Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Shakespeare gets the starring role in cultural celebration alongside Olympics

Experts ask if the Bard is Britain's only exportable brand as leading organisations recruit playwright for Games

The works of William Shakespeare figure prominently in plans to showcase British culture during the Olympics. Photograph: Alfredo Dagli Orti/ The Art Archive/Corbis

This country may be the birthplace of Chaucer, Milton, Austen, the Brontë sisters and Dickens, but Britain has only one dominant calling card on the global cultural scene: William Shakespeare. It is now clear that the Bard and his works will loom large in the British arts festival that is planned to run alongside the Olympic Games in London next year.

The BBC reveals today that Patrick Stewart, David Morrissey, Rory Kinnear, Lindsay Duncan, David Suchet and James Purefoy are to appear together in the first of a run of four big-budget Shakespeare plays to be made for television by Sam Mendes's production company to celebrate the Cultural Olympiad.
With filming for Richard II, starring Ben Whishaw, starting on location at Pembroke Castle and St David's Cathedral in Wales next month, the BBC and Mendes's Neal Street Productions are joining a long line-up of major arts organisations who have chosen to wave a Shakespearean banner in the warm-up to the Games.

The British Museum is to mount a major exhibition about the Bard next year, while, more predictably, the Globe Theatre in London and the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-on-Avon have all announced extensive Shakespeare projects to mark the occasion. BBC2's Richard II, adapted and directed by Rupert Goold, the award-winning associate director at the RSC, will be followed by adaptations of Henry IV parts I and II and Henry V, all set in the medieval era.

The BBC is also to mark the occasion with a two-part documentary series about Shakespeare, written and presented by historian Simon Schama to complement the new screen adaptations of the plays.
"Shakespeare is in the unique position of speaking universally while not losing any of the intensity of the language of where he comes from," said Schama this weekend in defence of the widespread move to adopt Shakespeare as Britain's cultural figurehead for the Games. "I have watched his plays in German and in French and the effect is the same. If you want something to celebrate in the year of 2012 that is not just the Queen and the Olympic Games, then Shakespeare is there for you. He is inexhaustible."

But the artistic director of the Globe, Dominic Dromgoole, is not the only one to raise an eyebrow at the amount of Shakespeare that has been commissioned. "It has been something of a race for all the Shakespeare plays," he said earlier this year, at the launch of his theatre's brave plan to stage a six-week season of Shakespeare plays each staged by visiting foreign theatre companies and beginning next year on 23 April, the Bard's birthday.
His Olympiad season will feature a version of Troilus and Cressida in Maori, The Taming of the Shrew in Urdu and an Arabic Tempest
Read the full story at The Guardian.

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