Charles hosts Shakespeare-themed gala


The Prince of Wales has hosted a gala concert at St James's Palace, featuring performances from some of Britain's greatest actors, to celebrate the 10th anniversary since the creation of his charity Children and the Arts.

Hosted in the intimate settings of the Queen Anne room, actors Hugh Bonneville, Dame Harriet Walter, Joseph Fiennes, Julian Ovenden, Sam Alexander, Edward Bennett and Miranda Raison performed a number of sonnets and extracts from some of William Shakespeare's greatest romances.

The concert, When Love Speaks, was directed by Christopher Luscombe, a long-serving director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and included extracts from Romeo And Juliet and Love's Labour's Lost.

The concert, hosted by Charles for 100 of the charity's patrons and supporters, was held to celebrate the work it does with some of Britain's most disadvantaged schoolchildren, while also paying tribute to the works of Britain's greatest playwright on the 400th anniversary after his death.

Charles created the charity after a visit to a school in Balsall Heath, Birmingham, where pupils were studying Romeo And Juliet.

After learning that many of the children had never visited the theatre, Charles, who is also president of the Royal Shakespeare Company, created the foundation to enable schoolchildren from across Britain to participate and enjoy a range of art forms.

Since it was first set up, the charity has helped more than 400,000 children with disadvantaged social and economic backgrounds to access high-quality art forms, including theatre, opera and dance.

Writing a foreword to the gala, Charles said he was "delighted" to see that the charity had made a "real impact on hundreds of thousands of children".

"I am so pleased that Children and the Arts has gone on to be such a success, enriching the lives of so many disadvantaged young people who would otherwise simply miss out," he said.

"As Shakespeare was the inspiration for this whole enterprise, it is particularly fitting the event gives us the ideal opportunity to celebrate both the work of our greatest ever playwright and the activity of a charity dedicated to the vital task of bringing the very best of the arts to disadvantaged children throughout the UK."

Charles welcomed guests on arrival at a drinks reception in the Entree room, before they were treated to the 45-minute concert and a private dinner later.

During the performance, Downton Abbey stars Hugh Bonneville and Dame Harriet, draped in a black-lapelled jumpsuit, performed duos from Romeo And Juliet and The Winter's Tale.

Accompanying the actors, jazz singer and pianist Joel Stilgoe sang Sigh No More, while English Tenor Ian Bostridge followed a solo rendition of O Mistress Mine.

The concert ended with the whole nine-man company performing Farewell, a song composed by musical director Nigel Hess especially for the occasion.

Speaking after the performance, Joseph Fiennes, 45, who was Bafta nominated for his portrayal of Shakespeare in the 1998 film Shakespeare In Love, said: "I'm proud to be here celebrating 10 years.

"It's a great charity and a really important one, by introducing thousands of disadvantaged children to the arts.

"A huge thank you to your Royal Highness, for your provision and your foresight in setting up the charity."

An ambassador for the charity since it was first set up in 2006, Fiennes said the charity's work was "extremely important" for promoting the arts to people from all walks of life.

"It reaches out to all areas, particularly the regions, and really brings those who would normally not walk into a gallery, or listen to or watch a play, it brings context for them," he said.

"It's vital. I think that we really need to support the arts. We can never do enough, to go into those hard-to-reach areas, and making the arts important to those children."

He added that he would be "very keen" to star in another Shakespeare production if the opportunity arose.

Director Luscombe, who has previously directed works including A Midsummer Night's Dream and the Merry Wives Of Windsor, said the charity was "very important for the future of theatre".

"I was lucky, I was very well taught at school, but a lot of children don't have that. So if this charity can foster a love of the arts, well then that's a real ambition worth having," he said.

"It was a great opportunity to get some truly great actors together, many of whom I have worked with over the years."

He said he hoped the charity's work would provide a platform for a new generation of Shakespearian actors from more diverse backgrounds, adding that he hoped "they would grab it, and fall in love with it".

Fiennes also called on the Government to provide a similar programme in schools, adding: "I would love to see support from the Government.

"We need to raise £1 million a year to keep this going so events like this are vital to raising awareness and bringing in funding. This isn't state-funded, but wouldn't it be wonderful."