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Enough Bard to fill up a year

The Royal Shakespeare Company will present the great writer's every word. He has much to say in anxious times, the artistic director notes.

November 30, 2005|Philip Boroff | Bloomberg News

NEW YORK — In April, the Royal Shakespeare Company begins what the Guardian newspaper calls an "orgy of Bardstuff." Over the next year, Patrick Stewart, Judi Dench and about 500 other actors will celebrate the world's most famous playwright by performing every word he wrote.

The "Complete Works" features some 50 productions covering all 37 of William Shakespeare's plays, from lesser- known works such as "The Two Noble Kinsmen" and "The Rape of Lucrece" to "Hamlet," "Macbeth" and other classics. There also will be recitals of Shakespeare's sonnets and long poems.

All the productions will be staged in Stratford-upon-Avon, the town where Shakespeare was born in 1564 and died in 1616. (It's about 100 miles northwest of London.)

The Royal Shakespeare Company will produce 15 of the plays, with the rest performed by theater companies from South Africa, Japan, the U.S. and other countries.

Michael Boyd, the RSC's artistic director, visited New York this month to discuss the "Complete Works," the RSC's most ambitious project since Peter Hall founded the company in 1960.

Question: Why the complete works? Don't you already do all Shakespeare, all the time?

Answer: We're called the Royal Shakespeare Company, but we've been doing glorious work with Spanish renaissance work, with Shakespeare's contemporaries, with new plays. We're specializing in Shakespeare to see, by drilling deeper and wider, if we can find out any more, if we can deepen our understanding of him.

Also, it's a party -- a yearlong knees-up for people to come and celebrate this artist I would argue with anyone is the best we have.

Q: Isn't this an attempt to draw attention?

A: I don't think that's an enormous sin in the entertainment industry. I think if it was merely that, if there was nothing there at the heart of it, perhaps it would be a wee bit superficial. We're trying to fulfill our promise as a company, to take the idea of collective theater-making seriously.

Q: Does the British government have a role?

A: They're pretty hands-off. We get a very substantial grant from the Arts Council of England, but that's an arms-length organization, independent of the government.

Q: You're not expecting people to come for an entire year, are you?

A: We actually have already sold out our contingent of 1,000-pound tickets that get you into every single show.

We hope that people who wouldn't have thought to come to Stratford next year will come -- maybe for a day, maybe for a weekend. We hope that those who would have previously come for a day will come for a weekend. And those who used to come for a week would come for a fortnight.

Q: Will the festival make any sort of statement?

A: We want a much better, more vivid dialogue both about what made Shakespeare tick and therefore a deeper understanding of where we are.

In this post-millennial moment, we're very anxious about moral authority, spiritual authority, political authority. Shakespeare is one of the most articulate and fearless and skillful artists on those subjects.

Q: What are you most excited about?

A: One thing that scares me is that my "Richard III" will be playing opposite Sulayman Al-Bassam's "Baghdad Richard," which is Shakespeare's experience with "Richard III" translated through contemporary Arab eyes, with a pretty clear eye on Iraq. I think his production will probably be rather good. So that makes me quite nervous, but it keeps me on my toes.

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