Entertainment & Arts

David Tennant to host live BBC Shakespeare show

David Tennant Image copyright BBC/Guy Levy
Image caption David Tennant will present the Shakespeare show live from the RSC at Stratford-upon-Avon

David Tennant is to host a live TV celebration of William Shakespeare to mark the 400th anniversary of the Bard's death.

The former Doctor Who star will be joined in Stratford-upon-Avon by Dame Judi Dench and Sir Ian McKellen.

"It's a variety bill, and the plays are a huge part of that," Tennant said. "We've got some of the biggest classical actors around."

Shakespeare Live! will be broadcast on BBC Two on 23 April.

Tennant, who played an acclaimed Hamlet for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2008, is currently starring in the RSC's Richard II at London's Barbican.

Unveiling details of the live broadcast at the launch the BBC's Shakespeare Festival on Thursday, Tennant said: "We have opera, we have ballet, we have hip-hop - all celebrating Shakespeare and what he's done for our cultural heritage."

Image copyright BBC/Guy Levy
Image caption A Horrible Histories special on CBBC will look at the early life of Shakespeare

The live tribute show at the RSC theatre in Stratford coincides with Shakespeare's birthday weekend.

It will also feature Joseph Fiennes - who played the lead in the film Shakespeare in Love - the English National Opera, Birmingham Royal Ballet, and rapper Akala, founder of the Hip Hop Shakespeare Company.

The BBC Shakespeare Festival 2016 is billed as "the most far-reaching celebration of Shakespeare's work ever broadcast". BBC director general Tony Hall said it aimed "to make Shakespeare irresistible to everybody".

Image copyright BBC/Carnival Film & Television Ltd/Robert Viglasky
Image caption Benedict Cumberbatch as Richard III in The Hollow Crown

Other festival highlights, some of them previously announced, include:

  • The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses starring Benedict Cumberbatch Dame Judi Dench, Keeley Hawes, Sophie Okonedo, Hugh Bonneville and Sir Michael Gambon (BBC Two)
  • A Midsummer Night's Dream by Russell T Davies featuring Matt Lucas, Maxine Peake, John Hannah, Elaine Page, Richard Wilson and Bernard Cribbins (BBC One)
  • The world premiere of new work by Carol Ann Duffy as part of a BBC Radio 3 residency in Stratford-upon-Avon from 22-24 April
  • New Radio 3 dramas include The Wolf in the Water, by Naomi Alderman, which imagines what became of Shylock's daughter Jessica from The Merchant of Venice, and King Lear, starring Ian McDiarmid
  • Radio 4 will broadcast a new production of Julius Caesar starring Tim Piggott-Smith
  • Upstart Crow, a BBC Two comedy written by Ben Elton, starring David Mitchell as Shakespeare, Liza Tarbuck as his wife Anne and Harry Enfield as his father
  • Cunk on Shakespeare - a half-hour special featuring the character of Philomena Cunk (Diane Morgan), a regular on Charlie Brooker's Weekly Wipe
  • A special episode of Horrible Histories on CBBC, looking at the Bard's early life with Tom Stourton as Shakespeare
  • BBC One's Countryfile investigating the landscapes that inspired Shakespeare's greatest works
  • Gyles Brandreth tracks down the UK's only living William Shakespeares for The One Show
  • Best Bottoms in the Land (BBC One English Regions) will follow the RSC's quest to put on A Midsummer Night's Dream using a mixture of professional and amateur actors from around the UK
  • BBC One drama Doctors will feature storylines inspired by a Shakespearian sonnet

The festival sees the BBC in partnership with a number of arts organisations, such as the RSC.

Image copyright BBC/Guy Levy
Image caption Some of the cast of BBC One's A Midsummer Night's Dream were at the launch

Gregory Doran, the RSC's artistic director, said Shakespeare was still relevant and accessible after 400 years.

"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."

Tennant said his first brush with live Shakespeare was seeing As You Like It in his school gym hall in the early 1980s.

"We all filed in and sat an watch this performance and I got blown away. I thought Touchstone was the coolest man I'd ever seen."

He added: "Shakespeare has been a huge part of my life, these characters and stories are catnip for actors."

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