PREVIEW: World Shakespeare Festival
The Theatre Royal will be hosting the Royal Shakespeare Company between Thursday 19th and Saturday 28th July, showcasing their bold and refreshing take on Shakespeare’s political classic Julius Caesar.
Ray Fearon, instantly recognisable star of stage and screen, takes on the role of Mark Anthony. Happy at the prospect of returning to the “most beautiful theatre on the planet” this summer, he spares more than a few moments to fill me in on all the, erm, gory details. For starters, Ray is pretty darn enthused about being part of the festival.
“There are so many shows all over the country performing Shakespeare. It’s just fantastic to see and be involved in it. People don’t understand that Shakespeare is performed by so many different companies, in different languages, all over the world, all the time.
We’re just getting a taste of it with this festival.” This interpretation of Julius Caesar has been in gestation for just under a year, inspired in part by director Gregory Doran’s meeting with Nelson Mandela. The play is transported to Africa, where we are invited to explore the contemporary face of dictatorship and democracy. It is fitting that JC provides a conduit for modern times, as it did for Shakespeare. “Shakespeare wasn’t writing about Rome, it was a metaphor for what was happening in the time of Elizabeth I.
Apparently there was paranoia that she would be assassinated and so Shakespeare wrote Julius Caesar. You get a play like this now, our interpretation where Africa, basically, is Rome.”
The fit is seamless though, with young audiences especially engaged in the drama: “young people coming and seeing it don’t even question it. They come in and watch it and get it.” For Ray, there is no question about the Bard’s importance or relevance to our lives, “I come from the inner cities, in London, where, you know, years ago people used to say ‘what’s Shakespeare’s relevance to us?’ And I agreed until I started to do it myself and thought wait, hang on, I kind of get this. This is more relevant to me than just about anything else.”
Keeping young audiences inspired is definitely high on the agenda too. “For me, I just think that’s what we’re here for, for all audiences, but especially that audience of tomorrow. That’s the thing that keeps Shakespeare going and it’s great for Shakespeare, it fits, he’s universal.”
Northern Stage will be hosting events during June and July, including Macbeth: Leila And Ben A Bloody History (Thursday 12th until Saturday 14th July), a stirring reinterpretation of the Scottish play, based in Tunisia where Shakespeare’s malevolent tyrant and his wife are reincarnated as the equally diabolical modern-day duo Leïla and Zine Ben Ali. As Amy Fawdington, Communications Manager at NS, explains: “We’re thinking of it as the Macbeth that Shakespeare would have written if he were alive today.”
Dreamthinkspeak’s The Rest Is Silence (Tuesday 26th until Saturday 30th June), billed as a visual and textual deconstruction of the story of Hamlet, joins the programme as a feat of both theatre and engineering. “An enormous mirrored structure will be built across our main stage. The audience stand inside while the action happens on all sides around them. The structure is huge and will extend into the auditorium so the first task is to extend the front of the stage before we even begin to assemble the set. Our technical team love a challenge and this is the show that they have been waiting all season for – to really put their skills to the test!” In A Pickle (Wednesday 27th until Saturday 30th June), a Shakespeare-inspired production for children aged 2-4, and the Re-Making Shakespeare Conference (Saturday 14th July) help to round off proceedings. Amy explains that the Theatre are very pleased to be involved. “We’re one of very few regions outside London that are partners in the festival and are proud to be able to bring such fresh and innovative productions to audiences in this part of the country, who might not otherwise get to see them.”
Other high hitters deserving of mention include West Side Story, in association with the RSC, at the Sage Gateshead (Wednesday 4th until Saturday 7th July), who are throwing far too many fringe events in to enhance proceedings to possibly list here, although Rodney And Julie J (‘two household supermarkets, both alike in dignity and price, in fair common land where we lay our scene’) looks set to be a stonker. Not to be outdone, the Star & Shadow Cinema are chucking their Alternative Shakespeare Film Festival in to the mix, with screenings of these underappreciated gems running in to July, boasting something for all tastes and hell-bent upon celebrating the Shakespeare that thrives in stranger forms. Lovely.
- REVIEW: Julius Caesar @ Theatre Royal, Newcastle