Six highlights from Shakespeare's Globe's The Complete Walk
In case you're not already aware, as well as being (probably) William Shakespeare's 452nd birthday, 23rd April 2016 marked the 400th anniversary of the death of the Bard. Amongst the many events planned to celebrate this milestone, Shakespeare's Globe commissioned 37 short films to be made, one for each of the plays commonly regarded as either definitively by Shakespeare or Shakespearean enough to be attributed to him (sorry The Two Noble Kinsmen, you didn't make the cut).
Over Shakespeare's birthday/deathday weekend, 37 screens were set up along the South Bank of the Thames, as well as across Liverpool, to screen these short films to the public free of charge. After an early start followed by a train and tube journey to Westminster, I managed to take in 32 of the films, missing five due to technical issues with the screens. Whilst I was a little disappointed not to have seen all 37, those that I did see were on the whole superb, providing insight into some of the varied productions of Shakespeare's work to which The Globe has played host as well as some fantastic film interpretations of extracts from the plays filmed in appropriate locations around the world.
Shakespeare's Globe haven't currently confirmed whether the short films will be made available either online or on Blu-ray or DVD, but with the amount of effort that has gone into them - and going by The Globe's steady stream of Globe On Screen home media releases - it's more than likely that it will happen at some point, most probably before the end of the 400th anniversary year. Until then, here are five highlights from what I was able to see.
Screen 5: Titus Andronicus
As well as being one of Shakespeare's bloodiest and most brutal works, Titus Andronicus is also one of his most openly criticised and - until recently- rarely performed plays. Julie Taymor's film Titus, starring Anthony Hopkins as the eponymous Roman general, helped introduce the play to a fresh audience at the turn of the 21st Century, sparking something of a resurgence of interest. Despite Nick Bagnall's short film boasting Twelfth Doctor/Malcolm Tucker himself Peter Capaldi doing a sterling job playing Titus in a newly filmed segment, it's William Houston's captivating performance in the title role in clips from the Globe's recent production (aesthetically influenced in part by Taymor's film) that is likely to stick in your memory.
Screen 6: Henry VI, Part 2
Again directed by Nick Bagnall, Henry VI, Part 2 edged out a few strong contenders to become my favourite of all the films I saw throughout The Complete Walk. Bagnall's short film focuses on the character of Jack Cade (Neil Maskell) and his blunt henchman Dick the Butcher (Dean Nolan), masterfully updating the historical rebellion Cade led against the crown in 1450 to the 21st Century through using footage of the 2011 London riots. It's a risk by Bagnall, one that on paper perhaps sounds like it shouldn't work; but it absolutely does, anchored throughout by two flawless performances from Maskell and Nolan.
Screen 12: Richard II
A history that has enjoyed recent attention thanks to Ben Whishaw taking on the titular king in the BBC's The Hollow Crown in 2012, and more recently a filmed RSC production starring David Tennant, Bill Buckhurst's short film casts in the title role yet another actor whose stock is on the rise: James Norton. Buckhurst presents a traditional take on the characters, lifted by an impressive turn by Norton and the spectacular setting of Westminster Hall in the Houses of Parliament.
Screen 15: Henry IV, Part 1
There are many examples of superb casting throughout The Complete Walk, but Toby Jones as Sir John Falstaff is arguably the most inspired of all. Presenting a compilation of the character's most memorable lines strung together as one anarchic and incredibly funny all-day pub session at London's historic George Inn, the way in which Dominic Dromgoole updates Falstaff and his fellow reprobates to the present day whilst maintaining a strong sense of the original characters is wonderful. Jones, of course, is reliably excellent, effortlessly balancing the comedic timing and dramatic depth required to bring to life one of Shakespeare's most beloved characters.
Screen 32: Coriolanus
Recently modernised on screen by Ralph Fiennes, Dominic Dromgoole's short film again brings Coriolanus into the modern day but in a different manner to Fiennes. Dominic West delivers Caius Martius' scathing speech responding to his banishment from Rome as he drives through the streets of the city, taking in both ancient architecture and modern elements as well as the citizens who have rejected him and towards whom his bile is directed. It's simple but remarkably effective, anchored by a commendably understated performance from West.
Screen 33: Henry VIII
Whilst the first half of Mark Rosenblatt's film showcases the grand production of Henry VIII at the Globe starring Dominic Rowan, the second half focuses on newly filmed scenes at Hampton Court Palace. The casting of British Ghanaian actor Danny Sapani in the title role in this section is perhaps one of the greatest departures from historical source seen throughout The Complete Walk. But Sapani undeniably owns the role throughout, delivering a performance so powerful and memorable as the English king that I would jump at the chance to see a feature film adaptation of the play with him in the lead.