Review : Shakespeare Live! at the RSC | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Review : Shakespeare Live! at the RSC

Culture Critic Ruth Horsburgh spends an evening at the RSC, watching a star-studded celebration of Shakespeare's work and its many interpretations.

Shakespeare Live! was performed at the RSC, and broadcast live on BBC 2, on Saturday 23rd of April 2016. This review is published at this time with the permission of its author, who was in the audience at the RSC.

Can there ever have been a greater collection of acting talent in one evening’s performance? Certainly not in my lifetime. To celebrate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, Shakespeare Live!, an outstanding night of drama, music and dance, was provided by the RSC at Stratford-Upon-Avon and broadcast to television and cinema audiences. outstanding night of drama, music and dance...

A star-studded line-up was present on stage, accompanied by videos showing archive performances from the RSC and beyond, emphasising the longevity and global success of Shakespeare. Joseph Fiennes’ tour and explanation of key events and places in Shakespeare’s life were informative and allowed for even more musical dedications and Shakespearean speeches to be delivered from the likes of The Shires, Gregory Porter and Simon Russell-Beale.

This night of entertainment celebrated the diversity of Shakespeare, with performances from a range of his plays. There were light-hearted, comic extracts from As You Like It, Much Ado About Nothing, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream with a highlight being Judi Dench as Titania falling for the ass-headed Bottom, played by Al Murray. This was a glistening vision with Dench magically portraying Titania falling in love at first sight with the ridiculous Bottom.

Shakespeare Live! highlighted how Shakespeare is embraced by, and provides inspiration for, many different mediums, such as opera, ballet and hip-hop. I particularly enjoyed Rufus Wainwright’s musical setting of Sonnet 29, and Henry Goodman and Rufus Hound’s amusing rendition of ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare’ from the musical Kiss Me Kate. These were uplifting additions to a night dedicated to the world’s greatest dramatist.

The standout moment of the night was definitely the ‘To be or not to be’ sketch featuring a who’s who of the most accomplished Shakespearean actors including: Benedict Cumberbatch, David Tennant, Judi Dench, Ian McKellan (to name but a few!) and even royalty, with Prince Charles having the final say in how to deliver the most famous line in Shakespeare. Having recently seen Paapa Essiedu as the title character in the RSC’s current production of Hamlet, I was impressed with how easily he melded into a sketch, which was celebrating actors who have given highly acclaimed Shakespearean performances in the past. There is ‘infinite variety’ in the possible interpretation and appeal of Shakespeare’s works, demonstrated in this sketch, to comic effect.

There is ‘infinite variety’ in the possible interpretation and appeal of Shakespeare’s works...

The show brilliantly balanced comedy and darkness. As the evening wore on, darker themes from Shakespeare’s tragedies were explored. Rory Kinnear and Anne-Marie Duff were a captivating Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, with audible gasps across the audience when Kinnear staggered in shock onto the stage covered in blood. Ian McKellan and Roger Allam gave intense and enthralling performances of extracts (as Sir Thomas More and King Lear respectively), with their iconic voices rippling through the theatre.

Harriet Walter sensitively portrayed Cleopatra’s demise, and Helen Mirren’s delivery of ‘Our revels now are ended’ speech from The Tempest, was a moving way to bring the evening to a close. David Tennant and Catherine Tate delivered Puck’s epilogue as the stellar cast returned to the stage. The audience clapped and cheered, as we were reminded of the calibre and sheer variety of the performances we had just witnessed.

This was a captivating tribute to the greatest playwright – and one I shall certainly never forget. 

...a captivating tribute to the greatest playwright...

Second year English student.


30th June 2016 at 10:00 am

Last Updated

30th June 2016 at 3:46 am

Images from

Tony Hisgett