Shakespeare and the London 2012 Olympic Games

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Shakespeare and the London 2012 Olympic Games

Post  eddie on Sun May 29, 2011 10:12 pm

Shakespeare gets the starring role in cultural celebration alongside Olympics

Experts ask if the Bard is Britain's only exportable brand as leading organisations recruit playwright for Games

Vanessa Thorpe The Observer, Sunday 29 May 2011


The works of William Shakespeare figure prominently in plans to showcase British culture during the Olympics. Photograph: Alfredo Dagli Orti/ The Art Archive/Corbis

This country may be the birthplace of Chaucer, Milton, Austen, the Brontë sisters and Dickens, but Britain has only one dominant calling card on the global cultural scene: William Shakespeare. It is now clear that the Bard and his works will loom large in the British arts festival that is planned to run alongside the Olympic Games in London next year.

The BBC reveals today that Patrick Stewart, David Morrissey, Rory Kinnear, Lindsay Duncan, David Suchet and James Purefoy are to appear together in the first of a run of four big-budget Shakespeare plays to be made for television by Sam Mendes's production company to celebrate the Cultural Olympiad.

With filming for Richard II, starring Ben Whishaw, starting on location at Pembroke Castle and St David's Cathedral in Wales next month, the BBC and Mendes's Neal Street Productions are joining a long line-up of major arts organisations who have chosen to wave a Shakespearean banner in the warm-up to the Games.

The British Museum is to mount a major exhibition about the Bard next year, while, more predictably, the Globe Theatre in London and the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-on-Avon have all announced extensive Shakespeare projects to mark the occasion. BBC2's Richard II, adapted and directed by Rupert Goold, the award-winning associate director at the RSC, will be followed by adaptations of Henry IV parts I and II and Henry V, all set in the medieval era.

The BBC is also to mark the occasion with a two-part documentary series about Shakespeare, written and presented by historian Simon Schama to complement the new screen adaptations of the plays.

"Shakespeare is in the unique position of speaking universally while not losing any of the intensity of the language of where he comes from," said Schama this weekend in defence of the widespread move to adopt Shakespeare as Britain's cultural figurehead for the Games. "I have watched his plays in German and in French and the effect is the same. If you want something to celebrate in the year of 2012 that is not just the Queen and the Olympic Games, then Shakespeare is there for you. He is inexhaustible."

But the artistic director of the Globe, Dominic Dromgoole, is not the only one to raise an eyebrow at the amount of Shakespeare that has been commissioned. "It has been something of a race for all the Shakespeare plays," he said earlier this year, at the launch of his theatre's brave plan to stage a six-week season of Shakespeare plays each staged by visiting foreign theatre companies and beginning next year on 23 April, the Bard's birthday.

His Olympiad season will feature a version of Troilus and Cressida in Maori, The Taming of the Shrew in Urdu and an Arabic Tempest.

With even the National Theatre of Wales in the middle of preparations for a staging of Coriolanus next year as part of the RSC's World Shakespeare Festival, academics and arts practitioners are making the case for other literary contenders with global reputations.

Patricia Ingham, an expert in 19th century fiction and former Oxford don, said she wondered whether Shakespeare was really our only exportable brand. Pointing out that last year a Japanese university translated academic books on the Brontës and on Dickens, and that in the US Jane Eyre has been a feminist totem since the 1970s, Ingham said: "You only have to look at the number of films and television adaptations of Dickens's stories to see evidence of his huge appeal for the average person; the trouble with Shakespeare is that he is still only enjoyed by an elite. His global appeal is really a bit of a myth because very few people can actually read him. You have to have acquired a particular kind of skill or learning to enjoy Shakespeare."

Bonnie Greer, an academic and newly appointed head of the Brontë Society, said she felt the Brontë sisters represented "at a deep and profound level all that is seen as Englishness. Growing up as I did on the south side of Chicago in a black neighbourhood I knew about the Brontës before I knew about Shakespeare, partly through the films but the books too. And they still have enormous reach," she added.

Nevertheless next year, again from 23 April onwards, the World Shakespeare Festival, produced by the RSC in collaboration with other venues in London, including the Roundhouse, the Barbican and the National Theatre, will be staging productions and events across the country. The RSC's own contribution to the festival will include "What Country, friends, is this?", a selection of plays in which Shakespeare shipwrecks his characters on hostile shores.

At the British Museum, the exhibition "London 1612: Shakespeare's Theatre of the World" will look at the role of the emerging capital in his plays. More than 150 exhibits include the rare Ides of March coin commemorating the murder of Julius Caesar on 15 March 44BC and a copy of the revered first folio of the plays, published in 1623. Leading Shakespearean actors, such as Simon Callow, are also to take part in a special performance for the museum.

And none of these organisations could have chosen a better subject, according to Schama. "Shakespeare has the kind of elemental pain in his work that we see in the Greek plays of Aeschylus. He does the cosmic stuff and he also does jokes. Jane Austen's work, in contrast, has a very anglophone appeal. It is subtle and ironic – not that Shakespeare can't do that too – but if you want kings and the kind of drama that sees a character having his eyes gouged out on stage then you have to go Shakespeare."

Schama admits that Chaucer shares a similar universality, but argues his language presents a problem for many. "The amazing thing about Shakespeare is that if you actually deliver Hamlet, or Romeo and Juliet, to teenagers they actually do get the language.

"With Dickens, on the other hand, whom I love, he is not always great with women characters. You just don't get the titanic and rounded parts for women like Lady Macbeth, Cleopatra, Beatrice or Portia; characters that escape from stereotype."

The BBC's 2012 Shakespeare season will be produced by Neal Street Productions with American partners NBC Universal and WNET, and has been commissioned by the controller of BBC drama, Ben Stephenson, and by Janice Hadlow, the controller of BBC2.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2011

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Re: Shakespeare and the London 2012 Olympic Games

Post  eddie on Sun Jan 29, 2012 4:09 am

London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony to reflect 'people's Games'

Olympics ceremony titled Isles of Wonder will involve NHS nurses and hundreds of children, says its creator Danny Boyle

Owen Gibson, Olympics editor

guardian.co.uk, Friday 27 January 2012 19.46 GMT

"Be not afeared. The isle is full of noises." As a welcome to London for athletes and spectators arriving for the 2012 Olympics, opening ceremony director Danny Boyle has decided Caliban's line from Shakespeare's The Tempest is particularly apposite.

So much so that the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire director has chosen it as the inspiration for a £27m four-hour spectacular that will feature a tribute to the NHS, Europe's largest bell, a torch lighting sequence and a cast and crew of 12,000 – all shot through with "British humour" and set to the music of Underworld.

Unveiling a handful of details of his vision for the first time with exactly six months to go until the ceremony, Boyle said it would not match the jaw-dropping scale and expense of Beijing in 2008 but would aim to repeat the humanity of Sydney in 2000, which earned the sobriquet "the people's Games".

His chosen title, Isles of Wonder, was inspired by a speech in The Tempest. "It is about the wondrous beauty of Caliban's island and his deep, deep devotion to it," explained Boyle.

Stephen Daldry, the Billy Elliot director who is overseeing the artistic vision for all four ceremonies for the Olympics and Paralympics, said it encapsulated the "heritage, diversity, energy, inventiveness, wit and creativity that defines the British Isles".

He said the theme of The Tempest would run through the opening and closing ceremonies for both the Olympic and Paralympic Games: "It is a journey that will celebrate who we are, who we were and indeed who we wish to be."

Previous opening ceremonies have proved iconic and embarrassing in equal measure, but Daldry said the live sense of "jeopardy" was one of the things that made them exciting.

He said further details of the show, which will be watched by 80,000 ticket holders paying up to £2,012 and including 130 heads of state and an estimated 1 billion global television viewers, would be confirmed in April.

The method of the lighting of the Olympic flame, expected to arrive by water after its 8,000-mile journey around the UK, will be among them.

Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Elton John, Take That and ballerina Darcey Bussell are among those rumoured as potential participants.

The biggest bell ever cast in Europe has been commissioned to hang at one end of the stadium and will be rung at 9pm to signal the point at which the world will tune in to watch the opening ceremony.

Boyle said that the use of a giant bell in his production of Frankenstein at the National Theatre last year had helped persuade him to incorporate it into the ceremony.

After the Games, it will be moved to the Olympic Park – where on Friday the finished Athletes Village was handed over by the Olympic Delivery Authority – where Boyle said he hoped it would "ring for hundreds of years".

Boyle said that for one sequence, all the performers had been recruited from the NHS and local schools. "It is something that we are really proud of. It celebrates something unique about this country," he said.

The four ceremonies will feature a total of 15,000 performers and 25,000 costumes and Daldry equated the task to producing 165 West End musicals at the same time.

Rick Smith and Karl Hyde from dance group Underworld will provide the soundtrack for the opening ceremony. Boyle joked that they would compose marching music at 120bpm in order to speed up the athletes' procession around the stadium. Organisers have promised to avoid the lengthy waits and overruns of previous ceremonies and finish by midnight.

A film of rehearsals involving 15,000 performers across four ceremonies gave a few further clues to how the event will unfold: ballet dancers, painters, huge "zorbing" balls that could roll over the crowd, BMX displays, lasers and cyclists with wings all featured. A total of 900 schoolchildren from the six Olympic boroughs will be involved.

The government recently agreed to provide organisers with an extra £41m from the £9.3bn public sector funding package to double the budget for the Games ceremonies, justifying it by saying it was a "once in a lifetime" opportunity to promote the UK and boost tourism.

Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt said: "We are absolutely clear this is one of the biggest events that will happen in this country in our lifetimes. We do not underestimate the massive responsibility that entails. We see it as a huge opportunity to profile everything we're proud of in the UK."

Boyle said his opening ceremony would use around a third of the overall £81m budget for the four ceremonies, but was still significantly cheaper than Beijing or Athens.

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Re: Shakespeare and the London 2012 Olympic Games

Post  eddie on Tue Apr 03, 2012 12:48 am

London 2012: Daniel Craig to open Olympics as James Bond

Opening ceremony artistic director Danny Boyle and the 007 star have shot a short film at Buckingham Palace, which will be shown during the BBC's coverage

Ben Child

guardian.co.uk, Monday 2 April 2012 13.42 BST


Olympic mission ... Daniel Craig as James Bond in Quantum of Solace. Photograph: Allstar/United Artists/Sportsphoto Ltd

Daniel Craig will help open the London Olympics later this year in character as James Bond, following a personal invitation from the Queen.

The Sun newspaper reports that Craig and opening ceremony artistic director Danny Boyle have shot a skit titled The Arrival in which 007 travels to Buckingham Palace to be informed that his latest mission is to launch the 2012 games. He is then taken by helicopter to the Olympic stadium in Stratford, east London, where he parachutes into the arena. Boyle and Craig were reportedly given unprecedented access to the palace and its private rooms last week after the Queen personally sanctioned the move. The short film will be shown during the BBC's coverage of the opening ceremony.

A source told the Sun: "It's a huge coup for BBC producers and Danny to be allowed into the palace and have the Queen involved. They wanted the most iconic British film character inside the building most associated with London and with the monarch – and they got it.

"It will be a magical scene for all watching at home and inside the stadium on 27 July. Working out the logistics of filming has taken months and hasn't been easy – but it will be worth it in the end."

The Queen is celebrating her diamond jubilee this year, while 2012 is also the 50th anniversary of the Bond films as produced by rights owners Eon. "Buckingham Palace is involved in a number of filming projects during this special jubilee year and we would not go into details of any particular project until nearer the time of transmission," said a spokesman for the monarch.

Meanwhile, the Advertising Age website reports that Craig will be ditching his usual martini tipple for a beer in at least one scene of the new Bond film, Skyfall, following a deal with Heineken. Sam Mendes, Skyfall's director, will also take charge of an advert starring Craig as a lager-drinking Bond. The story is dated 31 March on the Advertising Age site, so does not appear to be an April Fool.

Craig will be playing Bond for the third time in Skyfall, which is due out in October and follows 2006's Casino Royale and 2008's Quantum of Solace. Dame Judi Dench reprises her role as the suave spy's boss, M, for the seventh time, with British actors Albert Finney and Ralph Fiennes in undisclosed parts. Javier Bardem will be one of the villains, while Ben Whishaw debuts in the role of gadget guru Q. Naomie Harris is playing a field agent named Eve and French actor Bérénice Marlohe is set to play an enigmatic Bond girl named Severine.

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