World Cup Willie: Shakespeare in SeasonDate: 24 June 2002
The World Cup may be over for England, but there's plenty of Shakespeare to entertain us this season. In our two-part feature, Rose Rage rapper Tony Bell pens a timely ode to the Bard, while Mark Shenton gives an overview of what's on offer.
Never Mind the World Cup
Now the dream is over Eng-er-land are out
But let's not do a "Gazza" in this year of Jubilee
So hold onto your horses, you callow theatre boffin
Yes Shakespeare is sexy Shakespeare is cool
You can dance to the rhythm of the iambic beat
Mark Rylance as Olivia all flustered and erotic
Yes Shakespeare is sexy Shakespeare is cool
Long Live World Cup Willie!!!
- by Tony Bell, currently appearing as rebel rapper Jack Cade in Rose Rage at the Theatre Royal Haymarket
A Summer of Shakespeare
The work of Britain's greatest poet and dramatist is being celebrated all over London and the rest of the UK this summer, indoors and out, in spaces old and new, in productions traditional and modern that once again prove his enduring resonance and accessibility to audiences across the ages.
Nowhere is this sense of history and immediacy combined more effectively than at Shakespeare's Globe. Far from being a purely heritage experience, this indispensable venue on London's South Bank is increasingly establishing itself at the forefront of innovation rather than immolation of the Bard's works.
Currently, a beautifully realised all-male production of Twelfth Night has wonderfully recreated the conditions - from the gender of the actors to their clothing as well as the music and the settings - as would have obtained when the play premiered in 1602. It is playing in rep with a modern-day production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, with music, settings and clothing reflecting 2002. Meanwhile, the equally glorious Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park has kicked off its summer season, too, with new productions of Romeo and Juliet and As You Like It.
From London, Stratford, West End
And after previous summers when the RSC were missing from London, this season is a bumper one for them, since the company can be found in two locations in the coming months. Currently, they're resident at Camden's Roundhouse, where they've installed a spectacular, purpose-built in-the-round auditorium for three new productions running to 13 July. The Winter's Tale and The Tempest have just finished while Pericles - directed by outgoing RSC artistic director Adrian Noble - begins its run this week. All three productions subsequently transfer to Stratford.
In the West End - where the Reduced Shakespeare Company, now in its seventh year, continues to present every single one of Shakespeare's plays, albeit briefly, in The Complete Works of Shakespeare Abridged at the Criterion - the RSC arrives late July. They will bring their current Stratford productions of Much Ado About Nothing and Antony and Cleopatra to the Theatre Royal Haymarket - a venue which is currently hosting a West End transfer for Rose Rage, Edward Hall's two-part condensed version of Shakespeare's three Henry VI plays.
Fringe & Further Afield
"It's like having a fringe company in the middle of the West End!" enthuses Hall about his Propeller Theatre production. "It's an event; we are trying to put the event back into the theatre. But I also have a strong belief that Shakespeare was a popular and populist writer - he was a commercial writer, it was not a highbrow event! He was a genius, of course, but people came to see his plays from all walks of life, and for good reason. We're trying to rediscover that reason."
For other opportunities to do just that this season, you can look to the fringe and beyond: at the Bridewell, director Phil Wilmott reinvents "Shakespeare's forgotten political thriller", Henry VIII; London Bubble tours London's parks and woods its promenade production of Pericles; Southwark Playhouse presents Othello; and Chichester Festival mounts a new production of Romeo and Juliet, starring Paul Shelley and Whatsonstage.com Best Newcomer award winner Emily Blunt. Then, of course, in August, you can round off the summer with hundreds of good and bad, professional and amateur, Bard offerings at the Edinburgh Fringe, as well as the famous outdoor production of The Tempest at the Minack Theatre in Penzance.
An Active Autumn
Come the autumn, there's no apparent slowdown to the Shakespeare vogue. In addition to the RSC's continuing programme in Stratford and its annual visit to Newcastle - as well as the first production, King Lear, from the company's newly formed Academy - highlights will include: Othello starring Paterson Joseph and Andy Serkis at Manchester's Royal Exchange; Sheffield Crucible's season opener of The Tempest starring Derek Jacobi and Daniel Evans; going head-to-head with a major Tempest led by Richard Briers; Hamlet played by Christopher Eccleston at Leeds' West Yorkshire Playhouse; an English Touring Theatre King Lear with Timothy West; and in the West End, a Sam Mendes-directed farewell production of Twelfth Night with Simon Russell Beale, Emily Watson and Helen McCrory at the Donmar; and, at the Albery in November after two regional dates, a long-awaited Macbeth with screen star Sean Bean in the title role.