Shakespeare’s First Folio to be exhibited at Shakespeare North Playhouse as part of Shakespeare North’s ‘Shakespeare’s First Folio: 400 Years On’ exhibition.

The British Library’s Treasures on Tour programme resumes this autumn with the loan of Shakespeare’s First Folio (1623) to Shakespeare North Playhouse for their exhibition ‘Shakespeare’s First Folio: 400 Years On’ coinciding with the European premiere production of The Book of Will (19 Oct-11 Nov 23).

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the First Folio, which is the first collected edition of Shakespeare's plays, containing 36 out of some 38 Shakespeare plays. Collated and published in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare’s death, only 18 of the plays had previously been printed during his lifetime.

In celebration of this, Shakespeare North will bring to life the story and the history behind the creation of the First Folio. As part of its European Premier Tour, Lauren Gunderson’s The Book of Will’ (a co-production with Bolton Octagon and Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch) will be staged at Shakespeare North Playhouse (19th Oct -23rd Nov). This production documents the tale of the First Folio’s creation and the people and friends of Shakespeare that were vital to achieving this. In addition, a copy of the First Folio on loan from The British Library will be exhibited at Shakespeare North Playhouse as part of their Treasures on Tour programme and as part of Shakespeare North’s premier exhibition ‘Shakespeare’s First Folio: 400 Years On’ funded by Knowsley Borough Council. The British Library cares for five of the 235 First Folios that are known to survive worldwide.

In association with who have provided information and imagery and curated by curator and gallery interpreter Ruth Darling, this exhibition will take audiences on a deep dive of how the First Folio came into existence giving visitors the chance to see one of the surviving copies up close. This combination of exhibition and production will allow audiences the unique opportunity to see history brought to life through the art of storytelling and the chance to experience one of history’s most important literary artifacts. 

Embarking on its European Premier, The Book of Will is a wonderfully witty, funny and fast-paced play that tells the story of the First Folio’s conception. To save Shakespeare’s works for the ages, the Kings Men hatch a near-impossible plan to collect his words on paper, setting them off on a race against time through London. Their hearts are on the line and those they love are counting on them – to maybe leave a legacy that will last forever.

Chief Executive of Shakespeare North Playhouse, Melanie Lewis, comments:

‘We are honoured to welcome Shakespeare's First Folio from the British Library to the Shakespeare North Playhouse as part of their ‘Treasures on Tour’ programme. This historic loan represents not only a profound connection to our theatrical heritage, but also a remarkable opportunity for our audiences to engage directly with the very words that have shaped literary history.

‘As we host this priceless artifact, we are equally thrilled to stage Lauren Gunderson's production, 'The Book of Will', a play that beautifully captures the spirit of collaboration, dedication and friendship that led to the creation of the First Folio. This confluence of history and artistry promises to be an unforgettable journey into the heart of Shakespearean storytelling.’

Creative Director of Shakespeare North Playhouse, Laura Collier, said:

‘We are thrilled to announce our landmark exhibition at Shakespeare North Playhouse ‘Shakespeare’s First Folio: 400 Years On’. With the generous support of Knowsley Borough Council and the excellent curation by Ruth Darling, this exhibition showcases a copy of the iconic First Folio that has kindly been loaned to Shakespeare North by The British Library. It is a delight to partner with The British Library for this exhibition as we offer the unique opportunity for audiences to witness one of the world’s most important historical texts.

‘In this remarkable convergence of narrative and heritage, we also present Lauren Gunderson's 'The Book of Will,' a theatrical masterpiece that seamlessly intertwines storytelling and history. I am immensely proud to see the worlds of literature and theatre unite in such a captivating manner. This exhibition and production celebrate the enduring power of Shakespeare's words, reminding us that his influence continues to shape and inspire our world. It is an invitation for all to join us on this extraordinary journey through time and creativity.’

The Grenville First Folio that will be loaned to Shakespeare North Playhouse, was bequeathed in 1846 as part of the library of Thomas Grenville, a politician and book collector. Unlike so many First Folios today, it contains all pages, including its original title page with the iconic portrait of William Shakespeare.


Conrad Bodman, Head of Culture Programmes at the British Library, said:

‘We want to share the cultural riches of the national collection as widely as possible across the UK and are really pleased to continue Treasures on Tour, with thanks to the Dorset Foundation, in memory of Harry M Weinrebe.

This year marks two anniversaries; 400 years since Shakespeare’s First Folio was first published and, more recently, 50 years since the British Library began operations. This is a fantastic opportunity for everyone to see one of the most influential books ever published alongside a contemporary production it has inspired.’

Cllr Shelley Powell, Knowsley Council’s Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods and Communities commented: 

'We are delighted to be hosting this wonderful programme here in Knowsley at Shakespeare North Playhouse. This really is a once in a lifetime opportunity for our communities to see and experience such an amazing piece of history right on their doorstep.’

For further information about ‘Shakespeare’s First Folio: 400 Years On’ exhibition, please refer to Shakespeare North Playhouse’s website over the coming days.