Our patrons act as ambassadors who support Coram SSF with their creativity, time and generosity.
Jenny Agutter OBE is an actress working across film and television, known for her roles in such classic films as The Railway Children, An American Werewolf In London and Logan's Run. More recently, she has appeared in Spooks and Call The Midwife.
"The use of language can give us more than basic communication. Shakespeare's wonderful plays let us hear and understand people's strengths, weaknesses, fears and joys. The plays pose questions about humanity and morality. The words have a music that touches our senses. What better way for young people to understand about language than taking part in Shakespeare Schools Festival and discovering these extraordinary texts?"
Sir Simon Russell BealeActor
Simon Russell Beale is one of the most popular and critically acclaimed talents in British theatre.
He studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, initially as a singer, later switching to acting. He was spotted in a student play at the Edinburgh Festival, which led to starting a professional acting career.
He was first noticed in comic roles at the Royal Shakespeare Company, where he forged collaborations with Sam Mendes whom he has continued to work with. Since 1995 he has been a regular player at the National Theatre.
Beale is an associate artist at the RSC.
Ruby Bentall is an actress who has worked in theatre and film. Known for roles in Poldark and Larkrise To Candleford.
"I have always been so awed by the fact that a man who lived over 450 years ago can have the same emotions and thoughts as me. His love scenes have me grinning from ear to ear because he captures those feelings so perfectly. In a world of computers and phones I think it is a wonderful thing for young people to watch, perform and interact with these human emotions."
Dame Judi DenchActress
One of the UK's most acclaimed actors, Dame Judi Dench made her stage debut in 1957 and has been winning awards ever since. With commanding roles in works as diverse as the recent James Bond films, Philomena and J Edgar, she continues to delight and inspire.
"My fascination with theatre began at an early age with Shakespeare. I am delighted that Shakespeare Schools Festival, through its reach across the UK, is enabling new generations of young people to discover why he is still the world's greatest playwright. I am very proud to be a patron of Shakespeare Schools Festival."
Hugh DennisActor and Comedian
Best known as the hapless yet BAFTA-nominated Dad in the multi-award-winning BBC sitcom Outnumbered, Hugh Dennis also stars in the long running BBC topical panel show Mock the Week, BBC3’s breakthrough Comedy drama Fleabag, and Lee Mack’s Not Going Out.
Hugh is also a regular voice on BBC’s radio network both writing and hosting Radio 4’s award-winning comedy The Now Show. He has driven on the World's Most Dangerous Roads in both Peru and Ethiopia, tried to save the British pub with Oz Clarke in Oz and Hugh Drink to Britain and fronted BBC series The Great British Countryside about the geology of Britain. Together with Steve Punt, Hugh wrote and performed a version of Shakespeare’s 12th Night for BBC Radio Drama.
“As a child who was rather put off by the complexities and difficulties of Shakespeare I have been amazed by the work of Shakespeare Schools Foundation, and by the children they support. The enjoyment they show and the sense of confidence they have gained both from performing and working with the words is palpable, and will surely help them both now and in later life. I am very proud to be a Patron of CSSF”.
Christopher Eccleston is a multi-award-winning actor whose television roles include Matt Jamison in The Leftovers, Claude in Heroes, Nicky Hutchinson in Our Friends in the North, Trevor Hicks in Hillsborough and playing the ninth Doctor Who. He is also known for film credits such as Nipper Read in Legend, Malekith in Thor 2: The Dark World, David Stephens in* Shallow Grave* and Charles Stewart in The Others. Christopher most recently starred as Maurice Scott in BBC drama series The A Word.
Alfred Enoch began his acting career as a child, playing the role of Dean Thomas in the Harry Potter films. He has gone on to work on both stage and screen, taking on major roles in Shakespeare productions including Edgar in King Lear at the Royal Exchange. More recent credits include BBC'S Troy, the Wyndham Theatre's critically-acclaimed run of two-man play Red and the Young Vic's production Tree. On CSSF's work, Alfred has said:
"I've been fortunate enough to see many young casts take on several different Shakespeare plays in as many different ways, but there is one constant; the performers always look like they're having so much fun! It's infectious and irresistible and, for me, very moving, because I think it's right at the heart of what going to the theatre and making theatre is all about. But far more importantly, it's evidence of the confidence, collaboration and creativity which the Festival inspires. And what a wonderful thing... to take Shakespeare off his pedestal and show young people - by putting his words into their minds, and his stories into their hands - that he's as much theirs as anyones!"
Ralph Fiennes' career is a series of commanding, unforgettable roles, from Schindler's List to The English Patient and his brilliantly creepy turn as Voldemort in the Harry Potter movies. He is never far away from Shakespeare, as he recently made his film directorial debut with a contemporary version of Coriolanus and a turn on Broadway playing Hamlet.
"I carry a flag for Shakespeare's verse - it was the reason I became an actor. I was moved and excited by Shakespeare's language and stories, which is why I support the important work of this imaginative charity."
Jamila Gavin is an award-winning children's author who has written such wonderful books as Coram Boy, The Wheel Of Surya and most recently Alexander The Great: Man, Myth or Monster?.
"Whenever children come into contact with Shakespeare, beyond the text book and into performance, it is a revelation for them. No longer is it some writer of the distant past placed on a pedestal by some elite, but a man whose ideas and perceptions are constantly relevant to everyone and anyone, at any age, from any background and any culture. This is why the SSF is so valuable and so exciting - and nothing is more exciting than seeing young people bringing fresh interpretations to plays which, of all that has ever been written in the English language, demonstrates the universality of the human condition."
John is known for playing the lead roles in The National Theatre's Edward III, RSC's Oppenheimer and Young Vic's Macbeth. He has gained multiple Ian Charleson Award nominations for his roles in King Lear, Richard III and Major Barbara (winner, third prize). TV credits include: Luther, Dickensian, Ripper Street, The Hollow Crown and Dracula.
John first discovered his love for Shakespeare through The Animated Tales (produced by our founder Chris) and starred in SSF's fundraiser The Trial of Hamlet as Hamlet.
*"SSF is Shakespeare at its most thrilling and innovative. The Trial of Hamlet is the perfect example, interrogating the Bard’s great play as never done before. What better way to celebrate his legacy during this 400th anniversary and support the transformative work of SSF, ensuring that Shakespeare truly is for everyone." *
Sir Nicholas HytnerTheatre director, film director and producer
A noted director of film, theatre and opera, Sir Nicholas Hytner has succeeded in opening the National Theatre up to a notably younger audience with his innovative and invigorating productions. The Madness Of King George, which he directed in 1994, won several BAFTAs and an Academy Award.
"I know that it is of vital importance to the future of theatre that young people have an opportunity to perform Shakespeare and discover what it is that makes him our most important playwright."
Lindsay JohnsWriter and broadcaster
Lindsay Johns is a writer and broadcaster. He is a (non-residential) Fellow at the Hutchins Center for African & African-American Research at Harvard University, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and since 2005 has been a volunteer mentor in his spare time with Leaders of Tomorrow, a flagship leadership scheme for young people in Peckham, South London.
Paterson is well known for performing the Bard's work, as seen in his award winning role as Oswald in King Lear and Dumaine in Love's Labour's Lost for the RSC in the early 90s. Theatre credits include: Sancho: An Act of Remembrance (Oxford Playhouse/Birminghame Rep/US Tour) and Julius Caesar (RSC). TV and Fulm credits include: Green Wing (Bafta Winner Pioneer Award, Talkback) and Paddington Bear (Marmalade Films).
"The confidence to speak in public, to be articulate, to use these clever words I think is something that these young people will never ever forget and will help them wherever life takes them."
Kwame Kwei-ArmahDirector and Actor
An acclaimed actor, playwright and broadcaster, Kwame Kwei-Armah has written such plays as A Bitter Herb, Elmina's Kitchen and Seize The Day. He is currently the Artistic Director of the Young Vic.
"I saw young people of all backgrounds and cultures use this poetic and sometimes difficult language almost as if it were a new fangled street slang, fresh and exclusive to them. It was thrilling beyond words. I only hope that every young person finds a way to tap into this because I believe that, like me, they will never forget the experience."
Francesca MartinezActress and Comedian
Francesca Martinez is an actor and comedian who appeared in Grange Hill for five years before going on to work as a stand-up and campaigner on a wide range of social issues.
"I can't run and I can't drink through a straw, but I can stand on stage and tell jokes - I can do things that other people can't do. Shakespeare Schools Festival offers all young people, no matter how different their set of cans and can'ts, a wonderful opportunity to challenge themselves and discover their talents through performing Shakespeare to a paying audience in a professional theatre."
Author of the legendary His Dark Materials trilogy, Philip Pullman wrote his first book in 1972 and shows no sign of slowing down.
"The power of theatre to change the lives of young people who take part is familiar to any drama teacher. When you add the greatest genius of the stage, and give children the chance to inhabit his immense characters and dramatic situations in a setting where the highest professional standards are a matter of daily practice, the result is almost miraculous."
Lord PuttnamFilm producer
David Puttnam is a celebrated film producer and an active supporter of educational and children’s causes.
Following an early career in advertising he turned to film production in the late 1960s. His successes as a producer include Bugsy Malone, Midnight Express, The Duellists, Chariots of Fire (which won the Academy Award for Best Picture), Local Hero, Memphis Belle, The Killing Fields and The Mission. He was Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Columbia Pictures from 1986 to 1988.
He was awarded a CBE in 1983, was knighted in 1995 and was created a life peer in 1997.
For 10 years, he served as Chairman of the National Film and Television School and founded Skillset, which trains young people to become members of the film and television industries.
Lord Puttnam was the first Chancellor of the University of Sunderland from 1997 until 2007 when he became Chancellor of the Open University.
In 1998 he founded the National Teaching Awards and became its first Chairman – retiring in 2008. In 2002 he was elected President of UNICEF UK. He is currently also a member of the Policy Advisory Council of IPPR.
Matthew Rhys is a film and television actor who has won acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic for his roles in the likes of Brothers & Sisters, Patagonia, The Americans and Death Comes To Pemberley.
**"The more we spread the genius of Shakespeare to the young people of this country, then so much the better. To give access to young people to such literature, such history, such an enormous part of our culture is fantastic. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to start performing at an early age know that the confidence it gives you and the communication skills are enormous.
Live theatre, as its own animal, is an incredibly exciting medium. As a performer, when you move someone in a production, that’s very unique. I think communication is what live performance can, fundamentally offer. You’re dealing with psychology day to day in these productions and I think that’s no bad thing. The more we learn about each other, the better the world will be."**
Michael RosenChildren's author
A novelist and poet, Michael Rosen was the Children's Laureate between 2007-2009.
**"If we want school to matter, we have to do things in schools that are full of fascination, wisdom, excitement, discovery and amazement. Fiction, drama and poetry are some of the ways we've invented to help us do all this, and one writer who combined it all at the same time is Shakespeare. His plays show us 'thought in action', where people get involved in plots, schemes and plans and talk about themselves and others even as they make the next step... and the next step.
Sometimes it's violent. Sometimes it's crazy. Sometimes it's magical. Sometimes it's desolate. Whichever way it is, it can be the route for children to discovering emotions and thoughts they didn't know they had, or discovering emotions and thoughts that they didn't know other people had. A festival is an ideal way to get children involved in Shakespeare because it immerses them in the excitement of the time. There's a buzz in the air that everyone wants to enjoy. Join in!"
Athena StevensActress, playwright and national spokesperson for the Women's Equality Party
Athena Stevens is a former associate artist at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, writer on attachment at the Finborough Theatre, an elected Women’s Equality Party Spokesperson, and a TEDx Speaker.
She was the first performer with a disability to be nominated for an Offie Award and received two writing commissions: a pilot for Channel 4 and a feminist response to Faust. Her play Schism garnered several five star reviews, was featured on BBC’s Woman’s Hour. A YouTube creator, Athena's videos include the series Make Your Own Damn Tea, focusing on teaching others to build emotional resilience and self advocacy skills. She is a political writer, having essays published by Medium, Huffington Post, and iNews.
"The bedrock for Shakespeare Schools Foundation is that anyone, from any background, can understand, learn and enjoy The Bard. Through playing these extraordinary characters, Shakespeare puts us all on an equal footing - whether beggar or King, we all have the potential to be great. By encouraging young people to read and perform the Bard's work, SSF encourages young people to aspire to great things."
Sir Tom StoppardPlaywright
Sir Tom Stoppard's involvement in all things Shakespeare stretches back to 1966, when he wrote Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead, through to his Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Shakespeare In Love in 1998. He is one of the most acclaimed playwrights on the planet.
*"For me the penny dropped rather late. We had been “doing Shakespeare” in class, of course, but I can’t remember much about the experience except that it seemed only to confirm that Shakespeare’s plays were quite intimidating; wordy and often obscure in the serious bits, not very funny in the funny bits (and differently obscure there, too.) The event which changed everything was a school performance of an actual Shakespeare play, the first part of *Henry IV.
The serious bits were comprehensible, the funny bits were great fun, and, above all, the story held. I saw for the first time that performance was the door into “getting” Shakespeare. The “genius” stuff the verbal brilliance, the psychological insights, the philosophical riffs – came off the story-telling and elucidated itself. This is what Shakespeare Schools Festival does for its audiences, and even more for the performers. I wish I had been brave enough to think I could be in a play. Had I encountered something like Shakespeare Schools Festival, I believe my life at the age of fourteen would have bounced forward over some of the inhibitions and incomprehensions of adolescence. So it’s pleasing to know that CSSF is out there for more and more children, and catching them young. Childhood deserves such luck."
Olivia trained at The University of Anglia and Drama Studio London.
Theatre credits include: Young Chekhov Trilogy: Platonov/Ivanov/The Seagull (Chichester Festival Theatre & The National Theatre), The Hard Problem, King Lear, NT 50th, Othello (The National Theatre) The Dark at the Top of the Stairs (Belgrade Theatre Coventry), Romeo and Juliet (Leicester Square Theatre). TV credits include : The Woman in White, Apple Tree Yard, Holby City, Doctor Who, Casualty,Doctors (BBC), Maigret, Midsomer Murders (ITV). Film credits include: Where Hands Touch. Radio: The Good Terrorist (BBC Radio 4)
Dame Harriet WalterActress
An Honorary Associate Artist of the Royal Shakespeare Company and veteran of several acclaimed productions, Dame Harriet Walker DBE was given an honorary doctorate and fellowship of the Shakespeare Institute in 2001. She has also appeared in such films as Bright Young Things, Sense And Sensibility and Onegin.
"CSSF gives young people the chance to make Shakespeare their own with all the fun of getting up and doing it rather than sitting puzzling at a desk. When young people of no matter what educational background discover that Shakespeare's words can come out of their own mouths and mean something personal to them, they gain the gift of fluency, authority, confidence and self-esteem which no one can take away from them whatever their future walk of life."