Because You Can Never Have Too Much Shakespeare
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.
My 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’!)