It looks like being a vintage summer for Shakespeare-lovers with lots on offer around the country. In London two productions of Much Ado About Nothing have opened within a week so it’s already possible to see two sets of the sparring lovers Benedick and Beatrice on successive nights if you can get the tickets. First to open was the Globe’s production starring Eve Best and Charles Edwards, and now the much-hyped commercial production starring David Tennant and Catherine Tate at Wyndhams Theatre in the West End has also opened. On 16 June an outdoor production staged by the Guildford Shakespeare Company will begin.
Both productions have been highly-praised and will provide terrific ammunition for argument, particularly since the productions highlight the differences between traditional style as exemplified by the Globe’s production and the modern (The Tennant/Tate production is set in post-Falklands Gibraltar).
The play is one of Shakespeare’s most sure-fire hits, the sparring matches between Beatrice and Benedick some of his most sparkling exchanges. Back in the seventeenth century it was one of Charles I’s favourites. In his own copy of the Second Folio he wrote “Benedict and Beatrice”on the title page, presumably as a reminder of the play he’d so enjoyed on stage.
It’s been a favourite for filming: Kenneth Branagh’s film of the play set in sun-drenched Tuscany was hugely successful in bringing young audiences to Shakespeare, and there have been many others. Franco Zefirelli’s famous 1965 National Theatre stage version starring Maggie Smith and Robert Stephens was filmed for TV and screened in 1967. The cast also included Derek Jacobi and, in a tiny part, Michael Gambon.
Until recently this version, like so much early TV, was though to be lost, but was uncovered in the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.
A new research project has just started aimed at documenting plays written for the stage which have been screened on television since 1930. It will be fascinating to see how this develops over the three years it will run: it should make these rare recordings more widely available.
Stage productions are frequently filmed and let’s hope the opportunity to capture the Tennant/Tate production isn’t missed. The Globe regularly videos its own productions, as does the National Theatre, so their 2007-8 production starring Simon Russell Beale and Zoe Wanamaker is available at their archives. In Stratford-upon-Avon videos have been made of productions since 1982 making it possible to see every production since the Derek Jacobi and Sinead Cusack one from that year at the Shakespeare Centre Library and Archive. Many productions have also been recorded on sound tape and may be listened to at the British Library Sound Archive, including as the classic 1976-7 production starring Judi Dench and Donald Sinden.
Finally, Dr Who fans sorry to hear that the Daleks are being given a bit of a rest from the TV series may enjoy this version of a scene from Much Ado About Nothing from the Dalek Masterpiece Theatre, courtesy of YouTube (love the cloak).
I am really looking forward to seeing the Tenant and Tate production later this year, what a shame the RSC didn’t think to get them to do it in Stratford? Surely Greg Doran would have had a field day with these two.
As to the Daleks they are incredibly funny, I can see that you are continuing with the science fiction theme.
When David Tennant played Berowne in Greg Doran’s production of Love’s Labour’s Lost it did feel as if he was warming up for Benedick, so it’s great that he’s now doing it!
I came to Shakespeare largely via the BBC’s seminal ‘An Age of Kings’, falling for Robert Hardy & Hal/Henry at the same time. I can still remember many of the players and their roles: Tom Fleming as Bolingbroke/Henry IV, Terry Scully as Henry VI and, of course Paul Daneman as Richard III. Later came ‘The Spread of the Eagle’, covering the Roman plays, again with Robert Hardy, this time as Coriolanus. All in black and white, and no doubt very cardboard in set, but a wonderful introduction and, in my memory, of far higher standard than the later BBC Shakespeare series. Mind you, that could just be rose-tinted specs.
An Age of Kings is available on DVD, but sadly only in US format as far as I’m aware. There are, however, clips available at http://www.screenonline.org.uk/tv/id/527213/
Lots of people came to Shakespeare via the TV programmes you mention, I think it was a revelation for people who might never have gone to the theatre. Have you heard that the BBC is going to film the Richard II-Henry V tetralogy to be screened in 2012? I don’t think casting has been properly announced but I’ve seen a few suggestions on Twitter in the last week or two (which I can’t remember right now!)
It’s an amazing cast for the BBC Richard II in 2012 – Ben Whishaw as Richard II, Rory Kinnear as Bolingbroke. Patrick Stewart as Gaunt, David Suchet as York, David Morrissey as Northumberland, James Purefoy as Mowbray, Lindsay Duncan as the Duchess of York. It’s Sam Mendes’ production company making the tetralogy with Rupert Goold directing Richard II.
Thanks for all this information – should be amazing!