The World Shakespeare Festival, a key part of next year’s Cultural Olympiad, will involve over 50 arts organisations, thousands of UK and international artists and 260 amateur-dramatic groups comprising 7,200 amateur theatre makers aged from 6 to 90 years, all presenting some 70 productions, exhibitions and other events across the country.

Amongst the big names taking part will be Jonathan Pryce, Meera Syal, Simon Russell Beale, Kathryn Hunter, Rupert Goold, Gregory Doran, American novelist Toni Morrison, Japanese director Yukio Ninagawa, controversial Catalan director Calixto Bieto and the US-based Wooster Group.

The festival, spearheaded by the Royal Shakespeare Company, was officially launched this morning at the British Museum, where RSC artistic director Michael Boyd referred to the WSF as being "outrageously artistic and collaborative" - words echoed by the Globe's Dominic Dromgoole, who said the Globe to Globe project would celebrate our "wonderfully polyglot country" by presenting 37 Shakespeare plays in 37 languages, including Swahili and Maori.

They were joined by other participating arts bosses including Cultural Olympiad director Ruth Mackenzie, British Museum director Neil MacGregor and WSF director Deborah Shaw, who highlighted the "blurring of boundaries between the professional and amateur worlds" represented by a new production of West Side Story at the Sage in Newcastle.

The festival’s lead “founding presenting partner” is troubled oil giant BP, which was represented by group regional vice president Peter Mather (who revealed he had once been in a school production with Simon Russell Beale, who will star in Timon of Athens at the NT).

Over a million tickets for festival events, some of them already announced by their relevant producing organisations, will go on sale from 10 October 2011.

Some of the WSF’s production highlights include:

  • Timon of AthensNicholas Hytner directs Simon Russell Beale (National Theatre).
  • King LearMichael Attenborough directs Jonathan Pryce (Almeida Theatre).
  • Much Ado about NothingMeera Syal plays Beatrice in a production set in India, directed by Iqbal Khan (Stratford-upon-Avon).
  • West Side Story – a full-scale production with cast featuring professionals, semi-professionals and amateurs, with new choreography by Will Tuckett, who also directs. Part of the RSC’s Open Stages project.
  • Troilus and CressidaElizabeth LeCompte and Rupert Goold collaborate on an RSC and Wooster Group multimedia production of Shakespeare’s epic Trojan play (Stratford-upon-Avon).
  • Cymbeline – directed by Japan’s leading classical director Yukio Ninagawa in Japanese with English surtitles (Barbican).
  • What Country Friends Is This? - migration, exile, shipwreck and brave new worlds explored by a single company through RSC productions of The Comedy of Errors, The Tempest, Twelfth Night, directed by David Farr and Palestinian director Amir Nizar Zuabi, and, in London, a site-specific Pericles, directed by Michael Boyd (Stratford-upon-Avon and London’s Roundhouse).
  • Globe to Globe – 37 of Shakespeare’s plays in 37 different languages, over the course of six weeks (Shakespeare’s Globe).
  • Romeo and Juliet in Baghdad – the Iraqi Theatre Company explores Iraq’s rich traditions of poetry, music and ritual across a sectarian divide (Stratford-upon-Avon and Riverside Studios – in Arabic with English surtitles).
  • Two Roses for Richard III – Brazil’s Companhia BufoMecanica creates a grand spectacle of circus and theatre inspired by Shakespeare’s Histories (Stratford-upon-Avon and Roundhouse – in Portuguese with English surtitles).
  • Julius CaesarGregory Doran’s production finds dark contemporary echoes in sub-Saharan Africa (Stratford-upon-Avon, Roundhouse, Theatre Royal Newcastle).
  • I, Cinna (The Poet) – Tim Crouch engages young audiences of 11+ in the story of Cinna the poet from Julius Caesar (Stratford-upon-Avon).
  • In a Pickle - a voyage through Shakespeare’s imagination for very young audiences aged 2-4 created by Oily Cart (Stratford-upon-Avon, Stratford Circus, Northern Stage).
  • Nations at War season - Richard III, King John and A Soldier in Every Son: An Aztec trilogy – a single RSC company explores Shakespeare and three plays about the intrigue of a century of Aztec civilisation by Luis Mario Moncada, one of Mexico’s leading playwrights (Stratford-upon-Avon).
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream (As You Like It) – Russian director Dmitry Krymov’s radical reinterpretation of Shakespeare’s magical play in Russian with English surtitles (Stratford-upon-Avon and Edinburgh International Festival ).
  • A Tender ThingBen Power weaves the words of Romeo and Juliet into a touching story about lovers in old age. Kathryn Hunter revisits the role she played in 2009 (Stratford-upon-Avon).
  • Desdemona – a collaboration between the acclaimed Toni Morrison, Malian singer/songwriter Rokia Traoré and Peter Sellars (Barbican).
  • The Dark Side of Love – a dreamlike journey into the depths of what we do for love, performed by teenagers in an atmospheric space (beneath the Roundhouse).
  • Macbeth: Leila and Ben – A Bloody History – Artistes, Producteurs, Associes from Tunisia combine Shakespeare with film and reportage in Arabic with English surtitles (LIFT at Riverside Studios, Northern Stage).
  • The Rest is Silence – dreamthinkspeak’s meditation on Hamlet performed within a large-scale installation (LIFT at Riverside Studios, Brighton Festival, Northern Stage)
  • Corionlan/Us – National Theatre Wales’ site-specific production reimagined in an era of 24 hour news (Dragon Film Studios, Bridgend)
  • Forests – Birmingham Repertory Theatre and Barcelona Internacional Teatre create a new production inspired by the forest scenes from Shakespeare’s plays, directed by Calixto Bieito in Catalan and English with surtitles  (Birmingham).
  • 2007: Macbeth – Grzegorz Jarzyna directs this free adaptation of Macbeth in a Tr Warszawa production in Polish with English surtitles (Edinburgh International Festival).

The RSC is also collaborating with the British Museum on the major BP-sponsored exhibition Shakespeare: Staging the World, while there are other major events, many with a focus on educating young people, being undertaken by the British Council, Tate Modern, the British Council and BBC Learning.

Commenting on WSF, which has been more than four years in the planning, Michael Boyd said: “Shakespeare is no longer English property. He is the favourite playwright and artist of the whole world, and studied at school by half the world's children. People of all races, creeds and continents have chosen to gather around his work to share stories of what it is like to be human. To fall in love or fall from grace. To be subject to the abuse of power or to live with the dreams of angels in the shadow of our own mortality.

“The World Shakespeare Festival celebrates this most international of artists at a time when the eyes of the world will be on London, that most international of cities, for the Olympic Games.”

In addition to BP, the WSF is funded by the National Lottery through the Olympic Lottery Distributor, Arts Council England and LOCOG.