Wow! The Royal Shakespeare Company and the BBC should get together more often. Shakespeare Live! on Saturday night BBC2 was fabulous heady mix of serious high-brow culture, show tunes and comic relief. The whole format made me think of Comic Relief or Children In Need, a telethon with sketches, songs and dance.
If you don’t like what’s on now, wait five minutes and it’ll all change. Fortunately no sign of Coldplay or any other dull dirge producers plugging their charity single, but it begs the question – what would Shakespeare want funded?
Truly there was something in there for everyone and it made me feel proud in a warm squishy way – the same feels as the astounding Olympics Opening Ceremony in London 2012. And in a similar fashion Shakespeare Live! was extraordinarily popular on Twitter – an hour in, 19 of the 20 trending topics were related to the programme. Who knew the shouty hordes of Twitter were such culture vultures?
When the lovable and outrageous Tim Minchin wandered onto the stage and interrupted Hamlet’s famous soliloquy, you could tell that 9 Hamlets and a Prince was going to be a highlight. (Tim Minchin in the background going “Who’s this guy?” about the only person on stage who actually has Prince on his CV). And Judi Dench killed it when she trots out all ruffed-up to say she’s “Hamlet the Dame”. Turns out even in tragedy, comedy timing is everything.
Another comedy highlight came from Judi Dench and Al Murray as Titania and Bottom from A Midsummer Night’s Dream – mugging to the audience for extra laughs was the perfect fit with the character and played to Murray’s strengths as a stand-up comic.
Also on display, as you’d expect, were serious acting chops from the big boys (Ian McKellen, David Suchet, Harriet Walter) and from people who are bound to be very big very soon. Alex Hassell as the awkward soldier-king Henry V trying to woo a French princess who doesn’t speak the language. And Paapa Essiedu who finally wrestled control back over his stage and his Hamlet.
This happened quite a lot in our house. I couldn’t help myself:
For those moaning that we didn’t get to see enough Shakespeare I think you’ve missed the point. This was to wet your appetite, to get you excited about the ones you’ve not yet seen (for me, it’s the comedies. I’ve never really got them, but I’d wrestle you for a ticket if Dench and Murray decided to go on tour) or to act as an introduction to children who’ve not yet studied him at school or to adults who have avoided him like the plague.
In short, the evening was a tremendous achievement. Well balanced, varied, pacey and great entertainment. I highly recommend watching the whole thing, but if you only have time for one (bizarre and ridiculous) highlight, press play below.