Across the world, elite athletes are hard at work preparing for the world’s greatest sporting spectacle: the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
At the same time, dozens of
international theatre troupes are busy rehearsing for a similarly extraordinary
event – the 2012 World Shakespeare
Festival – taking place in cities and villages throughout Britain.
From mid-April through the end of November,
the festival will be the biggest and most varied celebration of the Bard ever
attempted, with thousands of actors and more than 70 activities, including
exhibitions, art installations and cutting-edge performances. It is just one of
the spectacular events taking place as part of the London 2012 Festival, the summer’s Cultural Olympiad -- an
arts-based counterweight to the sporting celebration of the Olympics.
One of the most ambitious projects in
the festival is Globe to
Globe, taking place within Shakespeare’s
Globe Theatre, the reconstructed circular Elizabethan playhouse on the
south bank of the Thames. Audiences here will see all 38 of the Bard’s plays
performed by theatre companies from 38 countries in 38 different languages. There
will be summarised subtitles for English-speakers, and Henry V on 8 and 9 June
will be performed in English.
Tom Bird, the Globe to Globe festival director,
spent months searching the world for Shakespeare performers. “It’s been a real
logistical challenge,” Bird said. “But travelling around watching Shakespeare
plays is not a bad way to spend your life. I’ve visited places I never expected
to see and had so many memorable experiences, like drinking sake with the
Japanese group, or talking my way into India’s theatre world by hanging around
with all the directors in Mumbai’s Prithvi Café.”
According to Bird, several of the featured
companies have never performed outside their own countries, and Globe to Globe will
host a number of world premieres, such as the South Sudan Theatre Company’s
performance of Cymbeline and the Armenian version of King John. “It will be
amazing,” Bird said. “And [it] will really open our eyes to all of the
wonderful theatre work around the world that we don’t usually get to see.”
This international focus for the World
Shakespeare Festival is fitting, considering recent research by the Royal Shakespeare Company and the British Council shows that 64
million students – an extraordinary 50% of the world’s school children – learn
Shakespeare’s plays, making him truly the world’s playwright.
“We think of Shakespeare as an English
institution -- like he’s our national poet or playwright,” Bird said. “But when
you go to Lithuania or Japan, they think of him as their own national poet, and
they openly say that they think Shakespeare works better in Lithuanian or
Japanese than it does in English. Kids in Armenia are named Hamlet and Juliet
because of these plays. It shows how deeply Shakespeare’s work has penetrated
and how he is loved across the world no matter what language is spoken.”
year’s Shakespeare events in Great Britain
The World Shakespeare Festival will
take place throughout England, Wales and Scotland and include theatrical
performances, exhibitions, conferences and online projects.
Globe to Globe begins 21 April with a performance of
Venus and Adonis performed in Xhosa and Swahili, and continues until 9 June at
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London’s Southwark neighbourhood. Highlights
include Troilus and Cressida in Maori, the Tempest performed in Bangla and Two
Gentlemen of Verona, performed in the Zimbabwean dialect of Shona.
For a more traditional version of
Shakespeare’s classics, the Royal Shakespeare
Company will hold court in Stratford-Upon-Avon (8 March to 6 October) with
What Country Friends Is This?, a collection of ”shipwreck-themed” plays
including Twelfth Night, The Comedy of Errors and The Tempest.
the World exhibition, 19 July to 25 November, will recreate the world of
the early 17th Century, and feature Elizabethan coins, armour, maps,
tapestries and other objects from the time of Shakespeare, presented in the
context of his plays.