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Thursday 19 April 2012, 12:07

Paula McDonnell Paula McDonnell

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Editor's Note: Nick St George is the producer of Shakespeare: Thereby Hangs A Tale with Simon Russell Beale. You can hear the programme on BBC Radio 4 Extra on 21 April at 9am and 7pm. PMcD.

Simon Russell Beale can be hear in Shakespeare: Thereby Hangs A Tale on Radio 4 Extra.

While the Olympics are inevitably grabbing the headlines, you may have noticed that 2012 is also the UK's Year of Shakespeare. The World Shakespeare Festival starts on 23rd April (which may or may not be Will's birthday, but is the date of his death) and runs until November. His plays will be staged all over the country, with the Globe in London hosting a number of companies from across the world each putting their own spin on the Swan of Avon's output. And the BBC is joining in this Bardfest with Shakespeare Unlocked on radio, TV and on-line

So how could Radio 4 Extra - the digital home of archive comedy and drama - contribute to this celebration? Rather than simply re-run productions of his plays, we decided to take a slightly sideways look at the subject and compile a selection of programmes that are primarily about and inspired by him.

So, in true Shakespearian style, we can offer you Comedy (Desmond Olivier Dingle, John Wells' Macbeth), Tragedy (Shakespeare Stories - Romeo & Juliet) and History (Great Lives). Plus there's Lenny Henry in pursuit of the glover's son from Stratford (Lenny and Will), a play by Robert Nye that examines the riddle of why William left his wife his "second best bed" (Mrs Shakespeare) - and a selection of sonnets read by Ian McKellen and "remixed" with music and effects. Our host for this 3 hour extravaganza is the Shakespearean actor and BBC4 presenter, Simon Russell Beale.

Lenny Henry suffered from Acute Shakespeareophobia while at school, having been made to read it round the class without any sense that what he was studying was actually drama. It was only when he saw the Zeffirelli film of 'Romeo and Juliet' that Lenny admits he finally "got" Shakespeare. Since then he's played Othello and was recently on London's South Bank in 'The Comedy of Errors'; from New Faces to the National...

He cannot have been alone in his early lack of enthusiasm. Uninspiring teaching must have turned thousands off Will's work over the years. And, let's be honest, the language is difficult and the contemporary references can be hard to fathom. But those who have been fortunate enough to "get" him know that he's well worth the effort. He's not perfect; some of the plays creak in places and the sonnets tend to be repetitive, but overall, the man's extraordinary humanity, use of language and stagecraft merit the label of 'genius', and are why we are still moved by his plays almost 400 years after his death.

Hopefully Shakespeare: Thereby Hangs A Tale will go some way to pushing open the door to the man and his work for those who have not previously been handed the keys. There will be sex (Mr and Mrs Shakespeare ignite their conjugal passion in Robert Nye's raunchy drama), there will be violence (in Wells' gallop through the Scottish Play), there will be laughter (Desmond Olivier Dingle's typically incompetent attempts to illuminate the Bard) and there will be tears (the deaths of the star-cross'd lovers as related in one of the original poems that inspired Romeo and Juliet). Doesn't sound much like Old School Shakespeare to me...

Nick St George is the Producer of Thereby Hangs a Tale

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