Royal Shakespeare Company to unveil restored Swan Wing

Major new contemporary artwork to feature in Shakespeare celebrations.

The Royal Shakespeare Company will unveil the newly-restored Grade II listed Swan Wing on 23 April 2016 – Shakespeare’s birthday, and the 400th anniversary of his death. Built in 1879 and the oldest part of the RSC’s theatres in Stratford-upon-Avon, the Swan Wing has been the subject of a nine month restoration, made possible by a £2.8 million award from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

A highlight of the restored Swan Wing is For all time, a major new artwork commission by Brighton-based artist and designer Steven Follen. For all time is made of 2,000 stainless steel stars suspended from the ceiling by fine wires to make the shape of a 3-metre tall human face. The three-dimensional artwork will have an ethereal quality to it, reflecting light and moving gently in the air. The face will be surrounded by further metal stars, which will loosely reflect the position of the constellations on Shakespeare’s birthday.

This significant new artwork complements the Swan Wing’s sensitively restored public spaces. A new café bar will be filled with objects and stories from the RSC’s extensive archive, and visitors can admire the original stained glass windows lining the Swan Wing staircase that illustrate the Seven Ages of Man speech from Shakespeare’s As You Like It. The Swan Wing’s brickwork, lead windows, and roof ‘lights’ have been restored, alongside three exterior bas reliefs by Paul Kummer, which depict Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories and Tragedies.

Geraldine Collinge, RSC Director of events and Exhibitions said, “Over the last year we have seen the Victorian architecture of the Swan Wing hidden away whilst a team of specialists weaved their magic to restore its beautiful façade and interior. It was not until the scaffolding finally started to come down early this year that you could fully appreciate the detailed and sensitive work that had gone on, behind the hoardings, to bring this beautiful building back to life. We are very excited to welcome people back into the space and to enjoy the building close up.

“Now that the restoration work is coming to an end, we can begin the construction of our new exhibition, The Play’s The Thing, which will reveal the secrets and stories of how we have staged our productions over the decades. The exhibition will open in the autumn and I can’t wait to share with visitors the wonderful props, costumes and scripts which have been hidden away as part of our collection.”

For all time is the RSC’s largest permanent site-specific artwork commission and also Steven Follen’s largest commission to date. Its construction is an engineering challenge: the 2,000 stars will be fabricated from sheet stainless steel, etched and then hand-folded to create a three-dimensional shape. The stars must then be fixed on stainless-steel micro cables up to 3 metres long and hung from a grid on the ceiling to precise mathematical formulas in order to achieve the desired effect.

For all time is inspired in particular from Romeo and Juliet, Act III Scene II, where Juliet speaks of her star-cross’d lover Romeo, “When he shall die, take him and cut him out in little stars, and he will make the face of heaven so fine…”. The title, For all time, is a quote from Ben Jonson’s eulogy to Shakespeare: “He was not of an age, but for all time!” Further inspiration for the artwork came from existing architectural styling found in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and the Swan Wing; an amalgam of Victorian Gothic, 1930s Art Deco and 21st century industrial design in which metal features prominently.

The Swan Wing public spaces, including For all time, open to the public on Shakespeare’s birthday, 23rd April 2016. A major new visitor attraction telling the story of the making of Shakespeare’s plays, The Play’s The Thing, will open in autumn 2016.