Tony Hall launches BBC Shakespeare Festival 2016

Shakespeare’s in our DNA. For 90 years, we’ve been broadcasting his works to successive generations, but we’ve never done anything as daring, as adventurous as we’re doing now.Tony Hall
  • Dame Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Joseph Fiennes, English National Opera, (ENO), Birmingham Royal Ballet, Ian Bostridge, and Akala (Hip Hop Shakespeare) confirmed for BBC Two’s Shakespeare Live! From the RSC
  • BBC Radio 3 residency in Stratford-upon-Avon from 22 to 24 April will see the station broadcast live from the birthplace of Shakespeare, including the world premiere of new work by Carol Ann Duffy. Late Night Sonnet Symphony, five playwrights re-version five of Shakespeare’s sonnets into contemporary drama, a new King Lear starring Ian McDiarmid, A Play From Heart: The Death Of Shakespeare by Nick Warburton and The Wolf in the Water by Naomi Alderman
  • New BBC Two comedies Upstart Crow, written by Ben Elton and starring David Mitchell, and Cunk on Shakespeare, featuring Philomena from Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe
  • A range of BBC Learning initiatives to bring Shakespeare to a new generation including an interactive iWonder ‘ShakespeareMe' which will allow users to select the perfect Shakespeare ‘emoji quote’ to express their feelings
  • The above joins landmark dramas BBC Two’s The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses executive produced by Sam Mendes, with Benedict Cumberbatch, Dame Judi Dench, Keeley Hawes, Sophie Okonedo, Hugh Bonneville, Sir Michael Gambon and Tom Sturridge and A Midsummer Night's Dream adapted by Russell T Davies featuring Matt Lucas, Maxine Peake, John Hannah, Elaine Page, Richard Wilson and Bernard Cribbins (BBC One), as well as raft of new programmes across TV, Radio and online 

Today, the BBC launched its plans to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death with its most far-reaching celebration of Shakespeare’s work ever broadcast, The BBC Shakespeare Festival 2016.

Partnering with some of the country’s leading arts organisations, this unique festival will bring to life the genius of William Shakespeare for millions of households in the UK and around the world, across all platforms - national, regional and global. The festival aims to make Shakespeare’s work irresistible to everyone.

In the historic Radio Theatre, Director-General Tony Hall today announced the BBC’s ambitious plans with an exclusive preview of its content which featured speeches from Gregory Doran, the RSC’s Artistic Director, guest appearances from David Tennant and Sam Mendes, a performance from Hip Hop Shakespeare, an extract from Romeo And Juliet with emerging stars from the RSC Rob Gilbert and Jennifer Kirby, a special Shakespearian sketch from Horrible Histories, and finally, a special performance from Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play For The Nation with children from Eastbury School in Barking, alongside actress Ayesha Dharker as Titania.

BBC Director-General Tony Hall said: “Shakespeare’s in our DNA. For 90 years, we’ve been broadcasting his works to successive generations, but we’ve never done anything as daring, as adventurous as we’re doing now. This year, we’re bringing to life my vision of what the BBC’s about – using all our services to make Shakespeare irresistible to everybody. And joining with some of our country’s greatest institutions to bring their creativity to millions here and across the globe."

Gregory Doran, Artistic Director of the RSC, said: “Shakespeare is for everyone, so we want as many people as possible to have a chance to experience his work this year. We are thrilled to collaborate with the BBC in a fantastic initiative to bring Shakespeare's legacy to audiences all over the UK, including work direct from the RSC's theatres in his home town.

"We will mark this remarkable 400-year anniversary with Shakespeare Live! From The RSC, hosted by RSC Associate Artist David Tennant and a feast of artists from music, dance, theatre, film and comedy; our nationwide tour of A Midsummer Night's Dream; and a huge year-round programme in Stratford, London, in cinemas, classrooms and online.”

Shakespeare Live! From The RSC, will be broadcast during the weekend of Shakespeare’s birthday. Hosted by David Tennant, directed by Gregory Doran and produced for television by John Wyver and Catherine Stirk, Shakespeare Live! From the RSC, will celebrate Shakespeare’s enduring influence on all performance art forms. A stellar cast, including Dame Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Joseph Fiennes, English National Opera (ENO), Birmingham Royal Ballet, Ian Bostridge, and Akala (Hip Hop Shakespeare) will perform in a unique star-studded tribute to the genius and influence of the world’s greatest playwright and storyteller.

Shakespeare Live! From The RSC joins a raft of BBC programming across all services with the ambition to inspire all our audiences about the life, times and work of William Shakespeare:

Britain's Finest Talent

  • BBC Two’s The Hollow Crown: The Wars Of The Roses executive produced by Sam Mendes, with Benedict Cumberbatch, Dame Judi Dench, Keeley Hawes, Sophie Okonedo, Hugh Bonneville, Sir Michael Gambon and Tom Sturridge, and A Midsummer Night's Dream adapted by Russell T Davies featuring Matt Lucas, Maxine Peake, John Hannah, Elaine Page, Richard Wilson and Bernard Cribbins (BBC One)
  • BBC Four will be looking at Shakespeare from a foreign perspective with Arena: All The World’s A Screen - Shakespeare On Film which explores Shakespeare’s relationship with film including footage from Laurence Olivier, Orson Welles and Baz Luhrmann. To accompany the programme, BBC Four will be showing a selection of the international films featured in it.
  • New Radio 3 dramas as part of the Festival are inspired by the life and work Shakespeare, and include A Play From The Heart: The Death Of Shakespeare by Nick Warburton, which is set in 1616 in the fevered imagination of Shakespeare as he approaches the end of his life; The Wolf In The Water by Naomi Alderman, a unique imagining of what became of Shylock’s daughter Jessica from The Merchant Of Venice; and new versions of King Lear - starring Ian McDiarmid as Lear - and A Winter’s Tale
  • Radio 4 will broadcast a new three-part production of Julius Caesar starring Tim Pigott-Smith in the title role.


  • Ben Elton’s comedy Upstart Crow (BBC Two) starring David Mitchell as Shakespeare, Liza Tarbuck as his wife Anne, and Harry Enfield as his father, reveals the Bard's hilarious personal life and the origins of many of his best-loved plays.
  • Cunk On Shakespeare, also on BBC Two, offers Philomela Cunk’s unrivalled and unique ‘authored’ documentary take on Shakespeare.
  • Horrible Histories is back on CBBC with a special episode delving in to the life and times of the world's most famous writer. Tom Stourton stars as the Bard, as we find out about his humble beginnings, his glove-making father and his early life as an actor.

Inspiring Everyone

  • BBC One’s Countryfile will investigate the landscapes that inspired Shakespeare’s greatest works, while Gyles Brandeth finds the UK’s only living William Shakespeares for The One Show. Doctors will offer storylines during his birthday week inspired by a Shakespearian Sonnet.
  • BBC Radio 3’s glass pop-up studio takes up residency in the Royal Shakespeare’s Company’s newly opened The Other Place theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon from 22 - 24 April, and will host a live In Concert from the church where Shakespeare is buried with the premiere of Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy’s new work ‘A Shakespeare Masque’, and David Garrick’s ‘Ode to Shakespeare’ performed by Samuel West.
  • BBC Performing Groups will also honour the genius of William Shakespeare with a series of concerts from BBC Proms, BBC Symphony Orchestra & Chorus, BBC Singers, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, BBC Concert Orchestra, and the BBC Philharmonic. The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra comes together with The Glasgow School of Art, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and the University of Glasgow for the first time to create New Dreams, an ambitious, multi-arts experience spanning several months, culminating in a final performance titled Dream On!
  • BBC Radio 2’s 500 WORDS writing competition will mark the anniversary of Shakespeare’s death by announcing the winners in a very special live broadcast of the Chris Evan’s Breakfast Show at Shakespeare’s Globe on Bankside to which all the finalists will be invited.
  • Home Front, Radio 4’s daily drama set in WW1 Britain, will conceal a Shakespeare phrase in every episode from 1 January until 31 December, and there will be another chance to catch Neil MacGregor’s Shakespeare’s Restless World on Radio 4 offering a fascinating insight into the life and times of the Bard using objects of the time to explore the world in which he lived.

Exciting a Generation

  • Other new initiatives bringing Shakespeare alive for a new generation include the ShakespeareMe iWonder guide which will let the user find a perfect Shakespeare emoji quote to fit their mood.
  • The new BBC Shakespeare Archive Resource which offers unique access for colleges, universities and schools to hundreds of BBC television and radio broadcasts of Shakespeare’s plays, sonnets and documentaries. BBC Live lessons in partnership with the RSC will offer lessons that explore the language and work of Shakespeare.
  • BBC Bitesize will launch brand new resources for both primary and secondary school pupils
  • New iWonder guides including a timeline of the life and legacy of Shakespeare including discussing whether Shakespeare was a feminist.
  • CBBC and CBeebies will celebrate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death with a raft of programmes including a Horrible Histories special, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust - Passport to Shakespeare initiative with BBC Learning led by Hacker the Dog, a Shakespearian edition of Blue Peter, a special How to be Epic @Shakespeare, a CBeebies performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and special episodes of Magic Hands Shakespeare.

Shakespeare Where You Live

  • Best Bottoms in the Land (BBC One English Regions) will follow the RSC’s quest to put on A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play for the Nation where, for the first time, professionals will be joined by local amateur theatre companies.
  • BBC English Regions, Shakespeare on Tour, will build a digital picture of the explosion in the performance of Shakespeare’s plays, from the first performances to the present day. Bringing together rich academic research (from Records of Early English Drama, De Montfort University and the Arts and Humanities Research Council) and original playbills from the late 18th century onwards, held in the British Library’s collections.

Shakespeare Around The Globe

Shakespeare Day Live and the Shakespeare Lives Festival

  • On 23 April 2016, some of the nation’s greatest performing arts institutions will mark 400 years since Shakespeare’s death with Shakespeare Day Live. This digital event – accessible anywhere in the world - will be hosted in Birmingham and co-curated by the BBC and the British Council, in collaboration with the Royal Opera House, Shakespeare’s Globe the British Film Institute, Hay Festival and the Royal Shakespeare Company. Shakespeare Day live will also inaugurate Shakespeare Lives, a six month online festival. It is also supported by the GREAT Britain campaign. Shakespeare Lives will bring a remarkable collection of interpretations of Shakespeare’s work together in one digital space, for audiences in the UK and around the world to experience. Following the live stream on April 23rd this diverse collection of work will be available internationally for six months on at
  • Radio 4 and the BBC World Service will also take a look at how Shakespeare is interpreted across different countries in Shakespeare in the World, which includes Shakespeare and The American Dream where Robert McCrum investigates just why Shakespeare’s work has always resonated so well with the American ideal. The series will also travel to India and South Africa. Shakespeare Speaks from BBC Learning English and The Open University will feature 20 short animations exploring Shakespeare’s marked influence on the English we speak today.

Notes to Editors

For further details on all the above programmes please see the Media Pack.

All titles are working titles and are subject to change.

Pictured: Simon Russell Beale, Sam Mendes, Tony Hall


For further information on the RSC’s contribution please contact Philippa Harland