You’ll need a spare three hours and a love of Shakespeare but the sprawling documentary Shakespeare Lives! will more than repay you. The Royal Shakespeare Company turned on a huge evening of tribute to celebrate Shakespeare on the 400th anniversary of his death and the resulting film is enormous and absorbing fun-with-the-Bard, when it isn’t chilling to the bone with bits of the Scottish play and dark musings on life and existence.
It’s hosted in a brilliant bit of cross cultural marketing by Catherine Tate and David Tennant, who not only formed one of the liveliest Doctor/companion partnerships in recent Dr Who but also played Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing on stage. Tennant’s Hamlet and Richard 11 are not to be sneezed at either and glimpses of his Shakespearean quality shine through.
Then it’s a procession of the great and the good done by the bloody marvellous. Hamlet, Macbeth, Much Ado, Anthony and Cleopatra, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Henry IV and V, As You Like It, Romeo and Juliet…. Judy Dench, Harriet Walters, Ian McKellan, Helen Mirren, Benedict Cumberbatch, Anthony Sher…
There are tiny film segments on the Stratford places in Shakespeare’s life, Tim Minchin and the heir to the throne pop in as part of an argument on how to say “to be or not to be’ and even Horrible Histories turns up. There’s cross cultural Shakespeare from Japan and from Africa and a mass of colour blind casting. And Helen Mirren turns up toward the end as Prospero.
Surprises abound, but look out particularly for Ian McKellan doing a piece from Sir Thomas More, a play from somewhere around 1596-1601 that seems to have had several hands contributing, including Shakespeare. The play ran into censorship difficulties and probably never reached performance but the words of More on the subject of unwelcome asylum seekers from Lombardy coming to London are chillingly modern.
And every now and again there’s dance or a piece of jazz or an opera or a musical comedy or a pure musical spin off. They might leave out William Walton and Benjamin Britten but not Verdi and Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet or Brush Up Your Shakespeare. And Mendelssohn and Oberon (David Suchet), Titania (Judi Dench) and Puck (David Tennant) have the last word.
If it ever gets released on a DVD it’ll be a godsend in the classroom, but it will also be treasured by fans of the playwright. Let’s not spoil all of the surprises by saying more.
Dendy May 6, 7, 8, 9 and 11.
Session dates and times:
Palace Electric May 6-8; 14-15.
Session dates and times:
On the play Sir Thomas More: