The 23rd April is both St George’s Day and the anniversary of both the birth and death of William Shakespeare (1564-1616), and as we have now reached 400 years since the poet/playwright’s death, both the Globe Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company have created projects which happened this weekend.
The Complete Walk presents all 37 plays in chronological order in a route starting at St Thomas’ Hospital with The Two Gentlemen of Verona and finishing at Potters Fields Park with The Tempest.
We saw eleven of the plays between Hungerford Bridge (Titus Andronicus, with Peter Capaldi, rather battling against the noise of the trains above), to the back of the Oxo Tower (The Merry Wives of Windsor, with Mel Giedroyc). Three screens (The Comedy of Errors, Henry IV Part 2, and Much Ado About Nothing) were not working as we passed, and I understand technical issues have plagued this project a bit on a windy, cold and showery day yesterday – hopefully today will have more of a hit rate.
- Titus Andronicus (under Hungerford Bridge). Filmed in Rome, this shows a different side of Capaldi than is familiar to most these days from Doctor Who.
- Henry VI Part 2 (under Golden Jubilee Bridge). Filmed at Spitalsfield Market, this was a very modern take of a little-known history play.
- Romeo and Juliet (opposite Royal Festival Hall). Filmed at Verona with Jessie Buckley and Luke Thompson in glorious blue tints in the closing tomb scene, this was well acted and also featured scenes from the Globe’s production with Ellie Kendrick and Adetomiwa Edun.
- Richard III (next to Waterloo Bridge). Filmed in the Tower of London, with a glorious monologue from Claire Higgins, Queen Margaret’s speech from Act 4.
- Love’s Labour’s Lost (in front of the National Theatre). Filmed in Navarre, with Gemma Arterton and David Dawson. Beautifully shot but the volume made it hard to follow.
- King John (in front of the National Theatre). The Hubert and Arthur scene, filmed a the Holy Sepulchre, with the right amount of murderous intent and tension.
- Richard II (Observation Point). Filmed in Westminster Hall, with James Norton in the abdication and ‘I have wasted time’ scenes. An actor I don’t care for, but I wanted to see more of this.
- A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Gabriel’s Wharf Bandstand). Filmed at Wilton House, with the Theseus and Hippolyta scenes, and the wall scene with ‘the rude mechanicals’. Funny but lacking the play’s magic.
- The Merchant of Venice (Riverside Slice). Filmed in the Jewish Ghetto, Venice, with Jonathan and Phoebe Pryce reprising their roles as Shylock and Jessica alongside scenes from the Globe production. Looks great but the sound was drowned out by an adjacent screen.
- Henry IV Part 1 (Bernie Spain Gardens). Filmed at the George Inn, Southwark, with Toby Jones as a drunken Falstaff we first meet passed out in a cubicle in the Gents. Very funny but far too loud.
- The Merry Wives of Windsor (behind the Oxo Tower). The scene between the Mistresses discussing Falstaff and the basket, with one of them in drag. Plays like a comedy sketch.
It’s a varied project, and an accomplished one. The YouTube channel for Shakespeare’s Globe includes trailers for Timon of Athens (with Simon Russell Beale) and King Lear (with Kenneth Cranham). I hope this project – which also ran in Liverpool this weekend, but mainly in interior locations – has an additional life beyond the opportunity to see the films in situ.
In the evening, there was a television broadcast live from Stratford-upon-Avon which mixed music (excerpts from West Side Story and Kiss Me Kate, opera and ballet, jazz and hip hop, and appearances from Rufus Wainwright and tenor Ian Bostridge), comedy (a delightful ‘nine Hamlet’ sketch which includes Cumberbatch, McKellen, Dench and others, including Prince Charles, advising on how to speak the classic ‘To Be or Not To Be’ soliloquy), speeches (Ian McKellen as Thomas More, Roger Allam as Lear, Judi Dench as Titania with Al Murray as Bottom, Rory Kinnear and Ann-Marie Duff as the Macbeths) and filmed inserts (Joseph Fiennes within the Shakespeare Trust properties at Stratford, and Simon Russell Beale doing part of the John of Gaunt speech from Richard II).
Uneven at the start, this settled into a classy piece of live theatre, although it was not quite as good as the earlier ‘National Theatre at 50’. Appearances from the likes of Helen Mirren, David Suchet, and the aforementioned Dame Judi and Sir Ian interested me more than a group of students performing Bernstein or a poorly spoken Juliet in the balcony scene. Still, there was a good range of plays represented, and a strong sense of how Shakespeare has moved into many areas of popular culture.
To close this post, I will share the costume from the 1948 film of Hamlet, starring and directed by Laurence Olivier, which can be found in the BFI Southbank’s small Shakespeare on Film exhibition in their Mezzanine (above the box office), which accompanies their rather populist season of screenings.