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.

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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!).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Canadian acting legend Christopher Plummer is delighted to receive 2015 Sam Wanamaker Award from Shakespeare’s Globe

Internationally-acclaimed actor Christopher Plummer has been awarded Shakespeare’s Globe’s most prestigious prize, the 2015 Sam Wanamaker Award, established in the name of the theatre’s founder to celebrate work that has increased the understanding and enjoyment of Shakespeare.

Christopher Plummer is regarded by many as one of the finest living actors on stage or screen today. His Shakespearean roles include King Lear and Iago, Macbeth opposite Glenda Jackson, Hamlet for BBC TV, Henry V, Mercutio, Mark Antony, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Leontes, Bardolph, Benedick, Richard III and, most recently, Prospero at the Stratford Festival in Canada.

My Shakespeare Episode 05 Christopher Plummer

On winning the Award, Christopher Plummer said: “I look at the Globe Theatre today proudly restored and I think how easy it is to forget the long hard struggle. How one man kept circling the planet, mostly alone, to raise the necessary funds. Sam Wanamaker’s passion, devotion and ferocious Elizabethan energy fought for his jewel – our jewel.

“And just when it was ready to be mounted he died, never to look his triumph in the face. Sam Wanamaker was an American whose heart was in the right place. It sometimes takes the New Hemisphere to revive the Old and, by heaven, Sam was living proof of that! In one short lifetime he gave us back one of the wonders of the world.

“Sam knew of my devotion to the Globe and South Bank projects and very generously invited me onto his Board. I was never so honoured – and now this! I am moved beyond measure not just for this, but for Sam, that extraordinary fighter who won the battle for us all.”

My Shakespeare Episode 05 Christopher Plummer

The Sam Wanamaker Award was instituted by Shakespeare’s Globe in 1994 to honour work which has a similar quality to Sam’s own pioneering mission. Christopher Plummer follows former illustrious recipients of the Award, the first of whom was Dr Rex Gibson, creator and editor of the Cambridge School Shakespeare.

Other recipients include Janet Arnold for her pioneering research into Elizabethan clothing; Professor Stanley Wells, Shakespeare scholar and former Chairman of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust; John Barton, founding member of the Royal Shakespeare Company; and actor and director Mark Rylance.

Christopher was a strong supporter of Sam Wanamaker as he tirelessly campaigned over the last 23 years of his life to reconstruct the Globe on London’s Bankside.

My ShakespeareEpisode 05 Christopher Plummer

Neil Constable, Chief Executive at Shakespeare’s Globe, commented: “Christopher has illuminated the world’s understanding of Shakespeare through many memorable performances.

He gave unswerving support to Sam Wanamaker, has been an active fundraiser for reconstructing the Globe on Bankside and also strengthened Globe links between London, Canada and the US.”

The Sam Wanamaker Award will be presented to Christopher in Toronto on 12 November, at a gala to celebrate the Shakespeare’s Globe Centre of Canada’s 25th anniversary.

Go here for more on Sam Wanamaker and Shakespeare’s Globe.

Go here to read about Great Shakespeare Actors in Shakespeare Magazine 07.

Stand-up comedian, actress, writer, vegan and all-round clever clogs Sara Pascoe is a big fan of William Shakespeare, and she’s not afraid to shout about it

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How on earth?

“I’ve got an English degree, and a big part of my life at university was throwing off the misunderstandings and misapprehensions I’d had about Shakespeare at school and coming to appreciate him properly. At school I think we got taught Macbeth and King Lear and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the teacher would say ‘Oh, you see what he’s saying here? He’s saying this’, and I would think ‘How on earth?’ I just didn’t believe them, I thought the teachers were making it up. Then when I was at university we had to read virtually all of the plays and we went into much more depth. That was when I suddenly realised how clever Shakespeare was, and it was mind-blowing.”

My favourite play…

“I did love the Sonnets. I think they’re so accessible and they have such universal themes – death, and time, and how we replicate ourselves. If I had to pick a favourite play… I really loved The Winter’s Tale actually, and I remember thinking Measure for Measure was brilliant, but I think probably Hamlet is my favourite.
“The one I seem to have seen most is As You Like It. I saw an RSC production of Much Ado About Nothing which had Tamsin Greig as Beatrice. They set it I think in Cuba or South America and it was just fantastic, really rhythmic and hilarious.”

If Shakespeare were here today…
“Shakespeare nowadays? Oh gosh, it would be something incredible, wouldn’t it? He was so fantastic at creating these flawed heroes where you could absolutely see how life had made them behave in a certain way, and because of that behaviour drama just unfolds everywhere around them. He’d put everyone else to shame because he’d be writing comedies and dramas and films all at the same time. Even now, people would probably be saying ‘Is it really just one man? It must be a committee of people doing it secretly!’”
Sara Pascoe - Large Library Image

He always sees the full picture
“I just think he understands human psychology so brilliantly. He understands cause and effect, he understands how people can be trying to be good, but also that their worldview might be slightly too myopic to enable them to see anything larger. However, he as the writer always manages to see the full picture and always, especially in the greatest of the plays, manages to create such a viable world that it doesn’t seem fictional. I recently saw the Macbeth they did at the Globe where they made the play a comedy, very successfully. And I thought that was so fantastic because the ambitions of the Macbeths had such lightness of touch all of a sudden, and the play still held together, it still felt true.”

Ten Things I Hate About You
“I think what was always surprising, probably because of the age I was when they came out, was finding out that things like Ten Things I Hate About You was The Taming of the Shrew. It’s always great when you think ‘Oh! Yes, I see, it’s that story!’ I’ve been watching House of Cards, and they’ve very clearly jumped off from Macbeth.”

On being a teenage skateboard fairy
“I do talk about Shakespeare in my show that I’m touring with at the moment. I have a little routine about being told that A Midsummer Night’s Dream was a comedy and how as a 15, 16-year-old having teachers try to say ‘Look, here’s the joke – the queen loves a donkey!’ you just think ‘I don’t get it’. The routine’s about that and how in our production we were trying to liven it up. Everyone wants to do their own ground-breaking thing with Shakespeare, even though it’s all already been done. So I played Puck, but I was on a skateboard and I knocked myself out. Twice. I wasn’t very good at the skateboard. We really thought this was ground-breaking at the time.”
Sara Pascoe press pic

All about the attitude
“I think that’s what’s so interesting about new productions, they make you meet characters again in a different way. I really like Hermione from The Winter’s Tale. I think that her speeches are so brave and courageous. I’ll always love Kate from The Taming of the Shrew too, but she doesn’t even really talk very much in the play. It’s much more the attitude and the performance of her, isn’t it?

“Beatrice and Benedick’s whole repartee with each other, it’s so brilliant to watch on stage because it doesn’t come across on the page in the same way. Trying to overhear somebody else’s conversation while hiding behind a pot plant, I always think that’s so hysterical.”

Women with brains and activity and thoughts
“I think in terms of his time he was incredible. This was a time when women weren’t allowed on the stage. To be born a woman and want to be creative was impossible. You couldn’t own property, you couldn’t earn money, you were either born into a rich family to be married off, or you were born with no money and very limited options. Shakespeare did write women with brains and activity and thoughts, and I think in some plays the women are as varied as the men in terms of morality and intelligence. Although now for actresses the number of men on stage to the number of women is probably a bit frustrating, it could be a whole lot worse, so I think he should be respected for that.

“Also people are now putting on all-female productions. That’s so exciting because in Shakespeare’s day it would have been an all-male company, and now the opposite is completely possible.”

Most Shakespeare thing I’ve done…
“This isn’t so much a Shakespeare thing as a me thing, but I’ve been to the RSC twice to do stand-up. I got to do stand-up on the stage at the Swan, and that was amazing. Stratford-upon-Avon is a wonderful place. You walk around thinking ‘Oh my god, this is where Shakespeare was born’. Then I remember that I live in London – where he chose to live.”

Go here to find out more about Sara and check out her latest tour dates.

This interview originally appeared in Issue 6 of Shakespeare Magazine. Go here to see the original version.

Actor Ben Walden is a man on a mission to educate and inspire. And his weapon of choice is Shakespeare. All of which makes him the perfect candidate for a rare interview by award-winning teacher, author and contrarian Phil Beadle.

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“He has kill’d me, mother.”

I have witnessed this epitome of weakness delivered so thoughtlessly as to render the desolation of Macduff as kindergarten mawkish. The forlorn bleat of an innocent without a name as he’s descended into the writhing masterpiece of eternity comes usually in Disneyfied pastels. Not so the last time I was in the same dark room as this line. I sat, horrified, on an uncomfortable bench with two of my three sons flanking me, both of them rigid with fear as The Porter brutally slammed down a trapdoor, through which, milliseconds ago hard light shone, disappearing it, and along with it the anguished cry of the death of promise.

The second time I met Ben Walden the conversation went like this:

Ben: “What did you think?”

Phil: “Yeah, it was great. Really good.”

Language can be drivel. What I had meant to say about the touring version of Macbeth that I’d just seen in Deptford that Ben directed was that it had all the visceral thrill and panic-inducing horror of the Hellraiser films. But I didn’t.
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The reason my words disappointed me so particularly is that the first time I met Ben Walden I thought he may well have been one of the coolest people I’ve ever encountered. Unassuming in a pastel V-neck in a circle of middle-aged white men of above-average professional capital at the AGM of the firm we both work for, Independent Thinking Ltd, he introduces himself in anger: fists of tears which he cannot and vehemently will not suppress roll down his cheeks. The object of his anger? What the proud philistine Michael Gove – He’s dead. He’s dead. That B-movie, lowlife, literate bozo is dead! – is doing to arts provision and education for working class children. I understand the anger that gave vent to his tears, as I feel it acutely myself.

The third time I met Ben Walden I left a decade-and-a-half old yellow corduroy jacket containing my phone and house keys in a pub in East Grinstead. I couldn’t be bothered to go down there to pick it up, and miss it still. I then left the notes for this interview in Montenegro (it’s a long story) and that is why this interview is five months late.
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I had met with him to discuss the impact of Shakespeare on his life. If you do not know who Ben Walden is, and you should, he was a member of Mark Rylance’s original company when the Globe opened, is an actor of seriousness and note, and now runs a company, Contender Charlie, whose mission is to bring the power of Shakespeare’s text to inner city kids, and who subsidises this work, which they do for next to nothing, by giving presentations to corporate clients on what they can learn about leadership from Henry V. I ask him some penetrating questions:

Phil: “What lessons from the plays have you applied to you own life?”

Ben: “I was sent to a boarding school when I was a kid, and as a result have always despised not only the concept, but the human manifestation of ‘repressed Englishness’: their reticence, their poison, their cowardice. For me, people should speak what they feel, and because of this Edgar’s line in King Lear – ‘The weight of this sad time we must obey. Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say” – reverberates strongly with me.”

Phil: “How much of the language infiltrates your own day-to-day expression?”

Ben: “The best way to explain this, Phil, would be for you to watch Kate Tempest’s ‘My Shakespeare’.”

[I watch it five months after our meeting, after my notes finally return from their sojourn in the former Eastern bloc. I don’t buy Kate Tempest as a performer, but the passion is clear, as is the fact that she’s distanced being a drama school cockney infecting culture with lies. “He’s not something boring taught in classrooms in language that’s hard to understand. He’s not just a feeling of inadequacy when you sit for an exam”].
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Phil: “Tell me the shape of your year?”

Ben: “There’s a lot of airports. And those gigs that require air travel pay for the work we do with kids from different environments.”

Phil: “What different environments? What do Contender Charlie do… in exactly seven words?”

Ben: “Help kids find purpose and meaning. Can I have four more?”

Phil: “Grudgingly…”

Ben: “…By examining their feelings.”

Phil: “What are your feelings about the philistinism of Gove trying to make drama and the performing arts not formal GCSEs?”

Ben: “For me, whether Shakespeare is on the curriculum or not is an irrelevance. Humans are naturally ritualistic. Making drama not a ‘proper’ GCSE doesn’t change that. People will still seek the spiritual. Shakespeare, himself, was a deeply spiritual anarchist, in touch with our deepest nature. His work remains vital no matter what space policy-makers have him in this week. Kids will always connect with it like I did. Shakespeare came close to saving my life. When I was overwhelmed as a young adult, I would read a speech for solace and read it again and again. The transient whims of policy-makers are just that.”
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Phil: “Put the four great tragedies in order of something other than their greatness.”

Ben: “Can I put them in the order of how much I like them?”

Phil: (Murmurs assent)

Ben:Lear, I give 11/10, Macbeth 10/10, Othello 9/10 and Hamlet 8/10.”

Phil: “Harsh on Hamlet?”

Ben: “It’s arrogant playwriting. And he is self-indulgent as a character. It is really Shakespeare examining depressed adolescence. Hamlet is caught in his own depression and his own pain, and is a bad lesson. In life, you have to rise above your own pain to see the profundity in and of everything – to see the ‘special providence in the fall of a sparrow’. True wisdom is in being truly present emotionally, facing pain and meeting it head on. Truly wise people don’t fall off the wire.”

Go here for more on Ben Walden and his work.

This interview originally appeared in Shakespeare Magazine Issue 6. Go here to see the original version.

“Batman is Hamlet!” In an exclusive interview extra, Kill Shakespeare co-creator Anthony Del Col takes us deeper inside the world of his Bard-inspired comics series

Portraits by Piper Williams, Artwork by Andy Belanger.

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Do you have a favourite Shakespeare play?

“I liked Othello for the longest time, not only because of Iago. I’m drawn towards his tragedies rather than his comedies for the most part and Othello was the one play amongst the great tragedies that… It didn’t introduce any magic or fantasy, it’s just pure human emotion. That’s what I really loved about it.”

And now?
“Having gone through this – the multiple generations of the comic, the stage show, maybe TV and video games in the future – Hamlet is just coming out more and more as my favourite. Just because he is the most fascinating character I have ever read or ever experienced, consumed, and written for. The more chance I have to see it performed, read it, study it, the more fascinated I become with that character and hence with the play. People often say that Batman is Hamlet – you know, someone who lost a family member and is on a quest for revenge and is very conflicted about what he should do and whether life’s worth living.”

Cover Volume 2 by Andy Belanger

Are there any characters that you haven’t touched in Kill Shakespeare yet that you’d like to write for?
“Oh my god. yes! There are so many. The first one who jumps out is King Lear. I can’t wait to jump into King Lear. Beatrice and Benedick are the two others that I really desperately want to jump into, I just love those two and can’t wait to get them into our universe. Kate from The Taming of the Shrew. There are a lot of the comedy characters that we haven’t had much opportunity to introduce yet, so I’m really looking forward to those.”

Are there any Early Modern writers you’re inspired by outside of Shakespeare?
“Cervantes plays a big role in all of the stories; my favourite novel of all time is Don Quixote. I like to think there’s a bit of ‘tilting at windmills’ in every story. Hamlet’s story in the original arc of Kill Shakespeare, there are shades of Quixote in there, with Hamlet being Quixote himself. And of course Falstaff would make the most excellent Sancho Panza.

“We do reference Marlowe. There’s a very… It’s a huge Easter egg, so anyone that can find it I applaud them for it.”

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Do you have a favourite Shakespeare quotation? Something that resonates with you more than everything else?
“It’s going to sound kind of cheesy, but ‘to thine own self be true’. Not the whole speech, but just that actual line. On a comedic level ‘methinks he doth protest too much’, [modern figure of speech that springs from Hamlet’s ‘the lady doth protest too much, methinks’] that’s the ultimate quote that you can use in pretty much every single situation, so that’s the one I’ll quote the most. But ‘to thine own self be true’ is the one that I’ll try to quote to myself every now and then to remind myself who I should be.”

Is there a moment on the Kill Shakespeare journey that stands out as particularly memorable?
“There was the first time we had someone cosplay our version of these characters. That was amazing. We had people cosplaying as Richard III and Lady Macbeth.

Richard III by Andy Belanger

“Receiving a personal note from Sir Tom Stoppard was amazing. I have that right above my desk and I look at that on a daily basis and just pinch myself. Getting a mention on the Colbert Report here in the US and Canada was immensely gratifying.

“I guess just seeing that first issue hit the newsstands, you know, hit the comic book shops, and the first book showing up at Barnes and Noble and Waterstones. There’s no better feeling than walking into a book store and seeing something you’ve created right there.”

If you could do a crossover with Kill Shakespeare and another comic book series what would it be?
Fables would be the most natural one. It would be great to be able to collaborate on something with Bill Willingham. Mike Carey’s The Unwritten is another possibility, we could weave that in really naturally. We have the magical elements so we could pop into the DC or the Marvel universes. I mean, a crossover with Thor would be interesting because Thor itself is very Shakespearean, so it’d be great to see King Lear meets Thor.”

Find out more about about Anthony Del Col and Kill Shakespeare in the latest issue of Shakespeare Magazine.

“We’re all excavators in some way…” In this exclusive interview, Filter Theatre’s Oliver Dimsdale and Poppy Miller tell us about the formative experiences and bold choices that led to their their radical take on Shakespeare’s Macbeth

Images courtesy of Farrows Creative, Bristol.

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Filter Theatre’s maverick style puts sound and music at the centre of all their productions, and their interpretations of Shakespeare are no exception. Artistic Director and founding member Oliver Dimsdale played the title role in their recent production of Macbeth. He and Poppy Miller (Lady Macbeth) both performed Shakespeare for the first time in their early teens, and it was then that they fell in love with the rhythms and imagery of his lines. We met them to discuss staging Shakespeare and their relationships with the Bard.

What was your earliest experience of Shakespeare, and what did you think of it at the time?

Oliver: “Mine was at my secondary school when I was about 13 years old. I auditioned to be in the lower school play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and I got the part of Puck. Until then I’d never really keyed in to Shakespeare; I’d seen a couple of Shakespeare shows and it hadn’t really hit me. Up until that point I’d never been able to commit to memory text like it. Puck especially has wonderful verse and I just loved the rhythm. I had a fairly bad stammer when I was younger and it gave me a very real voice on stage. That’s my first memory of Shakespeare: a means by which to express myself through magnificent verse.”

Poppy: “My dad, who died 25 years ago, was a very erudite man. He was a teacher and used to do lots of amateur dramatics at the Maddermarket Theatre in Norwich, where I grew up. I used to go and watch him play big parts and then I started getting involved as well. I auditioned to play Miranda when I was 14 and ended up doing the play with my dad which was amazing. I’ve got some photographs of us doing that together. I have very magical and special memories of that because it was my first experience of real theatres and people being passionate about Shakespeare.”

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Do you have a favourite Shakespeare play?

Poppy: “I’m quite keen on The Tempest. I think that, as with Macbeth, some of the speeches are just jaw-dropping.”

Oliver:King Lear is a big one for me. It probably ties into having done it for GCSE. I think I was starting to get into the possibilities and the power of Shakespeare and perhaps it’s a hangover from that. I’ve seen a couple of productions of it as well that have transported me. It’s thrillingly dark and horrendous.”

Filter Theatre produces truly unique adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays. How do you develop from the play texts to these productions?

Poppy: “A very initial development process is to whack a load of paper on the walls and write on it what we love about the play, what we’re afraid about making a mess of or doing in a dull way – we get all our ideas and fears out straight away. Then we can really start to focus on core elements, so with Macbeth it would be the Weird Sisters, or the banquet, or the heath.

“Ideas of sound are never far from the mix. Tom Haines, the sound designer and composer, built many of the things we play in this production, so we had a huge pallet to work with.

“We’re quite bold with the filleting of the play. We had a dramaturg this time: experienced Shakespeare scholar and director Simon Reade, and he was very helpful. We’d go ‘What about sounds in this play?’ and he’d come back the next day with a full list of all the references to sound.”

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Oliver: “With new works we tend to focus on narrative first, though sound still plays an important role. But with Shakespeare we have the story there already, so we feel as if we have a good head start and can just crack on with finding ways we can deconstruct and put together.”

How did you prepare for your roles?

Poppy: “In my experience of playing a Shakespeare role over a long period, you find out more every week, and you can only do that by learning it and then trying to put yourself out of the picture. Inevitably your actor’s worries come up – I think we’re still asking ourselves questions now because there are so many possibilities and ways of playing it. In this production we’ve chosen proximity at places where you wouldn’t normally have it; for example, the only time our characters are intimate is in front of loads of other people in quite a grotesque way, whereas a lot of productions would have a much more…”

Oliver: “Sexual charge.”

Poppy: “Yes – he comes to the castle and they consume their ambition, and that’s almost better than the end itself.

“We’ve also stylised the movement a little bit, so there are always questions. But that’s good, I think. You just have to commit to the version you’re giving. Like with all great Shakespeare parts you feel a weight of something, which is ‘I’m going to be rubbish,’ basically. But once you’re doing it I think you have a direct connection with the character.”

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Are there any scenes or speeches when you feel that pressure most strongly, or any you particularly enjoy playing?

Poppy: “I have always really liked that scene after the murders, with the two of them. I think it’s just so brilliantly written, and the way Shakespeare’s written his half- and quarter-lines is just amazing dialogue with, when Macbeth talks about sleep, some of the most beautiful but domestic images. He’s talking about a jumper that’s fraying – or that’s how I see it!

“I think the summoning the spirits speech is great when you’re doing it, but it’s always had a whiff of failure about it for me. I did a really interesting workshop with an amazing Russian director – I’m not going to name any names. Myself and a lot of other actors were at the RSC and had been there about six months. And every time any of us stood up as Lady Macbeth, we’d breathe in and he’d go, ‘Niet.’ Just the way you breathed in wasn’t right! But I think you’ve got to remember it’s a woman. It’s a woman who’s in a very isolated place, who has a lot of capabilities but not the means to get what she wants, and all these things we can identify with.

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Some people might say your productions are not how Shakespeare intended his plays to be performed. What would you say to them?

Oliver: “The first thing I’d say to that is that no one actually knows what he intended, unless we can go back in time and speak to him. Basically we’re all excavators in some way. There are many brilliant scholars who keep on unearthing little titbits of information that might lead us a little bit closer to how it would have been done at the time, but I think a piece of art should keep on creating and moving.

“I often go to the Globe, and I love it there – knowing the actors can see whites of the eyes of the audience in broad daylight – where many of the clothes have been made in the original way and the jigs at the end are magnificent. It’s absolutely got a very strong place in our telling of Shakespeare stories now.

And I think at the same time, there can be many more braver productions than we dare to do, that have just as much of a right to be around. So I think the so-called Shakespeare purists, whatever that means, whoever they are, whatever their purpose is, are perhaps barking up the wrong tree, because there are many shapes and forms Shakespeare can take.”

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Poppy: “I think the thing to say about all of us in this company is that we do really, really love Shakespeare. Sometime people misunderstand our approach; they think it’s not possible to improve on Shakespeare. But that’s not what we’re trying to do. We’re inspired by, and every word of our Macbeth is, Shakespeare.”

Read more about Filter Theatre’s Macbeth in Issue 5 of Shakespeare Magazine.

A wealthy banker, a Pilates instructor, a bitter divorce case, a High Court Judge… And the words of William Shakespeare

According to The Independent, Mr Justice Mostyn consulted Act 2, Scene 4 of King Lear to aid his decision when awarding a £1.2 million settlement to the banker’s Pilates instructor ex-wife.

Pointedly, this is the scene in which Lear’s daughters, Goneril and Regan, strip the aged monarch of his retinue.

In the space of a few cruel words, Lear’s personal escort is reduced from 50 knights to nothing.

An incredulous Lear responds with the impassioned speech that begins:

“O, reason not the need! Our basest beggars
Are in the poorest thing superfluous.”

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It’s a very interesting example of the way in which top professionals sometimes use Shakespeare to assist their decision-making process.

But as is so often the case with Shakespeare, there’s a sting in the tail.

The speech in question marks the beginning of Lear’s descent into madness.

One interpretation could be that Mr Justice Mostyn is basically saying:

“Even though this settlement figure is extremely high, I am going to give this person the amount she says she needs, because otherwise she is liable to go mad.”

Lear’s harrowing madness ultimately leads to self-knowledge and redemption – along with heart-rending personal loss and his own death.

Shakespeare’s most powerful play would certainly be a lot shorter if Regan and Goneril had simply given him what he asked for…

Go here to read the original news story from The Independent.

The latest issue of Shakespeare Magazine features another High Court Judge acting alongside players from Shakespeare’s Globe.