From the vaults: “A visually stunning, action-filled Bardfest with top-notch performances…” Film critic Robin Askew’s 1996 review of Richard Loncraine’s Richard III, which unforgettably starred Ian McKellen

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Opening with an action scene strongly reminscent of one of the more audacious stunts in Goldeneye and climaxing in a style that owes more to Terminator 2 than any of those stilted school stage productions which are the closest most of us get to the Bard, Richard Loncraine and Ian McKellen’s reworking of Richard Eyre’s daring stage adaptation is clearly not for the Shakespeare purist. That said, it’s not a crass attempt to bring Richard III to “the kids”, either; rather a bold and inspired reimagining of the play’s universal themes in a handsomely staged civil war-torn alternate-world England of the 1930s.

McKellen is a hypnotically watchable, oily, scheming Richard, cursed by physical deformity but unstintingly ruthless in his pursuit of power in this jazz age Albion awash with the sinister trappings of fascism. Following the death of the King and the accession of his elder brother Edward, Richard’s blood-spattered path to the throne becomes clear. First he must seduce and marry Lady Anne (Kristin Scott Thomas) – here reduced to a pitiful junkie with needle tracks up her arms – whose husband he slaughtered during the Civil War.

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Then, with the aid of the greedy Duke of Buckingham (Jim Broadbent) and his faithful assassin James Tyrell (Adrian Dunbar), this brilliant, twisted strategist sets about removing every obstacle in his way, from his brothers King Edward (John Wood) and the gentle Clarence (Nigel Hawthorne) to Earl Rivers (Robert Downey Jr), brother of the widowed Queen Elizabeth (Annette Bening), who meets his end in a particularly grisly manifestation of coitus interruptus.

A visually stunning, action-filled Bardfest, pared to just the right length, with top-notch performances from its venerable thesps, including oddly cast American Downey Jr and a suitably regal Bening, Richard III makes outstanding use of its imaginative locations, from the palace at St. Pancras Station to the final tank battle in the shadow of Battersea Power Station. McKellen contributes a performance of such lip-smacking evil – all crocodile smiles and sly asides to camera – that even a ferocious public disowning by Queen Mum Maggie Smith is barely able to deflect it for more than a heartbeat.

This review originally appeared in Venue Magazine.

Richard III (15)
UK / 1996 / 103 minutes
Director: Richard Loncraine.
Cast: Ian McKellen, Annette Bening, Kristin Scott Thomas, Jim Broadbent, Robert Downey Jr., Maggie Smith, Nigel Hawthorne, Adrian Dunbar, John Wood

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Back in 2014, an illuminating interview with Hollow Crown Fans kicked off the very first issue of Shakespeare Magazine. This month, we caught up with Rose from HCF for a timely update on her Shakespearean activities

Benedict Cumberbatch as Richard III

Benedict Cumberbatch as Richard III

 
Your very own #ShakespeareSunday hashtag began in 2012, and is still reaching new Twitter heights.
Rose: “There have been great themes and theme pickers over the years, and it continues to show just how popular and global the Bard’s works are. The Bard’s birthday celebrations this year actually landed on a #ShakespeareSunday which was great timing, even Stan Lee and Chaka Khan joined in! It really is fun to see who discovers the tag each week, as well as enjoying the creativity of the regular tweeters on the tag.

“Since the interview with Shakespeare Magazine in 2014 we had the unexpected good news that Neal Street were going to make a second series of The Hollow Crown, with Benedict Cumberbatch as Richard III, which has come and gone. Now there are already rumours of a third series involving the Roman plays, so that is certainly an area I’ll be looking into further. It has been a popular theme on #ShakespeareSunday a few times, and Coriolanus a favourite to quote from since Tom Hiddleston starred in the leading role at the Donmar in 2013. The Roman plays seem to be very much the choice of the moment, and Hollow Crown fans are also excited at the prospect of Julius Caesar opening in London next year with Ben Whishaw and David Morrissey!”

Maxine Peake (left) as Doll Tearsheet in The Hollow Crown

Maxine Peake (left) as Doll Tearsheet in The Hollow Crown

 
Which Shakespeare character most resembles you?
“Going off from the Hollow Crown cast for this question, I’d say Doll Tearsheet… maybe. I can rock the English peasant look, for good or bad, even Neal Street thought that when they cast me as an extra for Henry V! Ha Ha.”

If I ask you to give me a Shakespeare quotation, which is the first one that comes to your mind?
“What relish is in this? How runs the stream? Or I am mad, or else this is a dream.” – Twelfth Night (Act IV, Scene 1)

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?
“Seth Numrich – Prince Hal / Henry V. I have become a fan of Seth’s via another love of mine, the AMC TV series TURN: Washington’s Spies. Fans of the Bard and history really need to check this show out if they have not done so already. Fantastic cast, gripping storyline and Shakespeare quotes dropped in at various points over the seasons. There is a wonderful YouTube video of Seth quoting from The Merchant of Venice (“The quality of mercy is not strain’d…”) that has not left my head since watching it many moons ago. To see him on stage doing Shakespeare would be a real treat!

Seth Numrich in TURN

Seth Numrich in TURN

 
“In his interview for Muse of Fire (which you can see on Globe Player, 47 minutes in) Seth mentions his desire to play the role of Prince Hal, and he would be perfect. One of my favourite characters from The Hollow Crown and Shakespeare’s plays as a whole. I watched this interview in 2015 and I’m still waiting. If I had the power I’d certainly make it happen! Whilst we all wait, do check out Seth with Matt Doyle in Private Romeo, an all-male cast set in a high-school military academy.”

Follow Hollow Crown Fans on Twitter, and join the #ShakespeareSunday festivities each weekend.

Read our Hollow Crown Fans interview in Shakespeare Magazine 01.

Read the Hollow Crown Fans interview with actor Edward Akrout in Shakespeare Magzazine 04.

Shakespeare Magazine 10 features Benedict Cumberbatch and Sophie Okonedo in the BBC’s epic The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses

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Hot on the heels of his sensational 2015 Hamlet, Shakespeare superstar Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Richard III on the cover of Shakespeare Magazine 10. 

And our second cover features Sophie Okonedo, who stars with Benedict in the epic BBC Shakespeare series The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses. 

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Inside the magazine, we interview Hollow Crown director Dominic Cooke, and share our gallery of iconic Hollow Crown images.

Also this issue, we explore Shakespeare’s First Folio with the expert guidance of Emma Smith. 

And we learn all about Shakespeare’s Globe from Head of Education Farah Karim-Cooper.

We take a walk on the dark side with the witches of Macbeth, and talk to one of the witches from last year’s Macbeth film.

Meanwhile, stars like Ben Kingsley, James Earl Jones, Earle Hayman, Jim Beaver and Liev Schreiber reveal How Shakespeare Changed My Life. 

If you’re bored of traditional theatre, let us tell you about the quirky delights of Table Top Shakespeare. 

And our look at the best Indian Shakespeare films shows the Bard is much-loved in Bollywood. 

Finally, our biggest-ever issue has an affectionate and ever-so-slightly audacious mash-up of Shakespeare with Star Wars: The Force Awakens. 

May the Bard Be With You!

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.

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.

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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.

Actor Danny Steele achieves his ambition to play Shakespeare’s Richard III on the hallowed turf of Stratford-upon-Avon – with just three days of rehearsal!

Earlier this summer, I played the Duke of Gloucester – and King Richard – in the Oxford Shakespeare Company’s Richard III. Excitingly, the production was staged in the Dell Gardens, close to the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon.

We performed twice in one day at and then, a few days later, in Bosworth Field. But what made this performance unique – and really tested us all as performers – was that the company had got together to fully rehearse and bond just three days earlier.

Queen Anne (Emma Fitchett) gets chatted up by the Duke of Gloucester (Danny Steele)

Queen Anne (Emma Fitchett) gets chatted up by the Duke of Gloucester (Danny Steele)

Yes, you read that right. Three days earlier. When I told fellow teachers and actors about the schedule their responses ranged from puzzlement to outright disbelief. And it was pretty unbelievable. No, there was none of the luxury afforded to the RSC with their six month rehearsal period.

Performing Shakespeare is already difficult enough, but this new dimension certainly added an extra level of frisson to the performances – and gave me, as the lead, sleepless nights.

The two murderers (Mia Norton, Matthew Domenico) joke about Clarence’s death

The two murderers (Mia Norton, Matthew Domenico) joke about Clarence’s death

The Oxford Shakespeare Company is owned and run by Ron Song Destro, an American Director and Shakespeare Scholar. Half the cast were from the US and came over the week before. We all met at the start of the week in London before leaving for Stratford-upon-Avon.

The audiences were great, and we were able to ‘mingle’ with them in each two-hour performance. Especially Queen Margaret, as played by Rachele Fregonese, who sat next to audiences on the bench and the lawn as she delivered some of her lines.

The murdered twins visit King Richard (Danny Steele) and Richmond (Andrew James Gordon) while they sleep

The murdered twins visit King Richard (Danny Steele) and Richmond (Andrew James Gordon) while they sleep

As part of the schedule, we had the opportunity to work with the RSC’s celebrated voice director Cicely Berry, as well as receiving direction from theatre veteran Malcolm Mckay.

Two days before the show I had an attack of the ‘actor’s fear’. I felt nauseous, couldn’t eat and didn’t sleep. During the shows, however, all those worries fell away and although some lines were missed, the objectives stayed.

The Group ensemble at the RSC with renowned voice coach Cicely Berry

The Group ensemble at the RSC with renowned voice coach Cicely Berry

Would I put myself through it again? Hell, yes! Ron’s work has inspired me to stage another production of Richard III. This one will be set in the 1990s, and will be staged in London in early 2016. Watch this space!

To find out more about Ron Song Destro’s Oxford Shakespeare Company, go here.

“Titus Andronicus probably wouldn’t be the best starting point…” Teacher and Hour-Long Shakespeare author Matthew Jenkinson offers his tips on approaching Shakespeare with young people

“All’s Well That Ends Well is funny – if you’re fluent in Shakespearean English!” protested one GCSE English pupil to me recently. It is not an uncommon complaint, along with assertions that Shakespeare’s plays are too complicated or difficult for many school children. Well, quite rightly Shakespeare is not going to go away; quite the opposite, as the new National Curriculum puts even greater emphasis on his works.

So how can parents or teachers aid in the understanding of Shakespeare among their pupils or children? The most empowering thing you can say, at first, is “Do not worry about understanding all (or any) of the words”. It is amazing how quickly a pupil’s brain can shut down because they are panicking about ‘getting’ everything the first time around. Understanding comes with time, re-reading, and patient explanation.

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It is also enhanced by watching Shakespeare on the stage. But parents and teachers need to be judicious about this. Watching a poor stage production will have pupils running a mile in the opposite direction, and they certainly won’t feel inclined to explore the text in any greater depth. Watching a great stage production can have the opposite effect.

There is no need to traipse long distances to Stratford or London these days either. The Globe Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company, respectively, have released some excellent DVDs of their recent stage productions. So you can now break up three-hour-long productions in the classroom or at home, pausing to discuss what is happening or to go to the loo.

Attending a live production can be exhilarating, but I would wait until the children have gained some traction. Making them stand in the rain at The Globe for three hours, as a first experience of Shakespeare, probably won’t have them begging for more.

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Watching a live performance enables pupils to work out plots by seeing the interaction between characters and hearing the tone employed by expert actors. I have used Roger Allam’s Falstaff scenes, performed at The Globe in 2010, to convey to pupils what happens in Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2. I have been amazed at how much laughter has come from individuals who just would not have understood the text if we had merely read it from the page.

The other way to get children engaged with Shakespeare is to get them on their feet, acting out parts. Again, a sensitive and judicious approach is necessary here. First of all, the choice of play is vital. Titus Andronicus probably wouldn’t be the best starting point. Parents and teachers also need to be understanding of the fact that many pupils, especially as they stumble through adolescence, will be quite reticent about standing up and delivering elaborate metaphors.

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There are two powerful ways to counter this. The first is to create a culture in school and at home where drama is an everyday feature – it is not nerdy or distant. The second – obviously – is to ‘differentiate’ the casting, ensuring that the allocation of parts reflects the confidence and ability of the pupils. Giving a reticent child the part of Macbeth will put them off Shakespeare for life, as will giving a confident actor the part of First Servingman. One of the joys of Shakespeare’s history plays, in particular, is the number of roles available, with differing levels of intensity; every pupil can find their niche.

There are very few schools out there that will be able to stage a full three-hour Shakespeare play, which is why I have been editing a new series of abridged versions in the Hour-Long Shakespeare series. As the title suggests, each play lasts about an hour when performed, with central characters and the overall narrative arcs preserved. This is by no means a novel project – the plays have been abridged since Shakespeare’s day, as evidenced by the discovery in 2014 of a First Folio in St Omer, France, in which Jesuits made cuts to suit their pupils.

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What is new about the Hour-Long series, aside from some original scene shifting (don’t use these texts in exams!), is the use of a Chorus in all of the plays. Shakespeare himself famously used a Chorus in Henry V, for example, but adopting this device in other plays enables any number of pupils to get involved as narrators, offering summaries of excised sections of plot, or acting as Roman citizens in Julius Caesar, the tyrant’s conscience in Richard III, or the witches in Macbeth – all with the text still in front of them.

Removing the pressures of learning vast amounts of lines, or spending too long on the stage, enables usually reticent pupils to engage with Shakespeare in performance. Maintaining juicy title roles with headline speeches attracts those keen actors who are ready for something more challenging. In sum, Shakespeare hopefully becomes more manageable for those who would normally be scared off.

Matthew Jenkinson is director of studies at New College School in Oxford. Hour-Long Shakespeare: Henry IV (Part 1), Henry V and Richard III is available now, priced £10. Hour-Long Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and Julius Cesar will be published in September.

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.

Gaze in wonder at visionary poet and artist William Blake’s spellbinding paintings inspired by the works of William Shakespeare

This week we’ve been celebrating the 28 November birthday of William Blake (1757-1827). Although perhaps best known for his poems and for writing the words to the hymn ‘Jerusalem’, Blake was also a visionary painter, one whose was often Shakespeare-inspired.
Here is Blake’s ‘Pity’ (1795), inspired by the evocative but mysterious line from Shakespeare’s Macbeth: “And pity, like a naked new-born babe, Striding the blast…”
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Blake also illustrated more conventional scenes from Shakespeare – although often with a supernatural dimension. Here’s his version of Hamlet encountering his father’s Ghost (1806).
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Brutus and the ghost of Julius Caesar is another haunting Shakespearean scene from Blake (1806).
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And here we have Richard III on the night before the Battle of Bosworth, assailed by the ghosts of his victims (circa 1806).
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Blake also painted Oberon, Titania, Puck and the other fairies from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in this beautiful and dreamlike tableau from 1786.
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And Blake even turned his supremely versatile hand to a portrait of Shakespeare himself (circa 1800).
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William Blake was a poet, painter, printer, visionary, mystic – and Shakespearean. Portrait by Thomas Phillips (1807).
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Thank you to Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust Education for showing us the link between two great English literary Williams – William Blake and William Shakespeare.

Find out about the William Blake Exhibition at the Ashmolean, Oxford.
Find out about the William Blake Exhibition at Tate Britain.
Fnd out about Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust Education.

Free online course explores the world of Shakespeare’s controversial monarch Richard III

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Starting on 30 June, Leicester University is once again offering its free course on England in the time of Richard III.

Hosted by FutureLearn, the course is completely free and available to anyone. Covering the king made infamous by Shakespeare, the course will also explore mediaeval warfare, life as a peasant, and the food and culture of the era.

Richard’s life spanned a time of the social changes in labour and literacy, as well as political turmoil.

And FutureLearn say this course is not just for history buffs. “Anyone interested in mediaeval England or the recent discovery of Richard III will find something to fuel their interest here. No prior knowledge or expertise are needed.”

The course lasts six weeks, with about three hours of work per week. FutureLearners will engage with articles, videos, and each other in discussions to cover the material.

FutureLearn is owned by The Open University, and works with some of the world’s leading universities to create and offer these massive open online courses (MOOCs). Other courses they offer cover topics ranging from public speaking and study skills to the science of cancer and heart health.

Go here for more details, and to join the course.

Richard III star David Hywel Baynes leads Iris Theatre Masterclass in London

David Hywel Baynes as Richard III.

David Hywel Baynes as Richard III.

Known for its dynamic, whole body approach to classical texts, Iris Theatre is launching a season of acting masterclasses based at its home, St Paul’s Church in London’s Covent Garden. Each class will focus on a particular part of theatre and performance with the emphasis on practical exploration rather than academic analysis.

Open to actors of all backgrounds, the masterclasses aim to give every participant a deeper understanding and a greater degree of ownership of verse drama. The classes promise a unique opportunity for participants to increase confidence and broaden the range of their classical repertoire.

Masterclass: Richard III – Vengeance & Blood

Sunday 8 June, 5.30pm to 8.30pm

This special one-off masterclass will be co-led by Iris Theatre’s Artistic Director Daniel Winder and actor David Hywel Baynes, who plays the title role in this summer’s production of Richard III. In this intensive masterclass David and Daniel will work through the themes and underlying ideas of the play, illuminating its greatest moments and most signifcant icongraphy.

Daniel will also help to place the play within the wider context of the history cycle, while David will reveal his personal approach to the challenge of playing one of Shakespeare’s most physically demanding parts.

“This Masterclass is happening right in the middle of the rehearsal period of our summer production,” says an Iris Theatre spokesperson, “so join us for the chance to gain a unique insight into the practical challenges of staging Shakespeare.”

For more information, and to book tickets, go here.