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Cartoonist and author Marcia Williams makes Shakespeare seriously cool, says Malika Kingston.

Marcia Williams’ original plan was to give an interactive reading of The Tempest, one of the four books which make up her comic-strip Shakespeare mini series. However, her French Bulldog got hold of the masks before the children could. Fortunately, the pup didn’t get to the Macbeth masks.

Marcia explains the process of making Shakespeare’s stories accessible to children by comparing it to chewing gum: “You can stretch it this way and that, but if the chewing gum breaks then you’ve lost the contact with the original. I can make it my own, but if it breaks then I’ve lost the point of it.”

At the Festival, she began by engaging the children in a game of Shakespearian insults. The challenge was this: had she made them up, or were they real insults? This got the parents laughing, too.

She talked about her illustrations, pointing out characters that may have been overlooked – like the small ferret that escorted the queen to The Globe Theatre. She explained to the children that, back then, people didn’t bath often, so they brought animals with them in the hopes that their fleas would jump off them and onto the animal.

When it came to putting on a performance of Macbeth – there was no shortage of volunteers. Many hands shot up. But when she specified Macbeth himself, one boy kept his hand up. Thick-rimmed glasses, small voice and barely taller than the chair he sat on, James told the story of Macbeth in impressive details. Battles were described and characters quoted. He might just be a writer in the making.

Wearing stage masks, the children acted one of the most famous scenes, stalking around a cardboard cauldron: “Double, double, toil and trouble. Fire burn and cauldron bubble.” (Audience participation was high at this point!) A mini acting competition, which included three parents, picked by the delighted children, ended with prizes for everyone. Just, as Marcia would say, like Shakespeare.


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