STORIES of visitors past and present to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage can be heard this summer.
The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust has commissioned writer and performer Francesca Millican-Slater to create The Visited Orchard.
The interactive treasure trail at the childhood Shottery home of Shakespeare’s wife leads today’s visitors around the grounds to discover stories of Second World War sweethearts, migratory birds, writers of letters, and famous visitors.
Trail followers are encouraged to post their photos on social media, using #thevisitedorchard, and at the finish write or draw their own story on an ornamental apple to hang on the special ‘Visitant Tree’ – an art installation that will grow throughout the summer before being harvested on September 21.
Visit www.shakespeare.org.uk/whatson for further details.
Francesca told the Observer about the project.
What’s your first memory of Shakespeare and has he influenced your work in any way?
You can’t get away with being a writer and performer without Shakespeare having informed you at some point along the way. I should probably say that I wouldn’t have got into performing without Shakespeare. In fact my mother tells me that I went to see Macbeth and that was it.
Your latest project at Anne Hathaway’s Cottage is called The Visited Orchard – what is it and where did the idea come from?
When I was asked to be involved in a summer arts project I started out with the idea of a treasure trail and then spent a lot of time at Anne Hathaway’s Cottage watching different groups and thinking about how I could engage with them all. So many different types of people visit the cottage and all for different reasons. There are people who turn up on the coaches, go through the cottage, take their photo and leave, and then you’ve got the people who are returning because they’re really interested in the history, and then you’ve got groups of young students, who spend a couple of hours there as well. I wanted to do something that talked about the history of the cottage as a whole, and also how all those different types of stories that have been told by the visitors over the years have made it this tourist destination, this place that is promoted around the world. There’s also a little bit of subversion to what the tourist trail is.
A treasure trail. Tell us more…
Visitors will get a sheet with clues about certain objects they need to find along the way and where they might be. Each of the eight stations has got a story and as part of the story a word will be highlighted, and put together, the eight words will form a sentence. They can then collect their apple and become part of The Visited Orchard themselves, by writing or drawing on it to illustrate who they are, where they’ve come from and what memories they want to leave behind. The trail will also make sense to people who just want to find the stations as they wander around the site.
What are your first memories of visiting Anne Hathaway’s Cottage?
I have to admit that the first time I came here was when I was first invited here with a view to running a summer project. But it’s such a familiar site, the image of the cottage is really, really familiar to most people. Probably because it’s been used in advertising and all sorts of things, and because of that it felt strangely recognisable. It reminded me of the school trips that I went on, when you’re taken to different places. So it was interesting for me to be there for the first time, as a tourist and an undercover artist!
While you were researching the project you spent some time as a guide at the cottage too. Tell us about that.
Telling stories is my thing, but I was really interested to find out from visitors themselves why they come in such great numbers. Upstart Crow (Ben Elton’s BBC sitcom) was mentioned an awful lot, with people thinking that Anne Hathaway was really like Liza Tarbuck’s character portrayal of her. It was also good talking to the other guides about the stories they have about the cottage – each has a different one that, put together, builds up the story of this wonderful place.