Event: Mon 07 Oct 2019 at 7.30pm Book tickets here
Autumn 2019 is the bicentenary of the great romantic poet John Keats’s famous visit to Winchester. Keats stayed in Winchester for two months, from August to October 2019. On 19 September, he took a walk along the banks of the River Itchen and, inspired by this experience, wrote his immortal ode ‘To Autumn’, one of the best-loved (and indeed most anthologized) poems in the English language.
Keats’s time in Winchester – his ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ – represented the last great flowering of his creative genius. Shortly after leaving Winchester and moving into a house in London on 8 October 2019, he became ill. Diagnosed with tuberculosis, he was advised to leave England to travel to warmer climes. Sixteen months later, in Rome, he died.
Keats was buried in the protestant cemetery in Rome. The epitaph on his tombstone was one he had requested himself: “here lies one whose name was writ in water”.
But in the years since his death his name and his words and his vision have of course proven rather more permanent than he might ever have dreamed.
In honour of the anniversary of his local sojourn, the University of Winchester is staging ‘Two Hundred Years of Autumn’ at Theatre Royal Winchester on the evening of 7 October, as part of Visit Winchester’s ‘Keats in Winchester’ programme of events.
The University has worked with a wide range of regional, national and international organisations – and local people – to assemble this unique show.
“We’re so grateful to Hampshire Writers’ Society, Hampshire Cultural Trust, Winchester Poetry Festival, Winchester Writers’ Festival, Theatre Royal Winchester and Winchester Youth Theatre, as well as our friends from the Keats Foundation and the Keats-Shelley Memorial Association,” says Professor Alec Charles, curator of the show. “This is a great collaboration between such a lot of people who have one wonderful thing in common – an abiding love of the poetry of Keats.”
The show will include performances of Keats’s work and of the winning entries in writing competitions run to celebrate the city’s Keats bicentenary – both a children’s poetry competition run by Hampshire Cultural Trust and Winchester Poetry Festival, and a special competition run by Hampshire Writers’ Society to provide literary responses to the opening of his great autumn ode.
There will also be new music and songs inspired by Keats’s poetry, and scenes from Keats’s life specially adapted from his correspondence by Peter Phillips from the Keats Foundation.
The show will feature performances from the University’s students and Winchester’s Youth Theatre, as well as guest performances from Blue Apple Theatre, Storm Cloud Theatre and the Bard Buskers.
The show is directed by Cara Honey and produced by Alex Mackintosh.
“Working with such a variety of people on this project has been fascinating,” says Cara. “I’ve found that Keats is really relatable to so many creative artists and performers – we share so many of his ideals and aspirations. It’s incredible what he managed to achieve in his short life.”
“Keats is one of those artists whose reputation has grown and grown since his death,” adds Alex. “The poet who died so young has really lived forever.”
Tickets are only £5 (with proceeds going to Live Theatre Winchester Trust) and are available at: https://www.theatreroyalwinchester.co.uk/two-hundred-years-of-autumn/