Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, Andrew Scott, Florence Pugh, Jim Broadbent and more… Meet the stellar cast of the BBC’s epic new television production of Shakespeare’s King Lear, directed by Richard Eyre

King Lear - Generics
In the fictional present, the 80 year-old King Lear divides his kingdom among his daughters, Goneril, Regan and Cordelia, according to their affection for him. Cordelia refuses to flatter him, so he banishes her. Having acquired power, Goneril and Regan expel their father from their homes. At the same time, Lear’s prime minister, Gloucester, is betrayed by his son Edmund and his other son, Edgar, is forced to go into hiding. Lear becomes mad, Gloucester is blinded – both the kingdom and the family descend into chaos and warfare.

KING LEAR (ANTHONY HOPKINS)
King Lear - Generics
King Lear is the totalitarian ruler of a dystopian contemporary England, whose addiction to power and suppression of emotions have skewed his view on reality. Coming to the end of both his reign and his life, Lear is confronting the rifts in his family and his kingdom which a lifetime of hubris and entitlement have caused.

GONERIL (EMMA THOMPSON)
King Lear - Generics
Goneril is the eldest of Lear’s daughters, married to the Duke of Albany. Emotionally starved by her father and raised to be as ruthless and unfeeling as he often is, Goneril is focussed on gaining the political power she feels she has earned – and will go to any lengths to get it. Her marriage is strained as she aggressively tries to usurp political power, and her husband is caught between loyalty to his wife and his duty to the King.

REGAN (EMILY WATSON)
King Lear - Generics
Regan is Lear’s middle daughter, married to the Duke of Cornwall. Where Goneril presents a veneer of being cold and aloof, Regan is more passionate and gratuitous in her cruelty. While allied on the surface, she and her sister have bitterly competed their entire lives for the affection of their father and continue to vie for both political power and the affections of Edmund. Her relationship with Cornwall is fuelled by a shared sadistic streak, but Regan is ultimately out for herself.

CORDELIA (FLORENCE PUGH)
King Lear - Generics
Cordelia is Lear’s youngest daughter. Kind, brave and honest – she is the antithesis of her sisters. Although Cordelia loves her father genuinely, she is not willing to exaggerate this love to secure her portion of the kingdom and is banished as a result. Despite this rift she continues to support Lear and demonstrates her strength and integrity as he slowly unravels.

EARL OF GLOUCESTER (JIM BROADBENT)
King Lear - Generics
The Earl of Gloucester is the Prime Minister and an influential member of Lear’s government. Accustomed to power and influence, he possesses an arrogance that leads to short-sightedness. Gloucester has two sons – Edgar and the illegitimate Edmund – and as with Lear, his undoing is triggered by misjudging and mistreating his children.

EDMUND (JOHN MACMILLAN)
King Lear - Generics
Edmund is the illegitimate son of Gloucester, who has been abroad for several years. Seething with resentment at his second-class status, Edmund seizes an opportunity to advance politically.

EDGAR (ANDREW SCOTT)
King Lear - Generics
A mild and trusting intellectual, Edgar is the son of the Earl of Gloucester and half-brother to Edmund. Honest but easily manipulated, he falls into the trap Edmund sets to disinherit him and has to flee society in order to stay alive. Edgar is forced to survive outside the comfortable world he knows, but as a result he discovers an inner resilience and shows immense grace when reuniting with his father in tragic circumstances.

EARL OF KENT (JIM CARTER)
King Lear - Generics
The Earl of Kent is a steadfast supporter of Lear, faithful to the king even after he is banished from the court for interceding on Cordelia’s behalf. Despite disagreeing with Lear’s choices, Kent takes up a disguise and follows the troubled monarch and attempts to protect him at any cost.

THE FOOL (KARL JOHNSON)
The Fool is Lear’s loyal companion and occupies the dual role of jester and advisor – one of the few people who, through riddles, can confront Lear with the truth. By his side until the end, the Fool’s title belies his insight and depth of character.

DUKE OF CORNWALL (TOBIAS MENZIES)
The Duke of Cornwall, Regan’s husband, is a sadistic and power-hungry man – cruel and motivated to further his political career at any cost. From his advantageous marriage to his behaviour in the aftermath of Lear’s division of the kingdom, the Duke acts with his own best interests at heart.

THE DUKE OF ALBANY (ANTHONY CALF)
The Duke of Albany is a direct contrast to his wife, Goneril, empathetic and conflicted as he gets caught up in her vendetta against her father. Morally grounded but struggling to exert a sound influence in the chaos created by Lear and his family, Albany must decide where his loyalties truly lie.

OSWALD (CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON)
Dedicated chief of staff in Goneril’s household, Oswald is a fastidious man devoted to his mistress and wholeheartedly supportive of her grievances against her father.

Adapted and directed by Richard Eyre, King Lear is broadcast on Bank Holiday Monday, 28 May at 9.30pm on BBC2.

Watch the trailer of King Lear here.

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

YOTMK signed
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

Yes, it’s here at last! The long-awaited Shakespeare Magazine Issue 13 has finally arrived – and world-renowned King Lear superstar Ian McKellen is our latest cover artist!

Issue 13 Cover
The great man talks about the challenges of playing King Lear, while Fiona Shaw explains Katherine from The Taming of the Shrew and Patrick Stewart discusses Shylock from The Merchant of Venice.

Also this issue, we look at the TV series that portrayed Shakespeare as a punk, and we delve into the sometimes horrific medical treatments of Shakespeare’s day.

Graham Holderness tells us about The Faith of William Shakespeare, while Jem Bloomfield investigates Shakespeare and the Psalms Mystery.

We also have excellent interviews with Sam White of Shakespeare in Detroit and Mya Gosling of Good Tickle Brain.

Not forgetting our round-up of recent Shakespeare Books and our essential guide to Studying Shakespeare!

Actor Norman Bowman has performed alongside Jude Law in Henry V, played Ross in Kenneth Branagh’s Macbeth and, most recently, was the eye-gouging Duke of Cornwall in Talawa Theatre’s King Lear… That’s why we’re asking him Six Questions about Shakespeare

What is the most recent play or area of Shakespeare you’ve worked on, and what did you get from it?

“The last area of Shakespeare was King Lear which was a year ago now. As a quick diversion, as I’ve got so much time off in my show, [Norman is playing Pat Denning in the West End musical 42nd Street] I’ve been  refreshing my memory of some of the monologues I’ve learnt over the years. I have to go up and down the stairs just to make a quick change and go back on stage and it’s so monotonous, so I’m going back over all those monologues. Just on the stairs, mind you, not on stage! On the stage I’m focused – I’m Pat Denning, America, 1930s. It’s because I miss it. It has been a year and, certainly with Shakespeare, you never want to stop learning because there’s so much to unearth.

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Photo: Faye Thomas

“When I finish, I’m almost slightly relieved because it does take a lot out of you. These jobs are three months at a time, they’re arduous, you know. They’re like triathlons! The last role I played wasn’t a nice guy [The Duke of Cornwall in King Lear], but I love it, it’s great. I love the antithesis. He died an hour before the end of the piece, so I did get big breaks, but what you do is measure your energy appropriately – if you have got an hour off towards the end, it doesn’t make what you do any less dense, or full on. It was a great one to be able to do. I never thought I’d do Lear as a play, and you’re watching other actors thinking ‘It would be good to have a go at that one as well, and that one…!’

“On a personal level, I’m always surprised to get employed when it comes to Shakespeare, but that’s the same as musical theatre. You do it because you love it. You don’t necessarily believe you’re going to be great at it, but it’s your passion that gets you through.”

What have you learned about Shakespeare that would have surprised your younger self?

“Crikey, everything! My younger self didn’t quite comprehend it. I keep saying to people ‘Those who have had bad experiences of it need a refresher, but you need it with somebody who works well for you’. It’s a bit like singing teachers – you can get through three or four before you find one that you feel good about. At school, I had a decent experience in English, but some tastes arrive later in your life. You might have hated asparagus when you were young, and then all of a sudden you grow up and acquire a taste for it. I don’t know what that difference is, whether it’s something that develops or about finding the right asparagus!

Norman Bowman (Ross) in Macbeth at Manchester International Festival. Photo by Johan Persson. sml
Photo: Johan Persson

“Until I got to college, I saw Shakespeare as like another language. I don’t think it’s essential, but I don’t think it’s an accident that a lot of academics ‘get’ Shakespeare. If you look back at your classic actors, like McKellen and Dench, they come across as supremely intellectual. Perhaps they were like that before the discovered Shakespeare, but I believe Shakespeare does that to you. I think it does absolutely enhance the grey matter. It makes you more knowledgeable and intelligent an actor. It’s like opera – once you get to the basics and understand the function, and how much it can do for you, I think the world is your oyster.”

Which Shakespearean character most resembles you, and why?

“Oh, boy! Do I know enough Shakespeare to even draw a parallel? See, this is it, this is why Shakespeare works – because there’s an element of everybody in everyone. It’s all human condition. It’s all because you can sit there as a person and absolutely relate to that character’s journey. If Shakespeare is done properly then that should be the case. I could easily relate to a little bit of Othello, I could easily relate to a little bit of Hamlet. When I’m older, no doubt I’ll be able to relate to Lear. It’s almost like the seven stages of man – you could pretty much find a character for everyone.

“Erm, Benedict from Much Ado About Nothing is a little bit more like me. It’s the gymnastics of relationships. It’s wanting to understand them and then not understanding them, and then getting them and not getting them! Also, that inability to truly communicate how you feel with somebody. Actually, I’m not sure I am that much like Benedict! If anything, when I was younger I’d probably be more like a Romeo with that wide-eyed wonder that comes with meeting somebody and everything else just fading into grey. Like I said, though, my knowledge of Shakespeare still isn’t extensive enough for me to make a truly informed decision with one character only.”

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Photo: Jonathan Keenan

If I ask you to give me a Shakespeare quotation what’s the first thing that comes to mind?

“I guess it’s ‘To thine own self be true’. There’s a poem called Desiderata, and the bulk of it points to this. You know, mindfulness is about this, meditation is about this. A lot of anything we relate to is about those words because it’s about how we feel. Too often, we step outside of ourselves and say what we think somebody wants us to say, or feign affection or whatever. If we could just be ourselves more often…”

What is your favourite Shakespeare related fact, myth story or anecdote?

“Have you read Shakespeare on Toast? [By Ben Crystal] It’s a bit like Shakespeare for Dummies, but it’s a bit more anecdotal. It’s full of stuff. For example, during the American Civil War, a soldier watching a performance of Othello was so taken in by the actor playing the dishonest Iago that he stood up from his seat, drew his pistol and shot the actor dead! I’m pretty sure I’ve read that happened back in Shakespeare’s time as well, because the audience was drawn in so much. Not because they were simple or anything, but because they allowed themselves to disappear into the performance a lot more that they felt so involved.

“The other one is the superstition that you ought not to utter ‘The Scottish Play’ [Macbeth]. If it’s to be taken as truth, it’s that you’re dooming your production to failure and, if so, in the olden days they would then put on a production of ‘The Scottish Play’, it was a guaranteed sell-out. I mean, I’ve said it in Drury Lane and, so far, we’re still running, but I couldn’t see them putting on ‘The Scottish Play’ instead of 42nd Street!”

You have the power to cast anyone in the world, actor or otherwise, to play any Shakespearean character. Who do you choose, and what role do they play?

“Gosh, I’ve seen Jacobi do Lear, which I thought was incredible. I’ve seen Branagh do Macbeth, which I thought was incredible – to be that close and watch it was amazing. Jude Law doing Henry V, come on, I’ve seen so many good ones it’s so hard to come up with a new one! I’ve seen Ralph Fiennes do Coriolanus. When the day comes for him to do Lear I would love to see that, but that doesn’t feel particularly imaginative!”

“Shakespeare loves women of colour…” We find out what Dr Farah Karim-Cooper of Shakespeare’s Globe has been working on – and learn about Shakespeare’s “alternative discourse of beauty”

Farah 2
Photos by Bronwen Sharp

Which play or area of Shakespeare are you working on right now – and what are you getting from it?
I’m editing a book called Titus Andronicus: The State of Play, published by Arden – it’s a collection of essays examining what scholars are saying in 2017 about this important play. I have also just started researching a book about Shakespeare, Death and Spectatorship. I have not got an angle other than my interest in what happens to and within the spectator when they see someone die/killed. Either on stage or in reality.”

What have you learned about Shakespeare that would have surprised your younger self?
I have learned that he loves women of colour… which appeals to a Pakistani-American lady like myself! His dark lady sonnets (I’m oversimplifying) reveal an excitement at alternative beauty, the arguments for darker beauty in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Love’s Labour’s Lost suggest that he was engaging in what the terrific scholar Kim F. Hall has described as an alternative discourse of beauty – beauty that is brown, black or just not white. P.S. read Hall’s classic Things Of Darkness: Economies of Race and Gender in Early Modern England.”

Which Shakespeare character most resembles you?
Um… see my answer to Question 2! But seriously, I am not sure. I think I have a lot of Shrew‘s Katherina in me – feisty and with very high standards!”

Farah 1
If I ask you to give me a Shakespeare quotation, which is the first one that comes to mind?
‘Meantime we shall express our darker purpose.’ – King Lear.”

What’s your favourite Shakespeare-related fact, myth, story or anecdote?
I think my favourite Shakespeare-related fact/anecdote/myth is the one about the dismantling of The Theatre in order to move the timbers across the river and build the Globe. There’s a lot of myth surrounding that story, which makes little sense given there is a great deal of surviving record about it, but I like how the story has been compressed from a couple of major events – i.e. dismantling one playhouse and building another more glorious – taking place over months to something that happened overnight.

“I love the idea of this fantasy – that one morning, the Globe magically appeared on Bankside and that Shakespeare might have played a part in this. It is a wonderful story, as myth-laden as it is. I think an excellent research project would be to build an oak-framed theatre and see how long it takes to dismantle it! I know Peter McCurdy (of McCurdy & Co who built the Globe and Sam Wanamaker Playhouse) would like to try this!”

You have the power to cast anyone in the world (actor or otherwise) to play any Shakespearean character. Who do you choose – and which role do they play?
I want to see Adrian Lester play Hamlet. He’s one of my favourite Shakespearean actors and Hamlet is my favourite role. It would be unbelievable.”

Dr Farah Karim-Cooper is Head of Higher Education and Research, Globe Education.
Read our interview with Farah in Shakespeare Magazine 10

We met with scholar, author and poet Paul Edmondson for a delightful catch-up chat in Stratford-upon-Avon during the recent celebrations for Shakespeare’s birthday

Paul Edmondson

Paul Edmondson

 
Which play or area of Shakespeare are you working on right now? And what are you getting from it?
“This week I’ve spent a lot of time in New Place garden with the sculptor Greg Wyatt who’s produced those lovely sculptures inspired by Shakespeare’s plays which are installed there. I’ve spent a lot of time – and I’m doing it again this evening with a special group of VIPs – looking at Greg’s sculptures with Greg. It’s about me talking about how he made the sculptures, but then reflecting on them as responses to Shakespeare’s works. So, this week I’ve been very much in my head with The Tempest, Julius Caesar, King Lear, The Winter’s Tale, Henry IV Parts One and Two, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Hamlet! Those are the eight sculptures.

“One of the great things about them is that they work on you like a Shakespeare play, each sculpture, because they draw you in and the more you look at them, the more you notice – details, a face emerging, a hand. They’re a great highlight for visitors. In fact, only two days ago when I was there I saw a young father with his five-month-old son, reading him the script  – all of them have got quotations from the relevant plays – from Julius Caesar, as if somehow this was having a positive impact on this five-month-old son. I took his photograph and asked if I could use it and he said yes, feel free to use it. It was most touching, because when I look at people interacting with these sculptures inspired by the plays, I know of no other sculpture like them in the world.

“I mean, I can think of sculptures inspired by individual characters and Shakespeare himself, but not in a response to an entire play – it’s more like a painting. People reach out and touch them, and Greg said this is the highest compliment a sculptor can have, that you somehow want to become the work and reach out and touch it. This five-month-old baby was doing precisely that – it was reaching out to want to touch Julius Caesar!”

What have you learned about Shakespeare that would have surprised your younger self?
“This isn’t recently, but I think I would have been surprised about how many books he used to write the plays. I’d have been delighted to know that as a younger self – the bookishness of Shakespeare’s intellect, his sense of study before putting quill to paper. Each play was a significant research project, he wasn’t just dashing these off. Although, of course, they were written at different speeds for different occasions. So, I think that would have been something I’ve learnt since my younger self that I would have been pleased to have known.”

Which Shakespeare character most resembles you?
“Robin Goodfellow in a Midsummer Night’s Dream. I’m not going to expand on that one!”

If I asked you to give mne a Shakespeare quotation, which is the first one that comes to your mind?
“‘If this be magic, let it be an art lawful as eating’ which is The Winter’s Tale as Hermione’s sculpture is coming to take her long lost husband by the hand. That’s in my head because of the sculpture in New Place. I remember the novelist Salley Vickers said to me that was her favourite line in Shakespeare and that’s resonated with me.”

What is your favourite Shakespeare myth?
“My favourite Shakespeare myth is the deer poaching story from nearby Charlecote. I think there’s more than a grain of truth in that myth. It rings true to me, but it does have the status of myth.”

You have the power to cast anyone (actor or otherwise) to play any Shakespearean character. Who do you choose – and which role do they play?
“I would like to see Sir Stanley Wells play Hamlet. Although he wouldn’t want to do this, in my imagination that would embody Stanley’s pre-eminence in Shakespeare studies. Hamlet is the greatest role in Shakespeare, therefore let’s have the greatest Shakespearean of our own times play him. If I was thinking about an actor, I’d like to Shakespeare himself perform Hamlet. Can you imagine? Apparently, he never did because it was written for Richard Burbage, but it would be great to Shakespeare himself play a role in one of his plays. You’ve got those two outlandish bookends, as it were, but I would also like to see Kenneth Branagh play all the other parts he is qualified to play, but hasn’t!”

Paul will be appearing at the Stratford-upon-Avon Poetry Festival, which runs from 18-25 June. Go here for information and tickets.

“I’d like to see Barack Obama play Brutus in Julius Caesar…” Shakespeare Magazine meets Dr Erin Sullivan of the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon

Dr Erin Sullivan of The Shakespeare Institute

Dr Erin Sullivan of The Shakespeare Institute

 
Which play or area of Shakespeare are you working on right now – and what are you getting from it?
ERIN SULLIVAN: “Right now I’m working on Shakespeare and digital technology, so my focus is on how technology is influencing or shaping the performance of Shakespeare today. Some of that has to do with the development of live broadcasting, online streaming, or where people might see a production through a screen digitally. Some of it is where directors are using digital technology on stage, live video on stage or a TV screen maybe to show a 24-hour news cycle alongside a Roman play or something like that.

“Then the last area of it is looking at directors or artists that are thinking about whether it’s possible to take performance fully into the digital sphere – for instance, stage a play using social media on Twitter or Instagram, or use that in a hybrid way with production.

Andrew Scott as Hamlet at the Almeida Theatre

Andrew Scott as Hamlet at the Almeida Theatre

 
“What am I getting from it? Lots! It’s really fun because it means getting to go and see lots of different things. There’s lots of things I’ve been to, thinking it’s not for my project – and then a screen appears and I start rifling through my bag for a notebook! I think, in general, I’m really interested in how people take hold of Shakespeare, what people of different generations have found exciting or emotionally engaging about his plays. Technology has really proliferated and become such an important part of our lives in the last 20 years. That’s one of the biggest changes I’ve seen in my own life, so I think that’s why I was drawn to it.

“A lot of what I’m looking at is still big theatre companies like the RSC or the National Theatre and sometimes slightly smaller ones like the Almeida, but it has also opened up a whole world of what you might call ‘grassroots Shakespeare’ – amateur versus professional. A lot of people are doing Shakespeare themselves in lots of ways and using things like Twitter to explore a character or look at the text in a new way.”

What have you learned about Shakespeare that would have surprised your younger self?
“Gosh, there must be many things. I know for certain when I first came here to do my MA, the thing that surprised me most was, in some ways, that I didn’t know anything about the different versions of different plays. So, the idea that for Hamlet there were three different printings of the play either during Shakespeare’s time or shortly after his death, and that there are some significant differences between those printings – the same with King Lear – that’s something that I remember really blew my mind when I first got here.

Quarto edition of King Lear, 1608

Quarto edition of King Lear, 1608

 
“It’s interesting that in a play like King Lear there can be one line and different versions of that line that actors or scholars can choose from, because although the shape of the play itself is still pretty much the same, there are a lot of moments when you can pick your favourite version. There’s a bit more scope for playing with the text or reinventing it at times that we might not expect. It seems a long time ago, when I came to study, but that’s the thing that surprised me the most.”

Which Shakespeare character most resembles you?
“There’s lots of ones in different moments that I identify with – Brutus with his pensive deliberateness or Falstaff and his fun, but I think the one that first came to mind was Rosalind (As You Like It). In the way of, hopefully, her vivaciousness, her determination to get things her way, but in a good sense! Really going after what she wants, really embracing love and friendship, and that being an important part of their life. That’s maybe one that I would aspire to be like, I should say, as opposed to saying that’s me.”

Rosalind (As You Like It)

Rosalind (As You Like It)

 
If I asked you to give me a Shakespeare quotation, which is the first one that comes to your mind?
“Definitely something from Hamlet, and all the speeches came to mind. I remember one quote that always really struck me when I was younger studying was Hamlet saying ‘there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so’. I thought that was so true. There’s so much black and white truth, but then so much of it is also about the way that we take a certain idea and make it mean something for us. Also, at the darker ends of things, people can really twist things back and forth. So, yes, that was the first one that came to mind.”

What is your favourite Shakespeare myth?
“I like the one about Shakespeare poaching deer at Charlecote. I think just because it makes him seem like kind of a lovable rogue! I guess it’s a Falstaffian or Eastcheap sort of side in that it’s not really that bad of a thing to do, but a bit naughty and a bit funny. Also it very much locates him here in, not in Stratford itself, but out here in the Warwickshire area. Just trying to think about what he would have been like and what he would have got up to.”

You have the power to cast anyone (actor or otherwise) to play any Shakespearean character. Who do you choose – and which role do they play?
“Gosh, there’s so many good ones! I know who I want to cast, but let me think about who I want them to play… Okay, so I’d like to see Barack Obama as Brutus in Julius Caesar. I thought Henry V might be quite nice too, but now that he’s sidelined from power a little, I’d like to see him play that very pensive, thoughtful, would-be politician and see what he makes of it. I think he’d be really good, too! I think he’s very intelligent and quite cerebral, but also funny.”

President Obama with actor Leonardo DiCaprio

President Obama with actor Leonardo DiCaprio

 
“I think he’d be a good Henry V too because he can be fiery and rousing and, I think, he’s got such a nice sense of humour and I think that nice act at the end of Henry V with the wooing of Catherine, I think he’d be pretty good in. Maybe if I could have the two shows in rep, I’d have him doing both! That would be my ideal.”

For more on Dr Erin Sullivan, visit her blog, Digital Shakespeares.

Sun, sand, sea and Shakespeare make for a winning combination in Sydney for Bard on the Beach Australia

Titania (Jillian Russ) in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Balmoral Beach, 2015.

Titania (Jillian Russ) in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Balmoral Beach, 2015.

A trip to the beach is not something generally associated with Shakespeare. In Sydney, however, the combination of a balmy summer’s evening, waves lapping the shore and champagne corks popping is the soundscape of Bard On The Beach Australia.

Puck (Adam Garden) in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Balmoral Beach, 2015.

Puck (Adam Garden) in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Balmoral Beach, 2015.

Bard on the Beach is now in its sixth year, with the Balmoral band rotunda on Sydney’s north shore as its home.

Petruchio (Dan Bunton)  and Katharina (Jillian Russ) in The Taming of The Shrew, Balmoral Beach, 2014.

Petruchio (Dan Bunton) and Katharina (Jillian Russ) in The Taming of The Shrew, Balmoral Beach, 2014.

“And in the years that have followed since our creation,” says Artistic Director Patricia Rowling, “we have expanded to Avalon Beach, Watsons Bay and Marrickville.”

Lady Macbeth (Patricia Rowling) and macbeth (Kyle Rowling) in The Tragedy of Macbeth, Balmoral Beach, 2012.

Lady Macbeth (Patricia Rowling) and Macbeth (Kyle Rowling) in The Tragedy of Macbeth, Balmoral Beach, 2012.

The company also runs educational tours to schools and community groups up and down the east coast of Australia.

Lear (Jim Gosden) in The Tragedy of King Lear, 2014, Balmoral Beach.

Lear (Jim Gosden) in The Tragedy of King Lear, 2014, Balmoral Beach.

In 2016, the season brought Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead in rep to thousands of spectators.

Poor Tom (Chenier Moore) and Gloucester (Steven Menteith) in The Tragedy of King Lear, 2014, Balmoral Beach.

Poor Tom (Chenier Moore) and Gloucester (Steven Menteith) in The Tragedy of King Lear, 2014, Balmoral Beach.

The company also presented an in-theatre performance of The Merchant of Venice for schools and general audiences, along with an educational tour of Macbeth.

Poor Tom (Chenier Moore) and Lear (Jim Gosden) in The Tragedy of King Lear, 2014, Balmoral Beach.

Poor Tom (Chenier Moore) and Lear (Jim Gosden) in The Tragedy of King Lear, 2014, Balmoral Beach.

So what can audiences expect in 2017?

“The costume sketches are being drawn, the council applications are in, and the auditions are done,” says Patricia. “Romeo and Juliet and The Merry Wives of Windsor will charm audiences all over Sydney and beyond…”

Go here to find out all about Bard on the Beach Australia.

Last month, stage veteran Timothy West played a King Lear at the mercy of powerful women in Bristol Old Vic’s production of Shakespeare’s most brutal tragedy

Bristol Old Vic photographs by Simon Annand and Jack Offord

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A new chapter for the Bristol Old Vic theatre has begun as it opens up its back stage spaces to house a temporary bar and box office, whilst the front of house and studio theatre undergo extensive renovations. The audience is now invited into the building near the stage door, and already it feels like a more cutting-edge and urban theatre, in line with its exciting programming.

To begin this phase in the theatre’s history Tom Morris has directed a new production of King Lear using a cast of past and present students of the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. The majority of parts are taken by current students, sometimes two per part with alternate performances using different actors in the same role.

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Alongside them are three established British actors, all ex-students of the school – Timothy West plays Lear, Stephanie Cole is the Fool, and David Hargreaves is Gloucester.

It’s a brutal and moving telling of the story, and whilst there is no shying away from the physical and emotional violence that runs through the play, this King finds much comfort in the tender friendship with his gentle, fond and probing Fool. The unusual choice to cast a woman in this role – and one seemingly close to Lear’s own age – as well as the presence of a female doctor with him for much of the play, works brilliantly.

He is often a solitary male figure surrounded by women who seem to control and direct his life.

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Watching the three experienced performers alongside so many at the beginning of their careers makes the inter-generational conflict in the play all the more acute. And despite his power and command as an actor, once the storm hits there is something extremely moving about seeing an 81-year-old Timothy West playing a King who braves the extreme elements.

There is a sense of true danger as a man who really could be destroyed by the forces of nature is intent on defying them and steps out into the wilderness.

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In the secondary story, the care and love shown to Gloucester by his son Edgar shines in the beautifully-played scene when the loyal son guides his blinded father to an imaginary cliff to jump from. This is in stark contrast to the scheming plans of Edmund, which he shares unashamedly with the audience.

This is a production which really does find its drama in the relationships between children and their parents. The driven, fiery and focussed needs of the young generation contrast with the high-status but powerless state of the older characters.

Anna Orton’s set cracks and crumbles as Lear’s world falls apart and the conflict in his family and country deepens. This leaves the huge upstage area exposed for the second half of the play, making both Lear and Gloucester’s journeys feel more dangerous as their vulnerable figures are set against the vast area.

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The production makes good use of the theatre’s original sounds effects, with the large wooden drums of the wind wheel and rain machine manually turned to accompany the storm in full view of the audience. Acapella singing from the company becomes hypnotic and threatening as the tragic end draws near.

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Amongst all the demolition and architects’ plans in this fast developing and historic theatre (it’s just celebrated its 250th birthday), time stands still for this powerful telling of King Lear’s demise.

Something unique and important happens on a very human and intimate level in the auditorium – between the actors, between the actors and the audience, and between members of the audience too. The standing ovation for this excellent cast and creative team was well deserved.