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BBC One's Doctors celebrates Shakespeare

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Doctors films on the stage of the Swan Theatre, RSC

This week the BBC commemorates the works of William Shakespeare, who was born on 23 April. Long-running soap Doctors has fully embraced the occasion and tried something a little different: Every episode that airs this week has been inspired by a Shakespeare sonnet and features scenes filmed in the playwright's place of birth, Stratford-Upon-Avon. Cast members, Bharti Patel and Ian Midlane, who both have very different knowledge and experience of Shakespeare talked to us about their experience.

Q: This week BBC Doctors reflects on the works of Shakespeare. How did you feel about getting to grips with these well-known sonnets and stories?

Bharti: In all honesty, I had never done Shakespeare and I found the prospect of it quite daunting. The idea of speaking in iambic pentameter was quite scary. How are you supposed to talk to a rhythm? However, the director I worked with at the RSC was brilliant and he really helped to explain the concept – he made me realise that you speak in rhythm in everyday life, and in the end, it’s just another play.

Ian: Before I came to Doctors the majority of my career had been working in Shakespeare plays. I was in the Royal Shakespeare Company and had worked at Shakespeare's Globe. I was in a production of Hamlet that played at Elsinore Castle where that play is set. It was really exciting to do some Shakespeare with Doctors.

Q: How has Shakespeare inspired you and your career?

Ian: I feel about Shakespeare the same way I felt about Steven Gerrard in the 2005 Champions League final or the NASA Apollo moon landings teams, or when you hear a great politician inspire - that they are other worldly and yet like some distant pal.  I do feel great passion for his work. When I was about 13 I used to go into my school's library, it only had a few plays but there was a hardback copy of Henry V and I knew that there was an awesome and famous speech in it about: 'Once more unto the breech dear friends', so I used to go in every lunchtime until I had learned the speech. 

Q: Why do you think it’s important to recognise Shakespeare in 2016?

Bharti: What struck me was that the Royal Shakespeare Company is really trying to bring Shakespeare to a new audience. Originally, Shakespeare was performed for all, with every member of society able to catch a glimpse of a story. However, in recent times, it has become reserved for those with more money. What I think is fantastic is that the RSC is reclaiming it for everyone all over again. They have a diverse cast and are giving a new life to the stories. People like Iqbal Khan are out to make it accessible in 2016.

Q: What was it like merging BBC daytime programme Doctors with Shakespeare?

Bharti: Well for Ruhma, she is a fan of Shakespeare and recognises the words when Heston speaks them to her – and I feel it made something that could be daunting more accessible. I think it opened my own eyes to it too. I went to see Othello directed by Iqbal Kahn and suddenly it was so clear and I read it with new eyes. The language, it is so beautiful and the stories are amazing yet still so relevant and modern.

Q: How do you think Doctors has been influenced by Shakespeare?

Ian: Shakespeare's plays seem to be full of truths. Things that shine a light on exact moments of your experience of life and say 'well this is what it is to be alive'. Shakespeare seems to know just as much about modern life as he did his own time. It's a really good example to set, for a show like ours that is all about relationships and behaviour. To try and tell stories that are universally true. When Hamlet is asked about his dead father he talks about how, 'he was a man, take him for all in all. I shall not look upon his like again'. I think there is a simplicity and honesty in that that you see in Doctors at our best.

Q: How does Doctors make Shakespeare accessible?

Ian: We celebrate Shakespeare all the time so this anniversary seems like as good excuse as any to have some more celebration and to remind ourselves of how his work has gone onto inspire so many people. I think for too long Shakespeare was stolen from the people by the academic world and taught in schools to be something that is dry and scholarly. But I think he is finally being reclaimed and people are discovering him for themselves. As Shakespeare's pals said about him, he was not of an age but for all time. 

Bharti: I think William Shakespeare would be proud that his work continues to be accessed by millions of people, young, old and from all over the world from different social groups and that the stories are constantly being reinvented.

Q: Why should we watch this week’s programming?

Ian:  The BBC Doctors contribution to the celebrations is a week of episodes inspired and bookended by some of the sonnets. It will show how relevant Shakespeare still is by bringing it to the world of Letherbridge. I also think it’s particularly apt as being a Warwickshire lad; he would have been but a few miles from the site of the Mill Health Centre!

For the cast it was a delight to do something quite different from the day job. Ordinarily Doctors is a show about invisible performances, that you play scenes in as naturalistic, chatty and sometimes mumbly and improvised way as possible. The delightful thing was seeing different members of the cast rehearsing their sonnets in between set ups. So as a make-up check was going on you'd hear: 'though rosy lips and cheeks within his bending sickles compass come'. And it's really catchy stuff so everyone would be trying each other’s sonnets out. It was a lovely gift to have something so beautiful to work on. 

Doctors is on BBC One, weekdays at 1.45pm. All episodes this week have been inspired by a sonnet and members of the cast have performed five ‘freestanding’ sonnets which are available across the week on the Doctors website and the BBC iWonder website.

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