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Previews

A scene from Titus Andronicus
Yukio Ninagawa's Titus Andronicus

A national "knees-up" for Shakespeare

It's probably one of its most ambitious projects to date but the RSC looks set to shake the theatrical world with a year-long festival featuring the complete Shakespeare canon performed at venues throughout Stratford.

All 37 of Shakespeare's plays, sonnets and long poems will be performed as part of just one season for the first time ever at the RSC, in what Michael Boyd described as a "national knees-up" for Shakespeare.

The massive Complete Works Festival will see stars like Dame Judi Dench, Sir Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart rubbing shoulders with talent from around the world as the entire Shakespeare canon comes to stages around Stratford.

Deborah Shaw
Deborah Shaw directs the festival

The festival, which begins in April 2006, will embrace film, new writing, and contemporary music, as well as a comprehensive survey of theatre artists currently interpreting Shakespeare worldwide.

Acrobat taking part in Midsummer Night's Dream
A scene from Midsummer Night's Dream

Of all the works being staged, 15 will be the work of the RSC itself and will include a new cycle of the histories, Patrick Stewart in The Tempest and Antony and Cleopatra, a musical version of Merry Wives of Windsor with Dame Judi and Ian McKellen in King Lear will end the series.

A showcase of international artists will tackle the remaining works. Amongst them will be Peter Stein and Yukio Ninagawa, who have already made a lasting impact on the performance of Shakespeare.

Director Sulayman Al-Bassam
Sulayman Al-Bassam directs Richard III

Joining them will be companies like Propeller, Kneehigh and Forkbeard Fantasy, all of whom have become renowned for their exciting and fresh theatre interpretations.

Visiting companies from South and North America, Russia, the Middle East, Asia, Africa and across Europe will explore Shakespeare’s continuing influence on cultures around the world.

The aim, according to the RSC, is to open up a "richer dialogue" with international theatre companies in a bid to promote future collaborations.

One of the most exciting aspects of the festival is its use of new venues. As well as the RSC theatres, a new outdoor theatre will be built in the RSC gardens for a fringe festival and buildings like Holy Trinity Church and Shakespeare's Birthplace will be used.

Actors in Hamlet
The Baxter Theatre Group's Hamlet

In October, a new temporary 100 seat studio theatre will be created in the main house for small-scale physical theatre while the controversial Courtyard Theatre, which will become the RSC's main theatre when renovations begin in the main house, will also be built.

RSC artistic director Michael Boyd said while many would "relish this once-in-a-lifetime" chance to see all the plays, the festival was not just for Shakespeare fans.

He added: "The festival looks set to be the most extensive celebration of Shakespeare’s genius – at once a national knees-up for the RSC’s house playwright and a survey of the different approaches to his work from around the world.

Kneehigh theatre group
Kneehigh theatre group

"Our ambition is to stage one of the most significant cultural festivals of the year in Stratford."

With a nod to a very successful couple of years for the company, which has included the final agreement for chances being made to the RST, Mr Boyd said the company was in a position to do the series justice.

"We can now stage a programme that meets our ambitions for an outward-looking RSC that’s truly engaged with the world," he said.

"We want to do much more than pay lip service to Shakespeare’s internationalism as we prepare the ground for artistic collaborations that will continue beyond the life of the Festival.”

last updated: 26/09/06
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