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More famous than Shakespeare! - See Kemp’s Jig at Ludlow Fringe

11th May 2023
More famous than Shakespeare! - See Kemp’s Jig at Ludlow Fringe

It’s true! Back in what we refer to as the Shakespearean times, Will Kemp was more famous than William Shakespeare. At Ludlow Fringe 2023, we have a wonderfully humous account of Kemp’s antics, which have been captured in a show called “Kemp’s Jig”.

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The show was written by the late Chris Harris in 1976, and since then has toured the world, including playing seasons at the RSC and Royal National Theatre.  On hearing the radio version of the play Sam Wanamaker hired Chris to play Will Kemp in Wanamaker’s own play “The Wooden O”  that toured the USA to raise funds for the building of Shakespeare’s Globe on Bankside.  The show also featured on the Arts programme Aquarius, introduced by Sir Peter Hall.  Blue Fire Theatre Company acquired the piece from Chris Harris’ estate in 2018 and have taken it, here, there and everywhere around the UK! 
We are delighted that Blue Fire are bringing Kemp to life for us at Ludlow Fringe this year, and we caught up with the company owner Lottie to get the low down on the show and a bit more information on the fascinating history of Will Kemp.

Who is Will Kemp?

Lottie explains, “In 1600 Will Kemp was at the top of his game, as a comic clown and actor.  He was an international star, and even played at the palace in Elsinore, Denmark (hope of Hamlet) as featured in Dame Judi Dench’s “Who Do You Think You Are?”  Audiences loved watching his acting buffoonery, from which he engaged a loyal and prolific following of groupies.”

Unfortunately, Kemp’s ego seems to have been a problem, and he fell out with Shakespeare as he wouldn’t follow a script! Kemp’s humour worked well for Shakespeare’s earlier plays but as the writing and characters became more sophisticated his constant ad-libbing and improvisation became problematic.

The plot thickens!... As a protest to parting ways with Shakespeare and the Globe Theatre, where he was an original shareholder (did he jump or was he pushed?), Kemp cooked up a scheme that would make history. He Morris Danced from London to Norwich, which became a spectacle (even without the use of Social Media!), and his fans turned out to cheer him on his way, all of the way - which caused considerable joviality and hilarity for on-lookers, plus increasing his notoriety, which he of course expected from this well-planned publicity stunt.

Is the Kemp's Jig show family-friendly?

Lottie says, “We have advised that the show is suitable for 12+, however,  the easiest show to compare Kemp’s Jig to is “Horrible Histories” which is of course designed for pre-teens and older kids. Our reviews, from parents, say that it brings history to life for kids as they embrace the darker side of things.

Children certainly engage with the clowning around that Kemp does on stage and he does at one point in the act dress up as a woman, on stage, giving his best panto dame “turn” . The show is not all laughs – the reality of life on the Elizabethan road is illustrated by descriptions of bear baiting and that best of “days out” - a public execution!”

Buy tickets early to avoid disappointment!

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