It's an anniversary year!

This explains a great deal. Open Stages, which BDTC were lucky enough to be a part of. The World Shakespeare Festival. All sorts of WS based merry-making. I couldn't tell you which anniversary, but I imagine it's some sort of multi-centenary. Four hundred? Does that sound about right?

This year, for a variety of reasons, I've found myself thinking a great deal about Shakespeare. About drama in general, about voice, about verse & speech, but mostly about Shakespeare. I've been very lucky this year - I've directed or acted in three of his plays, and I've seen a couple more. I even ate scones by the river in Stratford (and that, let me tell you, is LIVING). I've had a full dose of Shakespeare this year. It's been fantastic.

The "Why Shakespeare?" question is a bit of a seasonal cliche, and one I've always found fairly dull. It gets trotted out like a slightly balding pony every time the country goes through a Shakespeare related anniversary, and the Francis Rossis of academia clamber back into view, sometimes joined by Peter Hall. It never felt, to me, like a question that desperately needed answering, or a question that could be answered. Why Shakespeare? Why not?

But this year, I've spent a lot of time with Shakespeare, more time working on his plays & language, and, crucially, more time just sitting around thinking about him. You know what? It is an important question, and if it is a cliche, it's a cliche with necessity behind it. It's not a question that can be answered, but it remains a hugely exciting question to consider.

Excitement is the key. Shakespeare was writing and performing centuries ago, in a society that seems incredibly remote to us in the twenty first century, but he has been comfortably within reach ever since. There's always a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream going on somewhere not awfully far away, and that's probably been the case since Elizabeth I bust a gut cackling at Bottom's willy jokes in the 16th century. He should be familiar, old hat, and a lot of the time he can be. School does that to him, as do lacklustre codpiece & hose productions where everyone stands very rigidly and looks very lovely, but despite these things and the terribly harm they try to do to the plays, he resists.

Shakespeare is exciting. It just is. For me it is as exciting now - as I rehearse Richard III & Much Ado and as I think about Henrys, As You Like It, Twelfth Night - as it was fifteen years ago when I watched Barrie Rutter's Gloucester at the Everyman in Cheltenham. The language throbs and hums and moves. It invites you in. It wants to be spoken, and it handles the speaking gorgeously. Shakespeare might be a challenge for our tongues on occasion, but writers like Marlowe seem at times to actively resist being spoken. Shakespeare eats it up and in doing so maintains that space, that absorbant variety. You can see each play dozens of times and never see the same performances.

I'm no writer, and when it comes to communicating my feelings for Shakespeare in writing, I always feel beaten before I begin. I can't do it. I can't express my relationship with Shakespeare in a remotely satisfying way. The only way I can do that is reading it, obsessing over it, staging it, and, above all, speaking it. But I hope that you know what I mean, that you are nodding sagely as you read this; that you too have that relationship with Shakespeare.

That, I think, is what I wanted to get at when I sat down to write this. That Shakespeare is ours as a species, but he is also mine, and he is also yours. I have a relationship with Shakespeare, and you do too. He's yours. He belongs uniquely to you. So let's end on a suggestion; this year, get back into your relationship, however it works. Think about him, write about him, see his plays (particularly the BDTC versions, eh?), and read his plays. Speak the language, ride it around, wrap yourself in it. Come to him with fresh eyes with every opportunity you get. His plays are the finest things we have, and they belong to all of us. Brilliant.

Happy anniversary, Shakespeare. Whichever one it is.

- Paul S.