A Birthday Blog for the Bard

As the world marks the death of William Shakespeare, 400 years on, there have been many celebrations of his work across the globe. Today I want to share some of them – the ones that have particularly resonated with me.  Here in Hong Kong, we have just had the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) performing some of the Histories, all the Henries, in repertoire, to great acclaim. The company then moved to Beijing, where those plays have never been been seen before. My first offering, therefore, is a lecture by Gregory Doran, artistic director of the RSC,  given upon his return from this tour. Entitled Is Shakespeare Chinese? , Doran speaks beautifully about the universality of Shakespeare, and for those of you that follow Theatre Room, you will know that this is something that often raises questions for me….but more of this later.

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As a theatre practitioner, generally people expect you, firstly, to love Shakespeare with a passion, and secondly, to have seen every single play he ever wrote. My answers to both of those inevitably provoke a surprised response, which I secretly quite like. Recently, one of my students, Nadia, chose a speech from King John to use in a solo performance employing some of the techniques of Jerzy Grotowski. The outcome was stunning, the words brought alive in an incredible way. I have never seen or read King John but that performance has now compelled me to do so. This brings to me to my next share, a series of Shakespeare’s monologues and soliloquies performed by some of the UK’s most respected actors. Filmed for the The Guardian and presented in two parts, they are very compelling viewing.

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An accompanying piece written by theatre critic Michael Billington, also for The Guardian, explores three of the films in greater detail. Connecting to this, in an article for The Independent, journalist Oscar Quine interviews Cicely Berry (pictured below), who has been voice coach at the RSC for over 45 years. Known to be a force of nature (Berry has worked with some of the best known actors over the last half century) the piece, The RSC’s formidable voice coach reveals how to capture the sound of Shakespeare, makes interesting reading.

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Another two-part documentary really caught my imagination. Made for the BBC and written and presented by historian Simon Schama, eponymously titled Simon Schama’s Shakespearesthey explore the world of Shakespeare and how it shaped his writing. They are both worth a watch as Schama manages to vividly connect the plays and their characters to the contemporary world in which they were written to exist.

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And finally, in the interests of balance, another BBC production from their programme strand Arts Nightin which writer and broadcaster Andrew Marr champions some great Renaissance dramatists who, he posits,  have been neglected because they worked at the same time as William Shakespeare.

 

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