Dealing with one of Shakespeare’s most famously punishing roles, Year of the Mad King is the latest highly-readable and revealing volume of Antony Sher’s behind-the-scenes diaries

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Published in 2015, Antony Sher’s Year of the Fat Knight recounted his journey of transformation in bringing Shakespeare’s Falstaff to the stage with the Royal Shakespeare Company. The book was a sequel of sorts to Year of the King, which chronicled the actor’s landmark 1980s Richard III. And now there’s a third volume, Year of the Mad King – and I’m sure you can guess which role this one tackles.

From a Shakespearean point of view, these books are a great read for several reasons. They explore the challenges facing a top-level Shakespeare actor, they take us behind the scenes of a major RSC production, and they share numerous insights into Shakespeare’s texts – some of which have a startling force of revelation. Sher is an engaging narrator, and it certainly feels as though he’s being truthful – painfully so, in fact – with his readers.

The contradictions in his character and status make for an interesting view on things. He’s a celebrated actor, who constantly worries if he’s good enough. He’s famous, but not a celebrity. He’s a knight of the realm, but at times (such as when trying to fix some problems in a Chinese dressing room), he feels virtually powerless. And although Sher is known for playing big characters, there’s also something of an everyman quality to him. He certainly seems to have an instinctive understanding of the kind of details we in the audience would find interesting.

As he takes on the monumental role of King Lear, Sher is in his mid-sixties and coping with a series of family bereavements, a seriously injured arm and a (possibly psychosomatic) deafness that he refers to as ‘Lear’s Ear’. Fighting in his corner, he has his life partner Gregory Doran (who is, of course, the RSC’s erudite and ebullient Artistic Director), a loving circle of colleagues, friends and extended family, and his own lifetime’s worth of acting experience.

Like Sher’s previous volumes, Year of the Mad King is highly readable, full of fascinating Shakespearean insight and detail, and impressively illustrated with the author’s own paintings and sketches.

Year of the Mad King is available from Nick Hern Books, priced £16.99

Just in time for Christmas, the exciting new online subscription platform from Digital Theatre features plenty of top-notch Shakespeare productions – and we are offering one lucky Shakespeare Magazine reader a month’s free subscription!

Good news for Shakespeare lovers who aren’t always able to get to the most prestigious productions in London and Stratford-upon-Avon. Digital Theatre (DT) has announced the launch of an online subscription platform to bring the best of live theatre, ballet, opera and classical concerts, to our own screens. Performances can be streamed anytime, anywhere, to any device – and the service is available now.

The Tempest 2 - production images Topher McGrillis © Royal Shakespeare Company
Subscribers will have access to over 65 productions, the majority of which are exclusive to DT, including: Simon Russell Beale in The Tempest, Paapa Essiedu in Hamlet, and Antony Sher in King Lear, all from the Royal Shakespeare Company; Zoë Wanamaker and David Suchet in All My Sons; Richard Armitage in The Crucible; David Tennant and Catherine Tate in Much Ado About Nothing; operas and ballets from the Royal Opera House and the English National Ballet; and concerts conducted by Sir Simon Rattle and starring the London Symphony Orchestra.

Richard II 1 - production images Kwame Lestrade © Royal Shakespeare Compan
“Britain’s performing arts are world-renowned for their outstanding breadth, quality and diversity,” says DT’s founder, the director and producer Robert Delamere. “This was the inspiration behind the launch of the world’s first online performing arts platform. Digital Theatre collaborates with world-class producing houses to capture and curate their shows and stream them to the consumer in broadcast quality. Up close and personal, for a best-seat-in-the-house viewing experience.”

For £9.99 per month, subscribers get unlimited access to all Digital Theatre’s current and future productions. For non-subscribers, each production is available to rent online for 48 hours, at a price of £7.99.

Henry V 1 - production images Keith Pattison © Royal Shakespeare Company
“Our mission is to make the performing arts accessible to all,” says Justin Cooke, Chairman of Digital Theatre, “irrespective of social, economic or geographic circumstances. The power of digital is providing people, who might not otherwise have the opportunity, with access to fantastic performances, at a fraction of the cost of a typical ticket. We’re broadening access to these phenomenal productions, and preserving their impact for years to come. We aim to bring the drama and emotion of each live performance to the comfort of your home. And for me, this isn’t a replacement for live theatre – it’s a new art form altogether.”

DT will continue to add high-profile shows to its platform, including six new DT captures (two of which are in post-production), and a further 50+ curated productions from some of the world’s leading producers, all scheduled for release over the next six months.

Henry IV Part 1 - production images Kwame Lestrade © Royal Shakespeare Company
Digital Theatre also has an educational arm called Digital Theatre+ which provides more than 1,150 schools, colleges and universities, and three million students, in 65 countries, with access to 795 hours of curriculum-linked, audio-visual content, and 8,150 pages of bespoke written resources. Digital Theatre+ was the recent winner of the Best Online/Live Streaming Platform Award at the Theatre and Technology Awards 2017.

Go here to sign up to Digital Theatre now.

COMPETITION TIME!

For a chance of winning one month’s free subscription to Digital Theatre, simply send us an email at shakespearemag@outlook.com and answer this question:

Who is on the cover of the latest issue of Shakespeare Magazine?

(In case you need some help, go here for a clue)

This competition is open to all our readers, everywhere in the world. The closing date is Friday 22 December 2017, and a winner will be picked after that date.

King Lear - production images © Royal Shakespeare Company
All the current Shakespeare productions available on Digital Theatre:

As You Like It (both The Courtyard Theatre & Shakespeare’s Globe productions)
Berlioz: Roméo et Juliette
Comedy of Errors
Hamlet (Maxine Peake)
King Lear
Love’s Labour’s Lost
Lovesong
Macbeth
Much Ado About Nothing
Romeo and Juliet

From 11 December, the following productions from the Royal Shakespeare Company will be added to DT:

Cymbeline
King Lear
Hamlet
Henry IV, Part 1
Henry IV, Part 2
Henry V
Love’s Labour’s Lost
Love’s Labour’s Won
Merchant of Venice
Othello
Richard II
Tempest
Two Gentlemen of Verona

The Royal Shakespeare Company’s Gregory Doran completes his ambitious ‘King and Country’ tetralogy with rising star Alex Hassell in the title role of Henry V

[Images by Keith Pattison for the RSC]

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With the 600th anniversary of Agincourt on 25 October, Doran’s production of Henry V at Stratford-upon-Avon’s Royal Shakespeare Theatre is a standout tribute to both Shakespeare and the battle that helped define British history.

Returning to the role he so effortlessly made his own (opposite Antony Sher’s Falstaff) in Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, Alex Hassell is undoubtedly the star of the show.

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By the time he’s reciting the legendary St Crispin’s Day speech, Hassell deploys Shakespeare’s words so powerfully that the audience is ready to leap up and follow him into battle.

Hassell also brings some comedy to role of the English king who has left his notoriously misspent youth behind him.

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A particular highlight is the meeting of Henry and the French princess, Katherine, played by Jennifer Kirby. Hassell plays the scene as a Hugh Grant-type character as he petitions his prospective wife to love him whilst overcoming a language barrier.

Alex Hassell is definitely an actor to keep a close eye on as he progresses through his Shakespearean career.

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Other performances that stand out include Oliver Ford Davies as the cardigan-wearing Chorus, Antony Byrne as the fiery Pistol and Jane Lapotaire as Queen Isobel.

Despite Lapotaire only appearing in Act V, her presence is spellbinding and it’s a pleasure to witness her commanding the stage.

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The entire production was captivating from start to finish, and certainly a strong ending to the RSC’s run of history plays over the last couple of years.

Henry V will transfer to London’s Barbican Theatre in November before moving the New York in April 2016.

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Go here to book tickets for Henry V at the Barbican.

Issue 07 of Shakespeare Magazine is out now, celebrating 425 years of Great Shakespeare Actors

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Kenneth Branagh is cover star of Shakespeare Magazine 07, in keeping with the issue’s theme of Great Shakespeare Actors.

The venerable Stanley Wells discusses his new book on the subject, handily titled Great Shakespeare Actors, while Antony Sher reveals what it’s like to play Falstaff – the subject of his own new book Year of the Fat Knight.

We also go behind the scenes of the excellent My Shakespeare TV series, while British actress Zoe Waites chats about heading to the USA to play As You Like It’s Rosalind with Washington DC’s Shakespeare Theatre Company.

Other highlights include Shakespeare in Turkey, Shakespeare Opera, and the real story of Shakespeare and the Essex Plot.

All this, and the Russian fans who made their own edition of David Tennant’s Richard II

Go here to read Shakespeare Magazine 07 right now.

And don’t forget, you can read all seven issues of Shakespeare Magazine here.

As always, Shakespeare Magazine is completely FREE.

Final Reminder! Today, Eminent Shakespeareans Sir Antony Sher and Professor Stanley Wells feature in National Theatre Platforms

Today, Wednesday 6 May, sees two Shakespeare-themed events in London from National Theatre Platforms.

Antony Sher
Dorfman Theatre, Wednesday 6 May, 2.30pm (1 hour) + Book Signing, £4/£3
The distinguished Shakespearean actor talks to Sue MacGregor about Year of the Fat Knight, his warm, witty and entertaining book about his experience of playing Falstaff.

Book tickets for Sir Antony Sher here.

Antony Sher as Falstaff by Kwame Lestrade

Stanley Wells
Dorfman Theatre, Wednesday 6 May, 6pm (45 minutes) + Book Signing, £4/£3
Stanley Wells offers a wonderfully readable actor-centred history of theatrical performance in Great Shakespeare Actors, examining their most notable performances in the key roles. Chaired by Sue MacGregor.

Book tickets for Professor Stanley Wells here
.

Stanley Wells by Christoph Mueller

An eclectic programme of talks, discussions and interviews, National Theatre Platforms offer the chance to learn more about the National’s work and the arts in general.

Both Sir Antony Sher and Professor Stanley Wells have been interviewed for the next issue of Shakespeare Magazine, coming soon.