Shakespeare in Waltham Forest’s parks

The co-directors of the new East London Shakespeare Festival, Ursula Early and Rosie Ward, reveal why they’ve chosen Waltham Forest as their home…

Rehearsals for the first ELSF show: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Credit: RLSF)

East London Shakespeare Festival (ELSF) is a new and innovative Waltham Forest-based festival – merging the contemporary culture of East London with the inspirational storytelling of Shakespeare’s plays in outdoor community spaces: Lloyd Park, Jubilee Park, Higham Hill Hub and Wanstead Park. 

We (co-artistic directors Ursula Early and Rosie Ward) have spent almost three years getting the festival off the ground, partly due to Covid-19 delays, and we couldn’t be more delighted it is finally happening.

We are launching the festival with performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and an accompanying community programme for local residents, including: pre-show picnics, community ensembles, garland-making, pre-show workshops and an apprentice scheme for local aspiring creatives.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream seemed an obvious choice to kick things off. First of all, it’s just really funny – for all intents and purposes a farce – and has a universal appeal great for all ages.

It is mostly set in the forest, and it’s Shakespeare’s most magical and otherworldly play. We think that’s exactly what people need right now: magic, and a bit of joyous escapism, hopefully transporting the audience to another realm filled with mischievous dancing and singing fairies!

We both live, work and love Waltham Forest, so it felt like the obvious place to launch ELSF.

We have both thrived here – both personally and creatively – developing relationships, partnerships and networks across the borough. It also has brilliant outdoor community spaces already in place, a strong family contingent, and surprisingly no professional company has performed outdoor Shakespeare here before. 

There is something very special about Shakespeare and outdoor theatre in particular. It’s very direct, honest and you don’t get the safety net of the traditional theatre set up. There are no houselights going down, ‘disappearing’ the audience. For most of the show (until it goes dark), you can see and talk to your audience. It has a raw quality.

Bringing performance into the community is also a driving force behind the company. There are so many barriers to experiencing theatre (such as financial, travel and accessibility) – so we wanted quite literally to bring it to people’s doorstep, straight to their local spaces.

We hope this year’s festival is the first of many, and becomes a key cultural event in Waltham Forest’s calendar.

The next shows take place at Lloyd Park (8th to 11th July), Jubilee Park in Leyton (15th to 18th July) and there is a show in nearby Redbridge, at Wanstead Park (31st July to 1st August)

To book your tickets, visit East London Shakespeare Festival’s official website