Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past few months, you will be aware that it was the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death on Saturday. Celebrations were going on up and down the country, and the highlight for me was the Shakespeare Live show streamed live from the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford upon Avon, to cinemas and on BBC2, where I watched from the sofa in my pyjamas.
I followed what people were saying on Twitter, and responses were mixed. I thought a lot of people would have preferred more actual Shakespeare, with actors performing scenes from his plays. Personally, though, I liked the variety: it showed how Shakespeare had inspired so many different people, from jazz musicians to comedians to ballet composers, and judging by other responses on Twitter, it engaged a lot of people who weren’t previously Shakespeare fans. In any case, I think the best way to see Shakespeare is in the context of a whole play: just seeing one or two scenes doesn’t have the same impact. That said, some of my favourite segments were those involving Shakespeare’s scenes, so what do I know?!
I have compiled an entirely personal, just-for-fun list of seven of my favourite moments from the show.
1. Catherine Tate’s ‘Seven Ages’ speech
Presenting the show with her Much Ado About Nothing co-star David Tennant, Tate delivered the famous ‘Seven Ages of Man’ speech with the help of seven real people from the area: including a newborn baby, a local schoolboy, a serving soldier, and a retired RSC production manager.
2. Rory Kinnear and Anne-Marie Duff in Macbeth
I would like to see these two in a full production of Macbeth now, please. They are both fantastic actors and they did this scene proud.
3. Judi Dench and Al Murray in A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Dame Judi and the Pub Landlord in a scene together? Unexpected, but it worked SO well.
4. The Horrible Histories Shakespeare sketch
“Who are you?” “William…” “..Shoppingtrolley?” Irreverent and hugely funny, this sketch in which Shakespeare showed up at a pub where Ben Jonson and Christopher Marlowe were drinking together was brilliant.
5. Henry Goodman and Rufus Hound’s ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare’
I love musicals anyway, so this was a given, but the pair’s performance was excellent, very tongue-in-cheek.
6. Sir Ian McKellen’s speech from Sir Thomas More
Sir Ian’s delivery of the hugely topical speech about refugees was poignant and perfectly-timed.
7. The ‘To Be Or Not To Be’ sketch
For me, this was hands-down the best part of the evening. From Tim Minchin’s “I’ll never play Hamlet in Stratford because I’m ginger!” to Judi Dench’s “I am Hamlet, the Dame” and Prince Charles’s closing intervention, it was a joy from start to finish, poking fun at theatrical conventions in a hilarious and irreverent way. Best of all was, after all that, when eight of the nine Hamlets (Minchin, Dench, HRH, Rory Kinnear, Benedict Cumberbatch, Harriet Walter, David Tennant and Ian McKellen) had departed the stage, Paapa Essiedu, who is currently playing the role at the RSC, delivered the famous speech in such a moving, fresh and thoughtful way that it reminded me no matter how many first-class Hamlets have been and gone, there are always plenty of greats left to come.
As a bonus, my final highlight of the night was reading the tweets of the Samuel French publishing account.