Because You Can Never Have Too Much Shakespeare

The Arts

What a lot of Shakespeare events are coming up in London this summer – anyone would think there was an important anniversary approaching! There are always new productions of Shakespeare (but still not enough innovative ones, I’d say) so this year some unusual Shakespeare experiments are taking place. I’d love to see ‘Tabletop Shakespeare’, in which all of the plays are explained in one-hour treatments using a table and everyday household items, at the Barbican.

Over the spring weekend of 23 – 24 April, the banks of the Thames will come alive with an extraordinary celebration as Shakespeare’s Globe light 37 screens along a 2.5 mile route between Westminster and Tower Bridge, playing a series of specially-made short films. At the heart of each film, some of the world’s finest actors will perform scenes from Shakespeare’s plays, shot in the place hovering in his imagination when he wrote them.

Also, the Globe’s unprecedented world Hamlet tour returns home for a weekend of celebratory final performances, marking exactly 400 years since Shakespeare’s death. It will have travelled 180,000 miles through 196 countries. There’s also a year-long event looking at the momentous events of 1616. I love the Globe, and its smaller Jacobean sister next door, with its bench seats and intimate candlelit setting.

tumblr_mzjljo05cv1rdcftgo1_1280My favourite stage version of ‘Hamlet’ in years was Rory Kinnear’s electrifying performance in a highly acclaimed production set in the modern-day police state of Elsinore, where secret service men patrol and no-one is ever left alone. If I had to pick my favourite Shakespeare on film, the list would include Lurman’s ‘Romeo+Juliet’, Greenaway’s ‘Prospero’s Books’ (a triumph compared to the disastrously misjudged Julie Taymor version with Helen Mirren),  the Olivier wartime ‘Henry V’ and ‘Hamlet’ (although I have a soft spot for – gasp – the two-fisted Mel Gibson Hamlet) and Joss Wheedon’s deliciously fresh ‘As You Like It’. I find the Branagh versions horribly over-mannered and cheesy, the extras nudging each other like the chorus of some provincial opera.


The great thing about Shakespeare is that because the plays have human emotion at their core, they never date and really can travel anywhere, something screenplay writers would do well to remember. There are even good silent versions. (Above, the striptease Hamlet from ‘The Pure Hell Of St Trinians’!)



4 comments on “Because You Can Never Have Too Much Shakespeare”

  1. carl says:

    I agree with the choice of Lurman’s Romeo and Juliet – I watch that film regularly. De Caprio drew in the teen girls and when I saw it at the cinema I remember them all walking out saying “Why did they have to talk like that, it ruined it”.

    Did you ever see Christine Edzard’s ‘As you like it’ set in the Docklands? It really splits people. I remember seeing at the cinema, it was the only time I have had a cinema entirely to myself.

  2. Jackie Hayles says:

    I fell in love with Shakespeare when I watched Ian McKellen’s “Richard 11” at the Mermaid, as a teenager. It was electrifying – I loved the bare brick walls of the set, and the beauty of Ian McKellen’s voice, making the words burn into me; previously it had been a matter of struggling to get the lines out in class. My favourite “Hamlet” was Ben Whishaw’s – all the awkwardness of the eternal adolescent in a world of dark deeds and duplicity – talking of which, Mark Rylance’s “Measure for Measure” at The Globe was superb, with all those dark deeds and rustling straw. The Globe and the Sam Wanamaker indoor theatre are indeed treasures and there are a wealth of wonderful productions, there and elsewhere. I am looking forward to the anniversary events.

  3. John says:

    Chicago has its own Shakespeare 400 celebration sponsored by the Chicago Shakespeare Theater and it will last year round. We’ve already seen Cheek & Jowl/Pushkin Theatre’s version of MEASURE FOR MEASURE and the amazingly anarchic and wildly uninhibited Belarus Free Theatre doing hands down the best, most alive and vital version of KING LEAR I have ever seen. Nearly every performer and designer involved with Belarus Free Theatre has been arrested or spent time in jail for doing what they love — working in the theater. It was eye opening to see that in some places in the world theater is terrifying to the tyrants in charge who spend more time censoring and jailing artists than they do filling their corrupt pockets. How perfect that KING LEAR should be the vehicle through which I first got to know this company of brave performers. Coincidentally, the Tabletop Shakespeare will be performed here in Chicago next weekend and I’m going to buy my tickets right now. Thanks for this post about what’s going on in the Bard’s homeland. (Minor correction: I think you mean Joss Whedon’s MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING. That’s the only updated Shakespeare movie he’s adapted/directed.)

  4. Diane Englot says:

    I love Mel Gibson’s Hamlet! Thought I was the only one. Now I can say another brilliant person likes it, too…[forgive the emoticon…here it comes…] 😉

Comments are closed.