The BBC Shakespeare Festival 2016.

TV Yesterday, the BBC launched The BBC Shakespeare Festival, another season of programmes dedicated to the man and his plays, four years on since the Cultural Olympiad. As ever there's quite a lot of contextual documentaries and the like, but I thought it would be worth filtering through the media pack to find what actual productions, what actual Shakespeare would be broadcast during the season.

The key word is "interpretation".  That's "interpretation".

 I'll utilise their subheadings:

Shakespeare Live! From The RSC

Not an actual play.
"On Shakespeare's birthday, the BBC and the Royal Shakespeare Company come together in an extravaganza, celebrating Shakespeare's words and his enduring influence on all performance art forms - from opera to jazz, dance to musicals."

"This unique event will be hosted by David Tennant, directed by Gregory Doran, RSC Artistic Director, and will include appearances from Dame Judi Dench, ENO, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Ian Bostridge, Joseph Fiennes and Akala."
This should be pretty special to be fair, but interpretations of the plays and text does not always constitute the plays and text.

Landmark Drama

The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses – BBC Two
A Midsummer Night’s Dream – BBC One

The rump of the plays on television. The second half of The Hollow Crown but with Henry VI playing across two rather than three films then Richard III. A Midsummer Night's Dream is the Russell T Davies produced version which should be spectacular and lets face it, actual Shakespeare on BBC One, except it's only going to be ninety minutes which means you're going to be losing at least an hour of the text. So in the end what we have is adaptations of the plays rather than the actual plays as Shakespeare intended.

Across TV


Two comedies, an Arena about film versions of the plays, The One Show live from Stratford, Countryfile visiting the landscapes which inspired the plays and good gracious, "From 18 to 22 April 2016, each episode of Doctors across the week will be inspired by a Shakespearian Sonnet."

On Radio

King Lear
The Winter's Tale
Julius Caesar

The first two are Drama on 3s. Ian McDiamond as Lear. In Scotland. But yes, Lear. Again. No word on Winter's casting. Other than that it's mainly tons of classical music inspired by Shakespeare.

Julius Caesar is split across three afternoons in the Afternoon Drama slot ala Hamlet last year, which as you can see is also getting a repeat. Tim Piggott-Smith as Caesar and Robert Glenister as Brutus. Features the words "brand new interpretation" in the synopsis.

Of the contextual programmes on radio, here's my favourite:

"Building a Library: Radio 3’s review programme will be assessing Verdi’s Falstaff in Building A Library but then in a change to usual practice, Andrew McGregor will turn to speech recordings – assessing works of Shakespeare available as CDs and downloads."

Hope he includes LibriVox.


A drama about a the making of a production of a Midsummer Night's Dream at the Everyman in Liverpool which sounds fun. Magic Hands is offering special episodes utilising Shakespeare's poetry. iWonder are producing a series of articles which should have a lot of good archive clips.

Shakespeare Down Your Way

Shakespeare On Tour sounds like it will be a useful enthralling resource about the production of his works across the country,  Synopsis says, "iconic performances from the BBC archives".  The Best Bottoms In The Land follows the RSC as they tour a special production of the play.  Does not mention if this will include broadcasting it in full.

Across The World

Shakespeare Lives is ambiguous.  The synopsis says, it "will bring a remarkable collection of interpretations of Shakespeare’s work together in one digital space, for audiences in the UK and around the world to experience. Following the live stream on April 23 this diverse collection of work will be available internationally for six months at"

Whole plays?  Bits of plays?  Actual productions from the companies listed?  It's intriguing to say the least.


If all of this sounds like me being a cynical sausage well, yes it is because it's me being a cynical sausage.  To have all of this Shakespeare related material again, four years after the cultural olympiad which will no doubt also include repeats on BBC Four is nothing to be sniffed at, it really isn't.

But consider:

No full productions on television.  Adaptations, presumably because of the usual considerations of wanting to make the work accessible.  Plus A Midsummer Night's Dream again.

On the radio, Lear and Caesar again.  The Winter's Tale is welcome but why not some of the even more less well known works?  Why not a King John, Timon or even into the fringier stuff like Arden of Faversham or Edward III or Sir Thomas More (which hasn't been produced for broadcast since 1983).  Radio 3 goes out of its way to play the more obscure classical music but again falls short here.

Also, why not produce some of the plays which clearly influenced Shakespeare and by his contemporaries.  Why such stolid choices?  Why ignore all of this rich source material?

Also and this is a wider point from someone who's a fan of theatre in general as well as Shakespeare:

Why is this all about freaking Shakespeare again?

Why is it whenever theatre turns up on television it's him again?  Five hundred odd years of theatre and once again all of these people are set to one side.  He was our greatest proponent, but imagine if all of the art documentaries were about Michaelangelo.  This could have been pivoted into a festival of theatre in general, yet here we are.  Shakespeare, much as I love him, again.

Oh well.  Hopefully Radio 4 Extra will have lots of archive reruns.

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