Taming of the Bard; Arts Editor Terry Grimley Meets Deborah Shaw, the Woman Responsible for Organising the Royal Shakespeare Company's Complete Works Festival to Celebrate Every Known Work by the Bard. Both Plays and Poems Will Be Performed in His Home Town by the RSC and Visiting Companies from around the Globe

The Birmingham Post (England), April 22, 2006 | Go to article overview

Taming of the Bard; Arts Editor Terry Grimley Meets Deborah Shaw, the Woman Responsible for Organising the Royal Shakespeare Company's Complete Works Festival to Celebrate Every Known Work by the Bard. Both Plays and Poems Will Be Performed in His Home Town by the RSC and Visiting Companies from around the Globe


Byline: Terry Grimley

It's taken 18 months of hard work to bring Deborah Shaw, director of the Royal Shakespeare Company's Complete Works Festival, to the official launch this weekend, and there is no doubt about her worst moment.

That came at seven o'clock last Monday morning, with a text message from Janet Suzman in Cape Town informing her that Brett Goldin, who was to have played Guildenstern in the Baxter Theatre Centre's production of Hamlet, had been murdered in a car-jacking days before the company was due to fly to Stratford.

"It was really terrible news," she says. "That was the sweetest young man, and his career was just taking off.

"I met him when I went over to the Baxter Theatre. The young members of the company had all been though university together as well as being in the show.

"Within hours of the news they all decided they would carry on. They are 100 per cent determined and they all want to dedicate the performance to Brett.

"We intend to help them make it as good a celebration of Brett as possible."

The South Africans arrived this week so that they can take part in this weekend's Shakespeare Birthday celebrations.

Though the first two RSC productions of the Complete Works are already up and running, the weekend was also the obvious time to officially launch this unique year in which every known work by Shakespeare, both plays and poems, will be performed in his home town by the RSC and visiting companies from around the globe.

"Racing towards the start there's been so much to do, our feet aren't touching the ground," says Deborah. "But it's really, really exciting. There's a great feeling of festival around the company.

"I thought at the press night of Romeo and Juliet last night, 'It's started now, nothing can stop it - we're off!'"

Planning the year has been a logistical exercise of mind-boggling complexity. You might initially think of it as a jigsaw puzzle, but it's really more of a Rubik's cube because the planning is in at least three dimensions.

Central to it are two venues which have yet to open - The Courtyard, the 1000-seat venue which will fillin for the Royal Shakespeare Theatre when it is closed for a two-year rebuild - and the Cube, a theatre within-a-theatre which will house a festival-within-a-festival in October and November.

Striking a balance between the RSC's contribution and that of its guests has also been a considerable challenge.

"When I arrived 18 months ago we spent five or six months talking about what the RSC contribution would be.

"We were pretty clear about what shows we wanted to do but it was important that all our directors got to enjoy it.

"For example, Dominic Cooke had a burning desire to take a company and do two late plays in promenade in the Swan. So it's a festival for them too.

"What makes it so much more confusing is that each visiting show is different. Some are productions that have already happened and some are starting from scratch and we've worked out a whole rehearsal process.

"So there's a different format to each of the companies and so you can't do one and say we know how to do that now, because they're all different.

"All the technical team and marketing and press have had to deal with those differences, and all have relished the challenge.

"The [RSC] acting companies are up here now and they are volunteering to act as hosts to the visiting companies.

"There's a lot going on behind the scenes to ensure that they don't just turn up, get put in a dark space, put on their show and leave. That can happen so often. I've been to a lot of festivals where we haven't seen the outside world."

Perhaps West Midlanders are more inclined than most to take Stratford for granted. So it is interesting to be reminded of what it symbolises for theatre practitioners around the world - like the Russian actor, who shall remain anonymous here, who confessed to stealing a handful of soil from Shakespeare's birthplace. …

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Taming of the Bard; Arts Editor Terry Grimley Meets Deborah Shaw, the Woman Responsible for Organising the Royal Shakespeare Company's Complete Works Festival to Celebrate Every Known Work by the Bard. Both Plays and Poems Will Be Performed in His Home Town by the RSC and Visiting Companies from around the Globe
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