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Suppressed Shakespeare speech revived for Refugee Week

A short film, The Strangers' Case - supported by the University of Warwick and involving Professor Tony Howard, is being released as part of Refugee Week (18th -24th June) has taken as its starting point a speech thought to be written by William Shakespeare over 400 years ago.

The speech, from the little-known play Sir Thomas More which Shakespeare was brought in to rework, sees the real-life statesman quell an anti-immigrant riot in London by appealing to the shared humanity of the rioters and the French Protestant refugees seeking asylum.

Professor Howard, who leads the University of Warwick’s Multicultural Shakespeare Project, delivered the speech on Russell Brand’s podcast, Shakespeare and Power - and one listener, the film director Peter Trifunovic, was struck by the power and relevance of the speech, given the ongoing European refugee crisis.

Peter telephoned Professor Howard, who he did not know, and outlined his plan: to produce a film transporting Shakespeare’s speech to modern day Leeds - filming in Harehills Working Men’s Club. British Asian Actor Ibrahim Knight would play Sir Thomas More.

With a grant of £2,000 from the University of Warwick's Impact funding, and support from Warwick’s English Department, that idea has become a film and has been released onlineas part of Refugee Week. Watch on:

"The Strangers' Case could not be more relevant.", says Professor Howard. "The speech is extraordinary, and amazingly it’s the only dramatic text we have in Shakespeare’s own handwriting. It speaks across the centuries. And Donald Trump should listen to it today." 

The seven-minute film features an ensemble cast drawn from all over Northern England. They play ordinary people in a pub, confronted by tabloid headlines and prejudice - until Thomas More enters and calls for peace, compassion and understanding:

Imagine that you see the wretched strangers,

Their babies on their backs…..

The speech was suppressed in Shakespeare’s lifetime. But the aim of this modern retelling is to provoke thought on the ever-relevant subject of immigration and human rights.

Commenting on the film the Director and the lead actor said:

 

Peter Trifunovic : "The prospect of dramatising the speech in a contemporary setting with a British Asian actor in the lead role was very exciting to me. My hope is that the film it is seen by a large, young audience, who may have never heard Shakespeare before, and that they are engaged and entertained. For older audiences I hope that the film inspires empathy. I am so glad I heard Tony Howard on the Russell Brand podcast!”

Ibrahim Knight: "Shakespeare isn't just a thing of the past, Shakespeare isn't just a performance; Shakespeare is relevant, and within it there are shared messages about our humanity. I spent a lot of time searching through the treasure chest of this speech and drawing from the relevant imagery and emotions. This has been a fantastic experience for me, my biggest hope is that the film is seen by the great Ian McKellen, a personal hero of mine!"

21 June 2018

 

 NOTES FOR EDITORS:

Peter and Ibrahim and co-producer Tony Howard are all available for further interview and supplementary information, as well as high quality stills from the film.

Peter Trifunovic - peter.trifunovic@gmail.com

Ibrahim Knight - ibraheem_starlight@outlook.com

Tony Howard - A.Howard@warwick.ac.uk

 

Contact:

Tom Frew, Senior Press and Media Relations Manager – University of Warwick:

E: a dot t dot frew at warwick dot ac dot uk
M: +44(0)7785433155