SHAKESPEARE LIVE. UK, 2016. Starring David Tennant, Catherine Tate, Judi Dench, Joseph Fiennes, Al Murray, Simon Russell Beale, Roger Allam, Harriet Walter, Benedict Cumberbatch, Helen Mirren, Ian McKellen, Tim Minchin, Rory Kinnear, Anne-Marie Duff.Directed by Gregory Doran. 160 minutes. Colour. Rated PG.
A Shakespearean feast!
This is a wonderful anthology of Shakespearean entertainment. Director Gregory Doran introduces this celebration of Shakespeare’s 400 centenary, performed at Stratford on Avon on 23rd April 2016. While Doran gives the background of Shakespeare’s town, the theatres, the performances, a huge cast of noted Shakespearean actors with support from the members of the Royal Shakespeare Company, it is not simply a filmed event of portions of Shakespeare’s plays. though, indeed it is that. Throughout the performance there are short films hosted by Joseph Fiennes taking the audience through various seasons and years of Shakespeare’s life, the two of Stratford on Avon.
While the words are paramount, there is a great deal of music and dancing. It is a celebration of how Shakespeare has influenced culture over four centuries, including opera excerpts from Berlioz and Verdi, a pas de deux from Romeo and Juliet, an extraordinary contemporary dance performance of the death of Desdemona to the music of Duke Ellington. Tonight from West Side Story opens the proceedings and there is a most entertaining opportunity to Brush Up Your Shakespeare in Cole Porter’s song from Kiss Me Kate, and engage really comic performance, with encores, from Henry Goodman and Rufus Hound..
The hosts for the evening were David Tennant (not sounding like Dr Who but in his native Scot’s brogue) and comedian, Catherine Tate. She immediately sets the tone with a vivid rendition of Jacques’ Seven Ages speech from As You Like It, each phase represented on stage from baby to ancient.
One of the features of the celebration is the number of songs from the plays themselves as well as music derived from the plays, including a lively hip-hop song comprising significant quotes, and a song from Rufus Wainwright and male choir.
There are soliloquies, Simon Russell Beale with John of Gaunt’s This Sceptred Isle from Richard II, Roger Allum as King Lear inveighing against the storm, Harriet Walter as the dying Cleopatra, Helen Mirren as Prospero. Most of us do not know the speech by Sir Thomas more from Shakespeare’s contribution to a play on Henry VIII, a vigorous lament and indictment of attitude towards migrants, spoken with passion by Ian McKellen, and relevant right now.
There are some very funny moments when an actor, Paapa Essiedu, begins To be or not to be and is suddenly interrupted by Tim Minchin urging him to put his accent on “or”, only to be followed by a whole range of actors each with their different emphasis on different words, including Benedict Cumberbatch, Rory Kinnear, Judi Dench, Ian McKellen. the famous soliloquy then presented excellently and in all seriousness by Esseidu. News bulletins at the time gave away the ending of this scene with Prince Charles coming on stage to give his particular emphasis on the “question”.
The scenes from the plays are striking, Rory Kinnear and Anne-Marie Duff as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in the aftermath of the murder of Duncan, Judi Dench and Al Murray making the encounter between Titania and Bottom more hilarious than usual, Anthony Sher flaunting himself as Falstaff.
A grand climax with all actors singers and dancers on stage, David Suchet and Judi Dench as Oberon and Titania, with David Tennant reciting Puck’s words from A Midsummer night’s Dream.
This is a sometimes exhilarating opportunity for Shakespeare lovers, for those who want to brush up their Shakespeare – and could prove a fine opportunity for those who want to broaden and deepen their familiarity, as well as on occasion for those wary of Shakespeare to enter into his world of word and of music.
Sharmill Released 5th May
Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting