a no more fitting setting for this exhibition than the Education faculty at Cambridge, which prizes creativity in education so highly.

Finally, I would like to thank Tom and Kiran for all their hard work in creating this stunning and thought-provoking exhibition. As the huge variety of contributions to this conference bear witness, Shakespeare’s work has inspired a rich tradition of responses in art, poetry, prose literature, drama, dance, music, cartoons, film and many other popular artistic mediums. Tom and Kiran’s work provides a further contribution to this fertile tradition, and will, I hope, inspire others to continue to draw on the plays’ complex and richly depicted characters, resonant themes, vivid images, poetic and rhetorical language, and abundant and varied performance history, to create their own original work.

Abigail began her career as a professional actor, training at LAMDA. Her acting work includes numerous roles in theatre, and, amongst other television roles, Primrose Larkin in ITV’s The Darling Buds of May. Following her PhD at Cambridge, she became a lecturer in Drama and English in the Education Faculty and Director of Studies in English and Drama at Homerton College. Her monograph, Shakespearean Verse Speaking, was published in 2010 by Cambridge University Press, and she is currently working on a book – Shakespeare’s Children: Adaptations and Re-workings of Shakespeare for Children and Young People – to be published by Continuum in 2012.