What a lot of Will

14th April 2012

In case you hadn’t noticed, the Shakespeare spring kicks off tonight. First up is a cluster of programmes on Sky Arts – a goodly number of them, including Being Shakespeare, produced by Illuminations.  Then there is the big BBC season Shakespeare Unlocked, which is online and on air right through to July. We are making our own contribution to this, of course, with our BBC Four film of the RSC’s new Julius Caesar. And the director of the play and film, Gregory Doran, who is also the RSC’s new Artistic Director, was on Radio 4’s Midweek talking about this and more. Plus Julius Caesar is itself part of the World Shakespeare Festival, which offers a cornucopia of delights through the summer. Not to mention (because I can’t yet – but can on Monday – our Shakespeare’s Sonnets project.) So it feels like the time for a Shakespeare miscellany: something from Greg first, then the Sky transmissions, a trailer for the BBC season and lots of other links.

Midweek is one of those programmes that Radio 4 makes available in perpetuity on iPlayer, so whenever you’re reading this (as long as you are in the UK) you should be able to link to this week’s programme. The main section with Greg Doran starts at 12:35 and runs to 25:00. He talks eloquently about the inspiration for setting Julius Caesar in modern-day Africa coming from the volume of Shakespeare that Nelson Mandela and the other inmates had in their prison on Robben Island (see also the comment from Sylvia Morris over on the Screen Plays blog).

In the context of the history of Africa since independence, in the last fifty years, you have this history, this kind of distillation of history of freedom fighters turning into presidents of their countries, occasionally these turn into despots, into tyrants, there are overthrows, military coups, civil wars – and it’s happened so often in Africa that you can see that Julius Caesar, a play that talks about regim change, would fit that context.

He also speaks about the imminent opening of David Edgar’s Written on the Heart at London’s Duchess Theatre – which is, believe me, a wonderful evening (I saw it at the Swan in Stratford). This is concerned with William Tyndale and with the making, seventy years after Tyndale’s death, of the King James Bible. Not perhaps the most obvious topic for a compelling drama, but it’s completely engrossing. If you can, do go and see it.

Greg reflects on his relationship with Tony Sher and says that he suspects that the biggest thing he’ll have to learn as Artistic Director of the RSC is generosity. This is in the context of the discussion’s focus on the obsession with novelty on the part of some Shakespeare directors (who can they be thinking about?). Greg is ever the diplomat:

Each play presents different challenges, and the danger – the real danger – is you get into an attitude of, If it’s Tuesday, it must be As You Like It. Each time you do something, there has to be a reason, there has to be an event behind it. It’s either because you’ve got David Tennant to play Hamlet or there’s a real context that illuminates the play in some way, as I hope the African context will bring to Julius Caesar.

To hear the tale of how Greg came to give the world his Lady Macbeth, however, you’ll need to listen to the recording online.

As for other Shakeespeare treats, Sky Arts starts a rich series of offerings with Simon Callow’s Being Shakespeare tonight at 8.00pm on Sky Arts 2 HD. And of course if you don’t have Sky Arts, you can always buy our DVD of the production here.

Later this evening, Sky Arts 2 HD at 10.40pm is screening Greg Doran’s Macbeth with Tony Sher and Harriet Walter, which back in 1999 began our working relationship with Greg. If we’re allowed to be immodest, this is still a completely compelling screen version of the Scottish play – and it makes a fascinating contrast with our ‘other’ Macbeth, made with director Rupert Goold and Patrick Stewart. Greg’s Macbeth can be purchased on DVD here, and Rupert’s here.

One other Illuminations production in the Sky Arts season is Shakespeare’s Globe (on DVD here) which next shows tomorrow night, Monday, at 7.00pm. Sky Arts is also offering several of the Globe’s recordings of its own productions, including the two parts of Henry IV with Roger Allam as Falstaff (part one is tomorrow at 8.00pm). I can’t find a convenient page that brings together all the Sky Arts Shakespeare treats, so go to Sky Arts and type ‘Shakespeare’ in the search facility.

In contrast, there’s a very handy page listing all the upcoming treats in the Shakespeare Unlocked season from the BBC. This begins in earnest tomorrow, 16 April, with Shakespeare’s Restless World, a Radio 4/British Museum series with Neil McGregor exploring the world of late Elizabethan England through the consideration of twenty objects from the time.

Shakespeare Unlocked is also the title of a BBC Learning project with the RSC that will reveal ideas behind four of the plays through a scrutiny of four RSC productions – including Julius Caesar. You can a sense of this from an enticing selection of extracts already available online.

Coming soon are lavish film productions of four of the histories, including Richard II with Ben Whishaw as the flawed king (above) directed by Rupert Goold, and much more. This is a further taster (although I’m far from clear about what’s what, apart from the clips of Thea Sharrock’s Henry V):

But if you like your Shakespeare a little less mediated, there is both the exciting Globe to Globe season about to start at Shakespeare’s Globe and the World Shakespeare Festival from the RSC and others – and with which Globe to Globe is affiliated. The Independent has a very good interview with WSF 2012 director Deborah Shaw, All the world’s a stage. More on these initiatives in future posts…


  1. Looking forward to all the Shakespeare everywhere, the digital recorder will be working overtime.

    I think I am right to say that radio programmes on BBC iplayer are available worldwide, so anyone anywhere can listen to the Midweek programme. And anyone anywhere can listen to the three Shakespeare plays produced for BBC Radio 3, starting next Sunday with Twelfth Night and David Tennant playing Malvolio.

    • nel says:

      Yes, you’re right, i’m in NYC and have spent many happy hours listening to BBC radio programs, including the Midweek mentioned above.

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