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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

For many fans, nothing beats the thrill of experiencing Shakespeare in a suitably historic venue. And now Read Not Dead on the Road is exploring the Bard’s links to the legal profession at London’s Inns of Court

Actors and lawyers perform George Gascoigne’s 1573 play Supposes at Gray’s Inn.

Actors and lawyers perform George Gascoigne’s 1573 play Supposes at Gray’s Inn.

Shakespeare’s Globe is on a quest to stage every play known to have been performed on the stages of London before 1642. Launched in 1995 by Globe Education, Read Not Dead brings actors, audiences and scholars together to explore and celebrate those plays by Shakespeare’s contemporaries via script-in-hand, play-in-a-day performances. They are not meant to be polished productions, but there is a shared spirit of adventure and excitement for the actors and audiences uncovering these hidden gems.

Actors rehearse Lady Mary Wroth’s Love’s Victory (c. 1620) at Penshurst Place, Kent.

Actors rehearse Lady Mary Wroth’s Love’s Victory (c. 1620) at Penshurst Place, Kent.

Part of the project is to take these rare plays back to their historical context. Last summer, Loves Victory by Lady Mary Wroth was staged at Penshurst Place in Kent. It is the first pastoral comedy known to be written by a woman, and Penshurst Place is the very location it is most likely to have been written and first performed 400 years ago.

At the beginning of its new ‘Shakespeare and Friendship’ season of public events, Globe Education is taking Read Not Dead across the river Thames to London’s Inns of Court for a special series celebrating the ‘amity of the inns’. The series launched in November with a performance of The Most Excellent Comedy of Two The Most Faithfullest Friends Damon and Pithias. Written around 1564 by Richard Edwards, a little-known precursor to Shakespeare, this tragi-comedy celebrates true and virtuous friendship.

This reading of Richard Edwards’ 1565 play Damon and Pythias took place last year at Middle Temple Hall.

This reading of Richard Edwards’ 1565 play Damon and Pythias took place last year at Middle Temple Hall.

Today, friendship between the Inns and among members remains a cornerstone of Inns of Court culture, as lawyers from around the world live, study and practise together in shared amity. The Inns of Court in London are the professional associations for barristers in England and Wales. The relationship between the law and the theatre in London is almost as old as the Inns of Court themselves. All four – Inner Temple, Middle Temple, Lincoln’s and Gray’s – are known as famous, and sometime infamous, venues for professional as well as amateur drama. The first recorded performance of Twelfth Night took place in Middle Temple Hall in 1602, an event which was celebrated on its 400th anniversary with a production of the play in the same venue by actors from Shakespeare’s Globe including Mark Rylance and Stephen Fry.

The Globe’s Read Not Dead allows historic plays to come alive for modern audiences.

The Globe’s Read Not Dead allows historic plays to come alive for modern audiences.

The Comedy of Errors is recorded to have been performed in 1594 at Gray’s Inn. Shakespeare was interested enough in the Inns of Court to make them the setting for Act II, Scene IV of Henry VI, Part 1.

Iain Christie is a barrister and trained actor who combines both practices. As a Bencher of the Inner Temple and a member of the Inner Temple drama society, he was involved in the Globe’s previous performance of George Gascoigne’s Supposes there last January, performing alongside Globe actors and his fellow Benchers. “The relationship between the two professions extends beyond the use of legal venues to stage historic plays,” he says, “and the pleasure of lawyers entertaining their colleagues in after-dinner revels. It applies also to the comparative skills employed by both professions.”

High Court Judge Sir Michael Burton also took part in the staged reading of Supposes at Gray’s Inn.

High Court Judge Sir Michael Burton also took part in the staged reading of Supposes at Gray’s Inn.

Indeed, modern training courses for young lawyers increasingly engage professional actors to teach presentation skills which focus on breathing, posture, presence, and vocal projection. “I am interested in how law students can use the drama-school techniques of narrative and improvisation in their work,” says Iain. “Storytelling is a core aspect of the craft of both the advocate and actor. The advocate must always remember that his objective is to connect emotionally with the person he is trying to persuade.”

But, as Iain explains, this transference of skills does not only travel in one direction. “When I was at drama school,” he says, “I was struck by the similarity between the process of textual analysis in rehearsals and preparation for trial. The actor must create a consistent back-story for their character so their performance is grounded in a continuing reality. A barrister must build a case theory for a version of events he wishes the judge or jury to believe.

And the processes are strikingly similar. “However, whenever someone comments that in becoming an actor I am really just doing the same job I remind them that, whilst advocacy may at times be entertaining, a lawyer is engaged in a serious business. He is not there to put on a performance. Any advocate who plays to the gallery will be given a hard time in court.”

Read Not Dead at Middle Temple Hall.

Read Not Dead at Middle Temple Hall.

Post Script: Read Not Dead at the Inns of Court continued into 2015 as part of ‘Shakespeare and Friendship’. Love’s Sacrifice by John Ford was performed in the Great Hall at Gray’s Inn on Sunday 15 February. The play was dedicated to Ford’s cousin and namesake, John Ford who was a member of Gray’s and who the author called “my truest friend, my worthiest kinsman.”

The performance starred current Gray’s members Master Roger Eastman, High Court Judge Sir Michael John Burton and Masters Charles Douthwaite and Colin Manning. On Sunday 1 March, Inner Temple Hall hosted The Troublesome Reign of King John of England by George Peele, in celebration of the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta. And the final reading returedn to the Globe, with the anonymous The Faithful Friends on 19 April.

Go here for more information and booking details on Read Not Dead.

This article originally appeared in Shakespeare Magazine 05. Go here to read 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.

We asked Muse of Fire creators Dan Poole and Giles Terera the 64,000 ducat question – what would Shakespeare be writing if he was around today? Their answer: everything from blockbuster sci-fi movies to political drama TV shows.

DAN: “I think it was Mark Rylance that said this in his interview… Peter Hall, who’s obviously one of the founders at the RSC, said ‘You can do anything with Shakespeare, but whatever you do, don’t put it in space.’ Which made him laugh and makes me laugh, especially because the one thing I’d love to see done is Ian Doescher’s William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Trilogy series on stage.”

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GILES: “I suppose they’re all in there, that’s the beauty of it. You can look at any story, and whether it’s a love story or The Godfather or Jaws, whether it’s Star Wars or Laurel and Hardy, you can trace it all back to some Shakespearean story.

“I’d like to see him have a go at some of the trashier things like Transformers, because he did a couple of the histories, the Henrys, then he needed a big blockbuster, a potboiler, so he did Titus Andronicus. There was blood and guts and beheading and eating people and that was a big blockbuster, so he wasn’t afraid of doing that. So I’d like to see him do something that we kind of pooh-pooh now, and turn it on its head.”

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DAN: “It would also be fascinating to see what he would deliver now, given the culture that we live in. Because he always responded to what was going on in his environment.”

GILES: “You know, what I’d love is if he did TV. You know how they have those great American TV series like Breaking Bad or Orange is the New Black, where they’re masters of keeping you hanging on, episode to episode, series to series? I’d like to see him have a go at that. He’d come up with the most incredible TV cliffhangers and character journeys.

“In many ways, I’d like to see what he’d do now. I saw a film recently called Dear White People. It’s about the American college house system, and race and all this socio-political stuff. And it was extraordinary because there was this stuff being dealt with on film that you just don’t see. We see it on Twitter feeds and facebook and we think think ‘Christ almighty, it’s about to explode’ over there. But you don’t see it on screen – and yet they were doing it. If you look at what’s happening in Othello or what’s happening in Titus Andronicus, they have a baby! Aaron and Tamora have this mixed-race baby…”

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DAN: “…Four hundred years ago!”

GILES: “Right! People always say that Shakespeare was always very careful. You know, all this ‘you could be done for treason if you say the wrong thing’. But actually he’s talking about stuff that is the meat and bones of social life. Race and sex and age and marriage and all that kind of stuff. I reckon he’d be doing stuff that was really dealing with today’s issues. I’d like to hear what he had to say about Syria or Ebola. And it’d also be done in an interesting and entertaining way, because that’s what he does.”

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How about you? What do you think Shakespeare would be writing if he was around today? Post your thoughts below, or tweet us @UKShakespeare

Read our full-length interview with Dan and Giles in the new issue of Shakespeare Magazine.

Portraits by Piper Williams