Brush Up Your ShakespeareDate: 24 April 2006
Over Shakespeare’s birthday weekend this past week, the RSC launched its ambitious year-long Complete Works festival in Stratford-upon-Avon. Mark Shenton presents a month-by-month planner for the biggest-ever celebration of the RSC’s house playwright.
In the 45 years since Peter Hall founded the Royal Shakespeare Company, one of the world’s most famous theatre brands has been established around its house dramatist and its tireless attempts to fulfil its stated aim of keeping “modern audiences in touch with Shakespeare as our contemporary”. After a rocky patch under Adrian Noble, the company has been rejuvenated over the past three years under the artistic direction of Michael Boyd. Its reclaimed confidence is now being signalled with the most ambitious project in its history, the Complete Works festival (See News, 21 Apr 2006) – which, over the next year, sees 23 new RSC productions as well as visits from companies around the world, including Germany, Japan, Poland, South Africa, India, Russia, South America, the US, Italy, China and the Middle East, plus notable homegrown talents. Here are the highlights…
On stage for the RSC this month, Nancy Meckler directs Rupert Evans and Morven Christie in Romeo and Juliet (in rep 6 April-14 October, in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre), and veterans Patrick Stewart and Harriet Walter return to the company to appear in RSC chief associate director Gregory Doran’s production of Antony and Cleopatra (12 April-14 October, in the Swan). The first two visiting companies also arrive: Germany’s Munchner Kammerspiele presents a two-hour distillation of Othello set to live jazz piano (26-29 April, RST); and Janet Suzman directs Hamlet from Cape Town’s Baxter Theatre, with a cast including celebrated South African actors John Kani and Dorothy Ann Gould (27 April-6 May, Swan).
The RSC adds Julius Caesar (directed by Sean Holmes, with James Hayes as Caesar, John Light as Brutus and Finbar Lynch as Cassius - 6 May-10 October, RST) and Much Ado About Nothing (directed by Marianne Elliott, making her RSC debut, with Joseph Millson and Tamsin Greig - 11 May-12 October, Swan) to the repertoire. During the week of 29 May, Family Week comprises a series of half-term activities for young people.
Throughout the summer months, starting in June, the Dell – an open-air performance space founded in the RSC gardens – hosts student and amateur groups. Professional visitors this month include Dash Arts with Tim Supple’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which recently toured the Indian sub-continent (7-17 June, Swan), and Japanese director Yukio Ninagawa staging Shakespeare’s bloodiest play Titus Andronicus (16-24 June, RST).
The Courtyard – a new 1,000-seat auditorium that temporarily becomes the main house in Stratford when building work begins on the RST in 2007 – launches with RSC artistic director Michael Boyd’s re-examination of his award-winning Henry VI trilogy, led by Chuk Iwuji. Part 1 (subtitled The War Against France) begins performances on 7 July; Part 2 (England’s Fall) follows from 14 July; and Part 3 (The Chaos) from 21 July. In addition, Josie Rourke directs the rarely performed King John (27 July-10 October, Swan) and Patrick Stewart plays Prospero in Rupert Goold’s production of The Tempest (28 July-12 October, RST). Visiting this month is Chicago Shakespeare Theatre with Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 (6-15 July, Swan).
Washington DC’s Shakespeare Theatre Company presents Love’s Labour’s Lost (17-26 August, Swan), and the Edinburgh International Festival’s Troilus and Cressida, with veteran German director Peter Stein directing a UK cast, comes to Stratford after its Scottish run (31 August-9 September, RST). Gregory Thompson’s AandBC company performs Henry VIII in Holy Trinity Church, where Shakespeare and his family worshipped and are buried (23 August-2 September), and Rio de Janeiro’s Nos do Morro gives one performance only of Two Gentlemen of Verona (27 August, Courtyard). For three August weekends, the RSC celebrates Shakespeare on Film, with an outdoor cinema screen erected on the banks of the Avon for free screenings of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet, Roman Polanski’s Macbeth and other movies.
Founder Peter Hall returns with his Theatre Royal Bath production of Measure for Measure (13-16 September, Courtyard), and Cornwall’s Kneehigh Theatre create a new adaptation of Cymbeline, directed by artistic director Emma Rice and writer Carl Grose (20-30 September). Gregory Doran and John Barton showcase their work-in-progress staging of Shakespeare’s narrative poem The Rape of Lucrece (10 September, Swan).
Cardboard Citizens blend Shakespeare’s supposedly unfinished text of Timon of Athens with contemporary testimony (24-28 October), while Regime Change – a contemporary thriller by Peter Straughan written in response to Julius Caesar – receives a rehearsed reading before it’s recorded for BBC Radio 3 (6 October). In the Swan, RSC associate director (and artistic director-designate of the Royal Court) Dominic Cooke directs a single company in both The Winter’s Tale (26 October-6 January) and Pericles (2 November-6 January).
Also, for a month, the RST’s auditorium is transformed into an intimate 100-seat studio called the Cube for small-scale multimedia and physical interpretations of Shakespeare, including: New York’s Tiny Ninja Theatre’s Hamlet (31 October-1 November); Sean Holmes directing Filter’s Twelfth Night (2-4 November); and Yellow Earth and Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre’s King Lear (15-18 November). There are also new plays responding to The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream by, respectively, Leo Butler (One of These Days, 10 November) and Rona Munro (The Indian Boy, 7-11 November), plus Forkbeard Fantasy’s Rough Magyck (25-28 October) and Pippo Delbono’s Tales of June (5 November).
Visiting this month are Edward Hall’s all-male Propeller ensemble with its new production of The Taming of the Shrew (2-11 November, Courtyard) and the renowned Berliner Ensemble, an early inspiration for the RSC, with Richard II, first seen in 2000 (16-18 November, Courtyard).
Judi Dench returns to the RSC to play Mistress Quickly in a new musical version of The Merry Wives of Windsor, entitled Merry Wives - The Musical, adapted and directed by Gregory Doran with music by Paul Englishby and lyrics by Ranjit Bolt. The company also includes Desmond Barrit as Falstaff (2 December-10 February, RST).
Michael Boyd continues his History cycle in the Courtyard with Richard III, featuring Jonathan Slinger in the title role, joining the Henry VI trilogy from 11 January. Days of Significance, a new play by Roy Williams written in response to Much Ado About Nothing and directed by Dominic Cooke, premieres (10-20 January, Swan).
Gregory Doran directs William Houston in the title role of the RSC’s Coriolanus, with Janet Suzman as Volumnia (22 February-31 March, RST). Amongst a host of visiting companies: Italian director Pippo Delbono’s production of Henry V – a collage of Shakespeare’s text, popular cabaret, comedy, music, dance and movement – receives its UK premiere (1-3 February, Swan), with the main actors joined by a chorus of locals; Kuwaiti writer/director Sulayman Al-Bassam’s contemporary Richard III re-telling, The Baghdad Richard, is performed in Arabic with English surtitles (8-17 February, Swan); Polish ensemble Teatr Piesn Kozla presents Macbeth (21-24 February, Swan); and Cheek by Jowl’s Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod bring their Moscow ensemble to Stratford for the first time in Twelfth Night (28 February-3 March, Swan). Gavin Bryars curates Nothing Like the Sun, in which contemporary composers set sonnets to different musical styles (24-25 February, Courtyard).
March attractions include a revival of Gregory Doran’s collaboration with Little Angel Theatre of Venus and Adonis - A Masque for Puppets (15-17 March, Swan) and the New York-based Theatre for a New Audience arrives with The Merchant of Venice starring F Murray Abraham, an Academy Award winner for his Salieri in Amadeus, as Shylock (22-31 March, Swan). Also this month, Samuel Westbrings his production of As You Like It from Sheffield Crucible (where he’s artistic director) to the Swan, and the festival culminates with Trevor Nunn directing Ian McKellen in the title role of a new RSC production of King Lear in the Courtyard.
For further information on the Complete Works, visit the RSC website or call the festival hotline on 0870 609 1110.