Library has shows set to pull punters
Shakespeare, maps and star Kenneth Williams are among the British Library’s 2016 highlights. To mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, a major exhibition seeks to cast new light on how he became a cultural giant through 10 key performances. It will include the only surviving playscript in Shakespeare’s hand – one of only six authentic Shakespeare signatures. The British Library says Shakespeare in Ten Acts will tell a story of struggles, setbacks and sea-changes, and prove his course never did run smooth. Later in the year, the major autumn exhibition will explore the tumultuous history of the 20th century through maps, drawing on examples from the library’s cartography collections and beyond. A selection of Ministry of Defence maps used as part of official college exams in the 1950s and 1960s will go on display for the first time. These maps show fictional scenarios such as a nuclear explosion fallout in Scotland and south England reimagined as a battlefield, reflecting the political uncertainties of the 20th Century. The library has also announced the acquisition of the personal archive of actor Kenneth Williams, including 42 personal diaries and about 2000 letters spanning his life and career from the age of 18 until his death in 1988. He used the diaries, which he kept for more than 40 years, as a half-serious threat to his friends but kept the contents almost completely to himself, the library said. It added that “You’ll be in my diary!” was a favourite saying whenever someone annoyed him. It is estimated 85 per cent of the newly acquired archive has never been seen by researchers, and the archive is expected to be of interest to social historians of post war Britain. It details the experience of a gay man both before and after the Wolfenden Report and the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967, alongside the mundane details of everyday life in London. The diaries and letters also record the actor’s experience of the dying days of the repertory theatre system and the growth of modern celebrity culture.