Saturday, June 30, 2012

Shakespeare at the BBC: Beyond The Hollow Crown

Tonight sees the start of the BBC's long awaited series of adaptations of the Henriad, beginning with Richard II under the umbrella title The Hollow Crown. The pre-broadcast reviews and trailers suggest this is going to be one of the great televisual events and there's been a suggestion that if the ratings hold up, the BBC might be convinced to produce some more, perhaps the whole lot.

In an entirely presumptuous move, especially since none of this has been broadcast yet, I wondered how the BBC might go about selecting the plays for production and assuming they continued with the entirely sensible umbrella title idea how they might be grouped together. A second series comprising the other Henriad ending with Richard III is most obvious but what about the rest, those plays who's connection is more tenuous?

The Hollow Crown
 Richard II
Henry IV, p1
Henry IV, p2
Henry V

The Hollow Crown II
 Henry VI, p1
Henry VI, p2
Henry VI, p3
Richard III

The Two Gentlemen of Verona
The Merchant of Venice
Romeo and Juliet

 Much Ado About Nothing
Measure for Measure
The Winter’s Tale

Sibling Rivalries
 Twelfth Night
King Lear
The Comedy of Errors
The Taming of the Shrew

 As You Like It
Edward III
King John
Alls Well That Ends Well

 The Merry Wives of Windsor
Henry VIII
Sir Thomas More
Love’s Labour’s Lost

Classical World
 Troilus and Cressida
Timon of Athens
The Two Noble Kinsmen

 Titus Andronicus
Julius Caesar
Anthony and Cleopatra

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
The Tempest

As you can see I've tried to think with a television scheduler's brain, putting the better known plays at the top and bottom of each series with the wilder material in the middle, including the audacious inclusion of some of the outlying regions of the canon like Sir Thomas More and Edward III neither of which are likely to be filmed in a million years. Or Cardenio, depending on who's version of the text is used (assuming it isn't a new adaptation).

Some of my choices are perfectly obvious, as in these are all plays which have some kind of deception within or these are all set in Italy and France. I've tried to be a bit innovative so "Gloriana" features plays which have some connection to Elizabeth I (reputed to have suggest, her Dad, her Dad, potential allegory) and it's not often these plays featuring spirits are put together in quite this way.

Probably the least appetising from a modern commissioning standpoint is "Classical World" with its three collaborations and opening with a play which few people know much about to begin with.  Logistically Rome's the hardest with its five plays and many locations but there's potential casting connections between JC and A&C.  Please do let me know if you can think of any other ways of grouping the plays together.

Some of the groupings are with an eye to television production. Following The Hollow Crown's lead and boring the pants off Jonathan Miller (who went out of his way not to do this in his BBC Shakespeare's in the 80s) these will all be in period dress so it makes sense to have all the Roman plays together so that props/sets can be reused. Though of course that goes out of the window when it comes to the deception plays.

I'm under no illusions about this. Our luck no matter how well The Hollow Crown does, the BBC'll probably only see it as part of their Olympic celebrations and leave it at that. Plus if they follow this plan, it's a ten year commitment and expensive. But at least I've thought about the logistics and the logic of producing Macbeth, Hamlet and JC so soon after the recent productions and putting them late in the schedule, the best until last.

The Hollow Crown begins tonight at 9pm on BBC Two.

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Sonnets come to iPad, the web and dvd.

Coming soon to an iPad near you, is a new production of The Sonnets produced my all my favourite organisations, Faber, Illuminations and Arden with specially filmed readings of all hundred and fifty-four sonnets by a a mouthwatering cast of Shakespeareans including Sir Patrick Stewart, Kim Cattrall, David Tennant, Simon Russell Beale, Dominic West, Si├ón Phillips, Fiona Shaw, Dame Harriet Walter, Simon Callow, Stephen Fry, and poets Don Paterson and Sir Andrew Motion. James Shapiro, Cicely Berry and Katherine Duncan-Jones (the editor in charge of the text and commentary). are even in there too.

Given that I'm one of those people who doesn't have an iPad and I only tend to write about accessible things, or rather things I can access, I was going to leave the announcement to everyone else, until I noticed that brilliantly, as part of the publicity for the app, the overall publishers Touch Press, have uploaded versions of all the videos along with the texts of the poems to this website for us all to enjoy. Here's Duncan-Jones herself reading eighty-seven.  And for those of us without an internet connection which can cope with the scope of all that streaming, they're also releasing them on a dvd.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Kenneth Branagh knighted.

The Queen's birthday honours were released at midnight and Hamlet interest includes a knighthood for Ken now Sir Kenneth Charles Branagh.  Also from the cast of his film version of Hamlet, Kate Winslet receives a CBE.

Other Shakespearean actors include Jean Marsh who's now an OBE and Amanda Redman, MBE.

At the Royal Shakespeare Company, outgoing artistic director Michael Boyd is knighted and Victoria Heywood, executive director is granted a CBE.

That's about all I can spot.  The full lists are posted on The Guardian's website.

Friday, June 15, 2012

RSC Julius Caesar's BBC Four broadcast date confirmed.

John Wyver at Illuminations has just confirmed it, but the film version of the RSC's new production of Julius Caesar broadcasts on BBC Four on Sunday 24 June 2012 at 8pm. Here's the synopsis on the relevant programme page:
"Film version of the Royal Shakespeare Company's 2012 production of Shakespeare's fast-moving thriller. A vivid story about a struggle for democracy, Julius Caesar is also a love story between two men united by an explosive act of political violence. The setting is a modern African state in which the tyrant Caesar is about to seize power. Cassius persuades Brutus to join the conspirators plotting an assassination. Featuring a distinguished cast of black actors, the film is shot on location and in the RSC's theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon."
Really excited and I suppose we can consider it something of an experiment because this is a rare occasion of a version of a theatre production being broadcast during the run initial run of that same theatre production.

One of the reasons often given for theatre not appearing on television or radio is the impact that would have on box office receipts, so it'll be interesting to hear if this does have an impact on the RSC's box office receipts. 

My guess is that it won't.  These are separate entities and the experience of watching each is different, a viewer choosing between the close-ups of television or the electricity of live theatre and people will still flock to the RSC because it's the RSC.  We'll see.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Simon Schama on Shakespeare.

This especially informative article from Simon Schama manages to explain the development of the commercial theatre in Britain in a single paragraph:
"The first owner-manager to convert a tavern yard site into a true theatre was the grocer John Brayne who established one at the Red Lion in the rustic suburb of Whitechapel. Ultimately, the Red Lion was just too far from the punters to make a go of it, but Brayne’s brother-in-law, James Burbage, was a carpenter-joiner as well as an actor, and when they moved the enterprise to the more populous and buzzingly seedy area of Shoreditch, they took over the ruins of a Catholic convent for the new theatre. The symbolism of one kind of spectacle succeeding the other could not have been more eloquent."
Amazing. In all the books I've read on the topic, never have I seen the transition so cleanly and clearly explained.  Schama's Shakespeare series begins on BBC Two on 22nd June.