Much Ado About Something as Shakespeare’s legendary lost play Love’s Labour’s Won surfaces in Stratford – or does it?

Love’s Labour’s Won is famously listed as one of Shakespeare’s ‘lost plays’. However, some academics believe it is in fact not lost but is actually an alternate name for another play, in the way that Twelfth Night is also called What You Will. The RSC’s Artistic Director Gregory Doran appears to believe this theory and goes one further to suggest that the much-beloved Much Ado About Nothing is in fact the missing play. Re-designating Much Ado as Love’s Labour’s Won and pairing it with Shakespeare’s other screwball rom-com Love’s Labour’s Lost for the first time forms the basis of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre’s 2014 winter season.

Michelle Terry and Edward Bennett as Beatrice and Benedick.

Michelle Terry and Edward Bennett as Beatrice and Benedick.


Love’s Labour’s Won
 sees Edward Bennett and Michelle Terry both making their return to the RSC to play the bickering couple of Benedick and Beatrice, with Edward Bennett returning for the first time since stepping into David Tennant’s shoes to play Hamlet during the London run in 2008.

Director Christopher Luscombe has set the play in 1918 as soldiers return from World War I and used local Tudor house Charlecote Park as his setting. Set designer Simon Higlett had the task of recreating this historical home on stage and he has done a marvellous job doing so. It looks and feels as if you are stepping into an episode of Downton Abbey with the luxious main set featuring a grand piano and a beautifully decorated large Christmas tree.

The production’s handsome Downton Abbey-esque set.

The production’s handsome Downton Abbey-esque set.

Edward Bennett plays Benedick with great wit and comedic timing. In particular the ‘gulling’ scene, where he overhears about Beatrice’s love for him, is full of laughs as he is humiliated by his peers. A personal highlight sees Benedick being semi-electrocuted inside the Christmas tree.

Michelle Terry is more than a match as Beatrice. Just as sharp-tongued and funny as Benedick she stands as a perfect match for Bennett’s returned war hero. Terry holds her own as the feisty and independent heroine. When the couple finally unite the romance pours out of them onstage and they are without a doubt the true and unpredictable love story of the play.

Claudio (Tunji Kasim) and Benedick.

Claudio (Tunji Kasim) and Benedick.

A notable mention should go to Sam Alexander as the villainous Don John. He appears on crutches, having been injured in the war, which helps his bitterness and hatred shine through.

The play raised many laughs from the audience and none more so than the scene of Dogberry and Verges interrogating Borachio and his co-conspirators regarding their roles in the thwarted marriage of Hero (Flora Spencer-Longhurst) and Claudio (Tunji Kasim). The hectic confusion is played out perfectly on stage, helped along by the brilliant idea to stage it all within a small portion of the set.

The marriage of Claudio and Hero (Flora Spencer-Longhurst).

The marriage of Claudio and Hero (Flora Spencer-Longhurst).


Much Ado About Nothing
– I mean Love’s Labour’s Won – is well-staged, well-acted and a perfect companion for the Love’s Labour’s Lost. It runs until 14 March 2015.

Go here to buy tickets for Love’s labour’s Won.

What did the UK media make of Maxine Peake’s Manchester Hamlet? Shakespeare Magazine reviews the reviews…

The idea to take on the iconic role of Hamlet, Maxine Peake told Creative Tourist, came after she worked with Royal Exchange Artistic Director Sarah Frankcom on a 2012 production of Miss Julie. “We’ve got this opportunity now where there’s no boundaries,” she suggested, “so we’ve got to challenge ourselves, perhaps even to the point where we overstretch ourselves.”
As Creative Tourist puts it, Peake was “adamant that this part has got absolutely nothing to do with gender-swapping for shock’s sake.” But it must have been clear from the start that gender (or ‘gender-bending’ as the Telegraph helpfully put it) would be the principal lens through which many critics and punters would experience this production.
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Several reviewers pointed out this was the first time Hamlet has been played by a woman in a high-profile production since Frances de la Tour in 1979. Susannah Clapp (Observer/Guardian) gave as good a summary as can be found of the rich theatrical story Peake’s performance belongs to: ‘There is a long, strong tradition of women performing the role,” she writes. “Sarah Siddons took it on in Manchester in 1777. Victorian actresses, amateur and professional, played the part regularly. Sarah Bernhardt, the first actress to be filmed in the part, declared it should always be performed by a woman.”

Frankcom told Creative Tourist that “Prescribed notions of gender – what is female, what is male – are all in flux at the moment … with our Hamlet, Maxine’s Hamlet, she’s creating a character that’s as much male and as much female.”
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However, Peake’s Hamlet was for many reviewers very much a prince, rather than the intended royal-human-in-flux. To Polly Gianniba describes it was “a cross between a warrior angel (one of the beautiful lovelorn angels Philip Pullman writes) and the Little Prince.” Michael Billington refers to Peake’s Hamlet as ‘he’. Additionally, Polonius – or Polonia – was played by, and as, a woman (Gillian Bevan). For the Telegraph, this was confusing: “If Hamlet remains, technically, male in this reading – why make these added distinctions?” And one was left wondering whether The Independent reviewer joined the dots of his own thinking when he wrote “We are not used to seeing a woman play Hamlet. The result here is a powerful and yet curiously domestic production.” The suggestion seeming to be that ‘woman’ equals ‘domestic’. Although perhaps this ‘domestic’ sense came from the decision to largely excise the Fortinbras plot, the thread that brings the wider political world into the play’s family drama.
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Fortinbras’s removal was Billington’s “main reservation” about the production, whilst Gianniba enjoyed the production enough that “anything left out feels inconsequential.” When a production minimises Fortinbras, as has often been done before, it usually indicates a focus on personal, rather than geo- politics.

Hamlet, more than many plays, is an intensely ‘personal’ experience. The character invites the audience’s identification through soliloquy and the expression of existential crisis. Having catalogued the staging (in-the-round), costumes (Chairman Mao suit, Bowie haircut for Hamlet, according to the Manchester Evening News and others) and expressed an opinion about the verse speaking – any reviewer in need of a point-of-view must finally fall back upon his or her own inner Hamlet and see how the new suit fits.
Hamlet 6 credit Jonathan Keenan
On these traditional terms, Peake pleased most reviewers. But it’s interesting to wonder who might be “shocked”, as Peake put it, by seeing a woman playing Hamlet in 2014. To an extent, coverage of this production is several degrees removed from the intense, often violent commentary on gender in this year of Beyoncé as ‘FEMINIST’, GamerGate, and the mixture of celebration and death threats that greets any new female re-imagining of Marvel superfolk. Nonetheless, perhaps that is this Hamlet’s wider, personal-political context. Susannah Clapp suggests that, with this and previous productions, “Frankcom is in effect creating England’s first mainstream feminist theatre.” And if a woman playing Hamlet still has the power to shock, or even confuse, an audience in 2014, then the political, like old Hamlet’s wronged ghost in the play, may have been this production’s sustaining energy.

Photography by Jonathan Keenan

Go here for more on Hamlet at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester.

Shakespeare Theatre Company’s ‘Free Will’ program hands out free tickets to Shakespeare fans in Washington DC

The Tempest
Washington DC’s Shakespeare Theatre Company has announced an expansion of its ‘Free For All’ program. The new ‘Free Will’ program will see the company give away 1,000 tickets to each of the season’s productions – which averages at an impressively generous 150-200 tickets a week.

Free For all was launched back in the summer of 1991, with The Merry Wives of Windsor performed under the stars for no charge. Over the years a staggering 500,000 audience members have been served with free Shakespeare.

“Our goal has been to offer free Shakespeare productions to as wide of an audience as possible,” says Artistic Director Michael Khan, “and to make it accessible to diverse audiences. People who have never been to the theatre, people who are unable to pay for tickets, young people, students, people on fixed incomes.”

Every Monday at noon tickets are released for the coming week’s performances. Tickets can be claimed at the box office, through the website, or by calling the box office at 202-547-1122.

(Insider tip: calling the box office seems to be best way to claim tickets, as the high number of people attempting to claim tickets overwhelms the website!)

STC’s production of The Tempest (pictured) has recently opened, while As You Like It has just closed. Still to come are the season’s productions of The Metromaniacs, the Macbeth-inspired Dunsinane, Man of La Mancha, and Tartuffe.

Patrons may claim up to 4 tickets per week, but are welcome to take advantage of Free Will more than once.

Check out the Free Will website here.
Check out the Free for All website here.

Gaze in wonder at visionary poet and artist William Blake’s spellbinding paintings inspired by the works of William Shakespeare

This week we’ve been celebrating the 28 November birthday of William Blake (1757-1827). Although perhaps best known for his poems and for writing the words to the hymn ‘Jerusalem’, Blake was also a visionary painter, one whose was often Shakespeare-inspired.
Here is Blake’s ‘Pity’ (1795), inspired by the evocative but mysterious line from Shakespeare’s Macbeth: “And pity, like a naked new-born babe, Striding the blast…”
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Blake also illustrated more conventional scenes from Shakespeare – although often with a supernatural dimension. Here’s his version of Hamlet encountering his father’s Ghost (1806).
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Brutus and the ghost of Julius Caesar is another haunting Shakespearean scene from Blake (1806).
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And here we have Richard III on the night before the Battle of Bosworth, assailed by the ghosts of his victims (circa 1806).
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Blake also painted Oberon, Titania, Puck and the other fairies from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in this beautiful and dreamlike tableau from 1786.
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And Blake even turned his supremely versatile hand to a portrait of Shakespeare himself (circa 1800).
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William Blake was a poet, painter, printer, visionary, mystic – and Shakespearean. Portrait by Thomas Phillips (1807).
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Thank you to Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust Education for showing us the link between two great English literary Williams – William Blake and William Shakespeare.

Find out about the William Blake Exhibition at the Ashmolean, Oxford.
Find out about the William Blake Exhibition at Tate Britain.
Fnd out about Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust Education.

An irreverent, pared-down and post-Apocalyptic take on Shakespeare’s The Tempest

Last month, director Sarah Redmond helmed an “edited, reinvented off-West End production of The Tempest” at London’s Waterloo East Theatre. It’s an experience she describes as an “incredible voyage of discovery with 14 terrific actors,” adding that: “I learnt so much about Shakespeare, editing and budgets!”

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Due to budget restrictions, Sarah decided to take out all of Prospero’s ‘mystical magic’ and replace it with a Derren Brown-influenced element of mind control. “Prospero has endured a lot,” she explains, “and when exploring the play I felt he would be dark and bitter.”
Achieving Sarah’s desired degree of darkness as Prospero was actor Tom Keller. “This approach definitely made him very much more ‘mortal’,” she says. “Our Prospero was grumpy, simmering and short tempered.”

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Despite its placing as the very first play in the First Folio, in which it opens the ‘Comedies’ section, The Tempest is rarely thought of as one of Shakespeare’s funniest works. “There are comedic scenes,” Sarah says, “but by removing the otherworldly magic, I definitely removed the expected lightness of the play.”
However, Sarah believes that her approach did allow comedy to flourish in unexpected places, “Especially in the lovers’ scenes.”

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The play’s actual comedic scenes (played by Matthew Harper, Lucy Harwood and Sy Thomas) also received a thorough editing from Sarah, “But the comedy beats exist,” she says, “and are very obviously placed. Losing a lot of the cultural references on one hand could be sacriligious. On the other hand, it does get to the point.”

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Sarah believes that her anti-purist production succeeded because ultimately she had trust in the play and in her casting. “I edited The Tempest down to an hour and a half,” she says. “It works. Tell the story and don’t wallow.”

Find out more about Sarah Redmond here.
Find out more about Waterloo East Theatre here.

Photography by Rob Youngston

All 10 episodes now available of web series inspired by Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing

Written and directed by Colleen Scriven, A Bit Much is a new web series based on Shakespeare’s classic comedy Much Ado About Nothing. “It takes the War of the Sexes out of 16th century Sicily,” Colleen explains, “and into the equally scenic and exotic Camp Messina in upstate New York.”
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Despite the updated script, costumes and characters, Colleen argues that the themes of the series strive to be the same as those of the play. “The characters - no longer lords and ladies, but campers and counsellors - still struggle with deception, love, friendship, jealousy and sex.”
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Colleen describes the series as being in a similar vein to popular Shakespeare modernisations such as She’s the Man and Ten Things I Hate About You. However, A Bit Much is the first adaptation of its kind to premiere as a web series. YA Bit Much4
Colleen herself co-stars in the series, as part of an all-student cast. You can find out more and watch all 10 episodes of A Bit Much here. (Contains strong language and adult themes)

Shakespeare Highlights 2014 – the Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project makes its debut

Elizabeth Ruelas has no hesitation in selecting her 2014 Shakespeare Highlight: “It’s the fact that my theatre company performed our first independent production this summer!”
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The company in question is the Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for which Elizabeth is Artistic Director.
And excitingly, it’s a company that specialises in performing plays using the First Folio unrehearsed cue script technique.
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Elizabeth describes debut production The Comedie of Errors as “a great success!” Now, along with husband Andy Kirtland, who is co-founder and Managing Director of the company, she is currently putting together their next show for the summer of 2015, Much Adoe About Nothing.

Find out more about the Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project here.

Dame Janet Suzman has learned some amazing things from 50 Years of Shakespeare – listen to the full audio here!

For Ben Spiller, Artistic Director of 1623 theatre company, the Shakespeare Highlight of 2014 is the evening he hosted with Dame Janet Suzman in September.

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“Dame Janet is one of the greatest Shakespeareans of our time,” Ben says. “She’s played nearly every female role in the canon, directed Othello with a multiracial cast in South Africa when apartheid was in force, run masterclasses at LAMDA and in prisons, edited Antony and Cleopatra, and written books on performing Shakespeare and the role of women in drama.”

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Ben describes Dame Janet as “one of the most inspirational people I have met” and he was delighted when she visited his home city of Derby to share her experiences with his Shakespeare Night regulars and newcomers.

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“It was a professional and personal highlight for me,” he says, “to share the stage with this incredible woman, whose intelligence, skill and humanity are second to none. As if things couldn’t get any better, her acceptance of the invitation to become 1623′s patron was a dream come true.”

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You can listen to the complete audio of the evening with Dame Janet here.
You can find out more about 1623 theatre company here.

Prepare to lighten your wallet and boost your brain… It’s the Shakespeare Magazine Beautiful Bard Books Roundup

Seeking Christmas gift inspiration? Why not treat a fellow Shakespeare fan (or yourself!) to one of these beautiful Bard-related books. All prices are RRP for UK editions, but if you shop around you may well nab some of these for less (especially in eBook formats).

Shakespeare for Grown-ups
Subtitled “Everything You Need To Know About The Bard”, SHAKESPEARE FOR GROWN-UPS by E. Foley and B. Coates is already a firm favourite in the Shakespeare Magazine office. It’s a fun, handy reference guide that will fit nicely on your shelf between Bill Bryson’s ‘Shakespeare’ and Ben Crystal’s ‘Shakespeare on Toast’. An eminently readable intro for anyone who wants to find out what Shakespeare’s all about, it’s also a great memory refresher for those returning to the Bard in later life (like the Editor of Shakespeare Magazine, for example).

Out now, priced £12.99 Buy ‘Shakespeare for Grown-Ups’ here.

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Opening with the vivid and ultimately heartbreaking reimagining of a medieval childbirth, JULIET’S NURSE by Lois Leveen sees US novelist Leveen give a poetic new voice to one of the most memorable supporting characters in all of Shakespeare, namely the Nurse from ‘Romeo & Juliet’. Watch out for an interview with Lois in the very next issue of Shakespeare Magazine. Meanwhile, you can read the opening chapter of ‘Juliet’s Nurse’ here.

Out now, priced £16.99 Buy ‘Juliet’s Nurse’ here.

Station Eleven
Post-apocalyptic science fiction conveyed via dreamlike prose with a Shakespearean soul, STATION ELEVEN by Emily St. John Mandel won instant acclaim and a National Book Awards nomination. Opening with a stage performance of ‘King Lear’ that eerily foreshadows the global tragedy to follow, this is definitely one of the year’s must-read novels.

Out now, priced £14.99 Buy ‘Station Eleven’ here.

Forensic Shakespeare
Firmly placed at the more academic end of the market, FORENSIC SHAKESPEARE by Quentin Skinner (no, the title doesn’t refer to Crime Scene Investigations) eloquently explores the idea that the Bard skilfully employed judicial rhetoric in the poem Lucrece and in some half-dozen of his most famous plays. A good one for Lawyers (obviously), Law students and anyone keen to sprinkle their dinner party conversation with some judiciously selected pearls of Shakespearean legalese.

Out now, priced £20 Buy ‘Forensic Shakespeare’ here.

R&J pulp cover Othello pulp cover
Underneath their cheekily mashed-up cover art, PULP! THE CLASSICS – OTHELLO and ROMEO & JULIET by William Shakespeare are readable, no-frills editions of two of the Bard’s Greatest Hits – and the perfect student stocking filler.

Out now, priced £6.99 Buy the Pulp! The Classics editions of ‘Romeo & Juliet’ and ‘Othello’ here.

PLUS! COMING IN 2015…

Cover Image - The Tutor
THE TUTOR by Andrea Chapin comes recommended by no less a Shakespeare authority than James Shapiro, who deems it “a terrific achievement [that] allows us a glimpse into the workings of Shakespeare’s mind and heart.” A wonderfully entertaining adventure set during the young Will Shakespeare’s infamous ‘Lost Years’, it should please fans of ‘Shardlake’ and ‘Shakespeare in Love’ alike.

Released 26 March 2015, priced £7.99 TBC Pre-order ‘The Tutor’ here.

Richmond Shakespeare Society promise unique Shakespeare performance ‘Love’s Fool’ at this year’s Richmond Literature Festival

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A unique commissioned Shakespeare performance will feature as part of this year’s Richmond Upon Thames Literature Festival.

The Richmond Shakespeare Society are performing ‘Love’s Fool’ on Saturday 15 November in the Grade 1 listed Octagon Room at Orleans House Gallery, Riverside, Twickenham TW1 3DJ.

A spokesperson says: “This is set to be a joyous celebration of the life of Shakespeare accompanied by Elizabethan music and song!”

Running from 2-29 November, the Festival has an eclectic line-up including esteemed actor Sheila Hancock, journalist Peter Snow, Dr Irving Finkel and much-loved British designer Emma Bridgewater. It is also hosting hugely popular and local author, Jacqueline Wilson as part of the children and young people’s programme.

You can get more information on the Richmond Literature Festival and book tickets for ‘RSS… Love’s Fool’ by clicking this link or follow on Twitter: @richmondlitfest

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