Simon Russell Beale and Eileen Atkins amongst stars at annual Keats Festival

King Lear by William Shakespeare at The National Theatre with Simon Russel Beale

King Lear by William Shakespeare at The National Theatre with Simon Russel Beale - Credit: Photo by Mark Douet

Keats didn’t live long enough to see his name in metaphorical lights, but now stage and screen stars Simon Russell Beale and Eileen Atkins will come to his former Hampstead home as part of the annual Keats Festival.

Actors, authors and poets will entertain audiences from “three to 103 years old” with a host of activities next month.

Find Your Voice is this year’s theme where visitors will be encouraged to find and express their own voice at any one of the events.

“We’ve a great line-up, really varied and it’s great to have some really big names in there as well as more emerging artists,” says Vicky Carroll, principal curator at Keats House.

Russell Beale, currently playing the title role in Sam Mendes’ production of King Lear at the National Theatre, and Dame Eileen Atkins, whose film, stage and television credits over the last 60 years includes Gosford Park, Vanity Fair and Upstairs Downstairs, will appear together at the Spoken Keats event reading a selection of his poetry.

Former children’s laureate Michael Rosen will join the new poet in residence Daljit Nagra for a bumper festival family day in the grounds of the house in Keats Grove on the last weekend, and performance poet John Hegley will give a fun writing workshop on June 10.


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Beginning his year-long residency at the festival, prize-winning poet Nagra, the author of three published collections, says: “It’s a great honour to follow on from Jo Shapcott who’s a poet I really admire and to serve the mighty Keats, one of our great poets, I’m a big fan of his work like probably most people are so I look forward to extolling his virtues and try and inspire other people to read him.”

As the new resident poet, he’s excited about introducing new writers and groups to give talks, “Hopefully, I can broaden its outreach by setting up different events and bring in people from different cultures into Keats House,” he adds. “Classic poets can seem really scary and intimidating and difficult, but when you start reading them you can appreciate the simplicity and directness of their work.”

As well as running the children’s workshops, he’ll be hosting a workshop for adults on how to write an ode and giving a reading as a formal handover from Shapcott to himself.

Other highlights of the festival include The Imagination Museum when visitors can take a tour of Keats House and its collection of historical artefacts with three eccentric tour guides Mildred, Henry and Harriet who will bring it all to life.

A twilight performance with poetry by Anna Selby and music by Max Perryment will end the first day’s entertainment on June 7.

For film enthusiasts, a screenwriting workshop with James Ragan, who’s worked on The Godfather and The Deer Hunter, will teach participants how to write a film and also how to “read” films on the screen.

Far from disappearing, award- winning Jo Shapcott will be holding a Poetry Surgery, for artists of all ages and abilities, who want feedback and advice on their work.

“It’s a perfect time, so many different poets, actors, coming in to publicise poetry itself, more so Keats so it should be amazing,” says Nagra, whose poetry is taught on the GCSE syllabus and in universities. “The best thing is people of all ages can come.”

Keats Festival runs from June 7 to 15. Details at Advance booking