At a time when opportunities for young people to engage with Shakespeare in performance are becoming more scarce, it’s vital drama schools continue to teach Shakespeare to keep verse speaking alive.  

The Royal Welsh College’s new Shakespeare prize celebrates this focus, and the final, on March 27th in London’s Royal Court theatre and featuring the five second year actor finalists, was judged by Sir Ian McKellen, RWCMD graduate and Fellow Rakie Ayola, Sean Mathias, the College’s Director of Drama Performance, Jonathan Munby, and Head of Voice, Alice White.  

Congratulations to JAMES MACE, the winner of the £5000 prize. The other finalists were Nathan Kirby, Alyson Handley, Mya Pennicott and Saskia West. 

Ian McKellen with winner James Mace (Photo: Ellie Kurttz)

As it’s of such integral value to a drama student to study Shakespeare in depth, the College’s new award celebrates the actors’ technical ability with verse, and connection with character and situation – speaking Shakespeare out loud.  

Sir Ian McKellen came to RWCMD last term to launch the prize, workshopping and discussing Shakespeare with second year students, before choosing the five finalists.  

Director of Drama Performance Jonathan Munby, who directed Sir Ian in King Lear at the Chichester Festival Theatre in 2017, and again at The Duke of York’s Theatre in the West End in 2018 told us……  

“Working on Shakespeare’s plays gives a depth of craft that is also transferrable to any medium. The different elements of training support each other, challenging and enriching them as actors. If you can speak Shakespeare, you can tackle any text.

Speaking Shakespeare’s verse is certainly challenging, but it makes you a better actor, more observant, dextrous, and ultimately more robust. It also teaches us the fundamental value of language. Of course it’s also important that our actors work with a range of writers from diverse backgrounds. We acknowledge that there are many more opportunities for our graduates to work on screen than on stage, and the training needs to reflect this to make our students industry ready.”

Winner James Mace said……

I’m very grateful to have won the College’s very first Shakespeare prize. His plays and heightened text require so much of you as an actor. Training in classical work is so important, and this experience has been so useful, learning how to train my imagination while also committing to the truth and circumstances of his characters.” 

Winner James Mace with the judges – Alice White, Rakie Ayola, Ian McKellen, Jonathan Munby, Sean Mathias (Photo: Ellie Kurttz)

Judge and RWCMD graduate Rakie Ayola added…….

I’m thrilled that RWCMD has chosen to demonstrate a commitment to classical training in general, and Shakespeare in particular, in such a bold, no nonsense way. 

While it’s always been possible to have a successful acting career without uttering a word of Shakespeare, the skills required to analyse, interpret, shape, express and speak the language confidently, will always be useful to any actor, from any background, when working on any script in any medium.”

The judging took place in front of an invited audience, including graduates and friends of the College.  

The RWCMD Shakespeare Prize has been donated this year by the Mosawi Foundation. It’s part of a wider initiative that includes an annual Shakespeare production presented by the final-year Richard Burton Company, from which a film and schools’ workshops will be developed. They’ll be distributed freely to schools and colleges across Wales, helping to address the lack of opportunity for young people to see Shakespeare in performance.