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”

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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!”

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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.

BBC School Radio launches ‘Shakespeare Retold’ adaptations of the Bard’s plays for primary schools

BBC School Radio, part of BBC Learning’s online service for schools, has launched ‘Shakespeare Retold’ – a series of retellings of ten of Shakespeare’s most famous plays – specially adapted for modern primary school audiences.

Available to download from the BBC website, the stories have been written by leading children’s authors such as Frank Cottrell Boyce, Pamela Butchart and Jamila Gavin, and readers include Simon Callow, Shirley Henderson and Julian Rhind-Tutt.

king_lear
King Lear

The retellings range from the irreverent silliness of Andy Stanton’s King Lear (who wears a ceremonial nose and eats a lot of pineapple) to the touching poignancy of Horatio Claire’s Hamlet Lives Forever, which sees Shakespeare telling the story of the doomed Prince of Denmark to the ghost of his late son Hamnet.

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Hamlet Lives Forever

They also include Pamela Butchart’s Macdeath, in which Shakespeare’s bloodiest tragedy is recounted by a young schoolgirl to her horrified class and teacher (and in which we learn that Lady Macbeth has a habit of pinching crisps from the other children on the playground!).

Macdeath (1)
Macdeath

In The Isle Of Noises, sailor Ned Blood helps out Mr. Shakespeare with the special effects for the Bard’s first production of The Tempest at the Blackfriars Indoor Playhouse, giving children a historical insight into the era’s theatre and stagecraft.

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The Isle of Noises

Each episode is 15 minutes long, and is accompanied by an audio interview with the author and a full set of downloadable teachers’ notes, giving ideas on how each play could be used in class.

“These stories should ensure that a new generation of Shakespeare fans are inspired by his incredible stories on the 400th anniversary of his death,” says Lisa Percy of BBC Learning.

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Henry V

Stuart Rathe, who wrote the teachers’ notes for the series, adds, “Primary School children love exciting stories, and these retellings are so much fun. They are a great way to celebrate both Shakespeare Week and as part of a wider whole school celebration of Shakespeare’s legacy in this very special year.”

BBC School Radio’s Shakespeare Retold has just been launched. Go here to access the broadcasts, downloads and teachers’ notes.

Shakespeare Week runs from 14-20 March. Go here to find out about Shakespeare Week.

Canada’s literary superstar Margaret Atwood reveals the title and cover art of her upcoming Shakespeare-inspired novel

Distinguished Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood has unveiled the evocative and Shakespearean title – Hag-Seed – of her new novel to her one million followers on Twitter.

Atwood’s Tweets also tease Hag-Seed’s striking cover art – which seems to depict the watchful eye of Caliban from Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

Hag-Seed is published in the UK by Hogarth on Thursday 6 October, 2016. The novel will publish simultaneously across the English-speaking world in print, digital and audio formats.

Hag-Seed UK Front
Hag-Seed
is a retelling of Shakespeare’s late play The Tempest, and is the fourth novel in the Hogarth Shakespeare series.

In Atwood’s take on Shakespeare’s original, theatre director Felix has been unceremoniously ousted from his role as Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Festival. When he lands a job teaching theatre in a prison, the possibility of revenge presents itself – and his cast find themselves taking part in an interactive and illusion-ridden version of The Tempest with suitably dramatic consequences.

Margaret Atwood c. Liam Sharp
Image by Liam Sharp

“‘Hag-Seed’ is just one of many insults Prospero flings at Caliban in The Tempest,” says Hogarth’s Becky Hardie. “There’s a lot of Shakespearean swearing in this new Tempest adventure, too, but also a mischief, curiosity and vigour that’s entirely Atwood.”

The Hogarth Shakespeare series aims to continue Shakespeare’s own tradition of “retelling”, and to celebrate his legacy.

Hag-Seed UK front + back
The series launched with Jeanette Winterson’s The Gap of Time (The Winter’s Tale) last October, followed by Howard Jacobson’s Shylock is My Name (The Merchant of Venice) this month.

Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl (The Taming of the Shrew) follows in June, and then Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed (The Tempest) arrives in October.

The first four novels will be followed by Tracy Chevalier’s Othello, Gillian Flynn’s Hamlet, Jo Nesbo’s Macbeth and Edward St Aubyn’s King Lear.

Go here for more on The Hogarth Shakespeare (UK).

Go here for more on The Hogarth Shakespeare (US).

Follow Margaret Atwood on Twitter @MargaretAtwood

Birmingham City University students create life-size effigies of Shakespeare and some of his most iconic characters

A life-size installation featuring more than a dozen of Shakespeare’s most famous creations – handcrafted from paper and cardboard – is open to the public, free of charge, at Birmingham City University.

Tamora Queen of the goths
Tamora, Queen of the Goths (from Titus Andronicus).

With scale models over six feet tall, a three-metre-high balcony and even a walk-in tavern, it has been made as a tribute to mark 400 years since the Bard’s death.

Each piece in the installation was individually crafted by 22 first year students from the University’s Design for Theatre, Performance and Events degree course.

Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet.

The students used techniques learned on the course to sculpt 780 metres of corrugated cardboard and nearly 5,000 metres of brown paper into the setting and characters.

Among the figures are a likeness of William Shakespeare himself, writing at his desk, and full size replicas of King Lear, Caliban, Richard III, and Romeo & Juliet.

Caliban
Caliban (from The Tempest).

The exhibition took nearly three weeks to create, with students working day and night to make each component from scratch, as well as selecting music and lighting to complement each element.

The installation is housed in the Shell space at the University’s Parkside Building. It is open to the public, with free admission, until Friday 26 February.

Balcony
Viola (from Twelfth Night).

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust helped students research the project. When the project ends, a number of characters and settings will be transported to Stratford-upon-Avon for display.

Shakespeare desk
Shakespeare at his desk.

The tavern in the installation is intended to replicate London’s historic Gorge (or “George”) Inn, sometimes referred to as “Shakespeare’s Local”.

Traditional Elizabethan music plays in the exhibition hall, while words from The Two Noble Kinsmen – thought to be Shakespeare’s final play – make a poignant tribute to the Bard.

Juliet
Juliet (from Romeo and Juliet).

“It’s very rare that you get an art installation that really looks at the times that Shakespeare was writing in,” says the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s Marie Brennan.

“As well as looking at new interpretations of his own work. It’s really an unusual and creative concept to bring those two together into one installation.

Peter Quince
Peter Quince (from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Titled “The Figure in Space – Shakespeare”, the exhibition is on until Friday 26 February at Birmingham City University: The Parkside Building, 5 Cardigan Street, Birmingham B4 7BD. Admission is free.

Go here for a map and directions.

Exhibition at Dr Johnson’s House in London celebrates Shakespeare and charts the 18th-century origins of Shakespearean ‘Bardolatry’

A new exhibition at Dr Johnson’s House in London will showcase a range of prints, portraits, books and ephemera. Never before displayed together, they chart the relationship between William Shakespeare (1564-1616) and Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), two of the most quoted Englishmen in the language.

The exterior of Dr Johnson’s House

The exterior of Dr Johnson’s House

 

Shakespeare in the 18th century: Johnson, Garrick and friends celebrates the 250th anniversary of Johnson’s critical edition of Shakespeare’s plays.

Johnson’s The Plays of William Shakespeare (1765) has been credited with firmly establishing a scholarly interest in Shakespeare, after almost a century during which works by the playwright had been radically amended and adapted.

Four years after its publication, enthusiasm for Shakespeare reached its apogee in the world’s first Shakespeare festival, the 1769 ‘Shakespeare Jubilee’ masterminded by Johnson’s great friend and former pupil, the actor David Garrick (1717-1779).

Over the succeeding centuries, national celebration of Shakespeare reached such a pitch it was popularly dubbed ‘Bardolatry’ – a trend that continues to this day.

Garrick as Shakespeare's Richard III

Garrick as Shakespeare’s Richard III

 

Johnson’s Shakespeare combined a survey of Shakespeare’s plays with analysis of critical editions to date, and its accompanying ‘Preface’ remains the cornerstone of Shakespeare criticism.

This exhibition at Dr Johnson’s House – the home in Gough Square where Johnson began this work, and also finished his great Dictionary (1755) – explores Johnson’s contributions, and those of members of his circle, to contemporary understanding and enjoyment of Shakespeare.

Their work built on earlier 18th-century critical editions of Shakespeare by scholars such as Nicholas Rowe (1709), Alexander Pope (1725), Lewis Theobold (1726), Thomas Hammer (1743-44) and WilliamWarburton (1747).

Samuel Johnson’s The Plays of William Shakespeare, 1765

Samuel Johnson’s The Plays of William Shakespeare, 1765

 

The 18th century saw efforts by numerous editors to establish the authenticity of Shakespeare’s texts whilst, at the same time, theatre-goers enjoyed 18th-century adaptations with new scenes and endings devised by actors and theatre managers.

Garrick may have serenaded Shakespeare’s birthplace at the 1769 Jubilee, yet his own production of Romeo and Juliet freely adapted and ‘improved’ the bard’s original ending, allowing the ‘star-cross’d lovers’ one final farewell.

This was an established tradition extending back to dramatist Nahum Tate’s 1681 adaptation of King Lear, where Lear lives and Cordelia ascends to the throne, having married Edgar.

This happy ending was preferred to Shakespeare’s original tragic ending, which was not seen on stage again until the 1830s.

Dr Johnson’s edition of Shakespeare’s King Lear

Dr Johnson’s edition of Shakespeare’s King Lear

 

Clearly, Shakespeare appreciation was at times scholarly and sincere, but could also be irreverent and freely adapted to the tastes of the popular market.

Along with Johnson and Garrick, the exhibition also explores the often underestimated contribution of women to Shakespeare studies.

Items of note include Elizabeth Montagu’s seminal An Essay on the Writings and Genius of Shakespear, Compared with the Greek and French Dramatic Poets (1769), and Charlotte Lennox’s Shakespear Illustrated (1753), a comprehensive survey of the dramatist’s sources (both on loan from private collections).

These are exhibited alongside an oak chest (date unknown) which once belonged to David Garrick, and was used to store his stage costumes, and a creamware pottery jug (c.1770—80) decorated with an image of Garrick and one of Shakespeare (on loan from a private collection).

A selection of 18th-century prints represent many of the editors, writers and actors who contributed to Shakespeare scholarship in this period, in addition to an original Victorian oil painting by William Powell Frith (1887) which depicts a meeting between Dr Johnson and the celebrated actress Sarah Siddons.

The garret at Dr Johnson's House

The garret at Dr Johnson’s House

 

A complete first edition of Johnson’s The Plays of William Shakespeare (1765) will also be on display, complemented by volumes from the elaborately illustrated second edition (1770).

“The 18th century saw great change in the treatment of Shakespeare,” says Celine Luppo McDaid, Curator at Dr Johnson’s House.

“While theatre managers were catering to the tastes of their audience, who believed Shakespeare’s works often lacked any sense of poetic justice, scholarly editors like Johnson were returning the works of the Bard to what we recognise today.

“Johnson did a great deal to remove the ‘errours and corruptions’ that time and adaptation had allowed to creep in, and established a mode for modern literary criticism.”

Portrait of Shakespeare in Johnson’s 1765 edition

Portrait of Shakespeare in Johnson’s 1765 edition

 

The exhibition is accompanied by a lively events programme of tours, talks and performances.

Highlights include ‘Playing to the Crowd’, a new dramatic piece by multimedia theatre company Palimpsest, commissioned by the House especially for this exhibition. (Sundays 15 & 22 November, 3pm & 6pm)

Shakespeare in the 18th century: Johnson, Garrick and friends runs until Saturday 28 November 2015.

Entrance to the exhibition is FREE after usual admission to the House.

Go here for further details about the House, the exhibition and the events programme.