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Renegade Nell star Adrian Lester on the importance of Shakespeare in children's education

The actor, a patron of the Primary Shakespeare Company, explains why he's supporting Big Give

Adrian Lester as the villainous Robert Hennessey, Earl of Poynton in Renegade Nell© Disney
Nicky Morris
TV and film writer
March 22, 2024
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Having starred in a long list of Shakespeare productions and collected both an OBE and CBE for his services to drama, Adrian Lester of all people knows how important it is for children to engage in theatre and the works of Shakespeare. 

In an interview with HELLO!, Adrian, who stars in Disney+'s upcoming drama Renegade Nell, opened up about his involvement with the Primary Shakespeare Company, which works with primary and special schools in London and Kent to help children engage in their school work using drama to investigate Shakespeare. 

Adrian Lester visiting a primary school © Lidia Crisafulli
Adrian Lester is a patron of the Primary Shakespeare Company

"It sends professional directors, choreographers and musicians into these schools across the year, devising pieces of theatre which are shared in theatre festivals," Adrian, 55, said of the charity, which has joined the list of charities taking part in Big Give – a platform which brings together donors and charities, doubling donations made. 

Through his involvement with the charity, Adrian, who has been a patron since 2015, has discovered "how important it is to teach children to play and not worry about getting things 'right'". 

Adrian Lester is supporting The Primary Shakespeare Company© Lidia Crisafulli
Adrian is supporting The Primary Shakespeare Company

"This is not so that they have a really nice, fun time at school," explained the actor. "This is so that their capacity for problem-solving, working as a team and goal management is not educated out of them. The sports field is not the only place where teamwork can be valued."

So, why is it so important for children to engage with Shakespeare? "Shakespeare wrote great stories, and it's this that becomes the focus, it's about getting up on your feet and doing, rather than sitting round and reading the play," said Adrian. "The plays weren't meant to be read, they were meant to be performed. For us, it's when children go to secondary school and when Shakespeare comes up, they remember it as a positive, vibrant experience."

Having starred in various Shakespeare plays, including As You Like It, Hamlet, and Othello, for which he won Best Actor at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards in 2013, it's no surprise that Adrian's children, Lila, 23, and Jasmine, 20, have inherited his love for the iconic playwright.

Adrian Lester visiting a primary school © Lidia Crisafulli
Adrian pictured during a visit to a primary school

"My kids grew up with the idea that we learn most about human nature through the stories that we all tell," he said. "Like most children who become aware of their parents' job at a young age, my kids were enthralled by the what and the how and not just carried away by the execution of the job."

Adrian Lester in Renegade Nell © © 2022 Disney+, Inc.
Adrian Lester as the Earl of Poynton in Renegade Nell

The Big Give fundraiser is "incredibly important" to the Primary Shakespeare Company, according to Adrian. "Match funding opportunities like this don't come around very often," he said. "It's harder and harder every year to raise the amount of money we need to develop and deliver the programme. We subsidise all the schools we work with and every bit of extra money that we can generate is crucial to our survival as a charity."

Adrian joins a list of celebrity patrons including Julia DonaldsonKatie Derham and Julian Lloyd Webber who are working with charities being supported by Big Give.

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