Alas, poor Shakespeare fans …
In the dock for my latest Crime Against Shakespeare we find Kenneth Branagh and RADA (the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art).
Picture the scene (if you pardon the pun) …
RADA want to raise funds. Branagh (a man whose performance as Benedick in Much Ado brings real laughter to my Year 8 classes every single year) decides to do so by directing Hamlet, and recruits Tom Hiddleston (who I thought was phenomenal in The Hollow Crown as Hal) – apparently, the two have been discussing a project on these lines (oops, another pun) for years.
So far, so lip-smackingly enticing.
Except, it’s a highly limited run. In London only, for just three weeks and at a tiny, 160-seat venue. Both factors seem a little odd, given that the reason for the performance is to raise money! The tickets were allocated by public ballot. This has led to accusations of elitism, which I disagree with, to be honest: on the face of it, anyone had a chance to enter the ballot, after all.
But what is getting my goat is Branagh’s apparent decision that there will be no live screening at nationwide cinemas. This feels nonsenical and more unjust than the ballot:
- there are thousands of people who would have loved to have gone, but were unsuccessful in the ballot;
- there are thousands more who didn’t bother applying because getting to London during that three-week window would never happen (I am one of those, living almost 300 miles away). To say nothing of the many Shakespeare fans living abroad;
- Crucially, none of those people in the UK live 300 miles away from a CINEMA that no doubt would and could have handled a live screening – resulting in revenue for all concerned, including increased takings (and exposure) for RADA. I’ve seen lots of live screenings over the past few years and the quality of them has always been excellent. I’m perfectly happy to pay a bit over the odds for my cinema tickets on these occasions, given the alternative
In fact, I’m going to go a little further: I know that The Globe will shortly be screening the current King Lear performance that I recently went to see. It’ll be their first screening, I believe. If THEY can do it, what’s stopping RADA?
Finally, one of the the things that annoys me most is that whilst this doesn’t quite fit the definition of ‘elitist’, there IS a subliminal message that Shakespeare is for the few, not the many. We don’t need big names involved in the plays for the works to shine, but it doesn’t hurt in exposing Shakespeare to people who find him daunting or ‘boring’. I also know that many of my slightly older students would be prepared to watch Hiddleston in anything (or indeed nothing): they would have been far more receptive to watching the play with him starring …
Perhaps there are reasons for the decision that we are unaware of, but it feels shortsighted, and I hope that all concerned reconsider and mull over not just the revenue opportunities, but the advancement of the cause of all of us trying to make Shakespeare more popular year on year.
If you want to read a bit more on the issue, including the Guardian article that prompted this post, click here.