King Lear on BBC2 – Shakespeare for All

In late March, SSF were thrilled to be invited to preview the star-studded adaptation of King Lear, commissioned by The BBC and Amazon. The film for television was shown on BBC2 on 28 May 2018,  treating us all to an intimate and visceral production of one of Shakespeare’s most challenging tragedies.

Reviews have come in their hundreds since it aired. Many have written about how the normally lengthy play has been cut down to 2 hours, the choice of an ahistorical setting and the accessibility of Shakespeare to the masses. We have very similar conversations here at SSF, especially at this time of the year as we begin the Festival process with schools up and down the country. We are often asked how we adapted full-length plays into 30 minute scripts and how schools can approach the text in new settings.

We were delighted to witness the enthusiasm from the cast and crew of King Lear for making Shakespeare accessible through the medium of television. In a Q&A after the screening, Jim Carter (Kent) spoke of the beauty of bringing Lear into the living rooms of thousands around the world, a range of ages and backgrounds able to access the Bard’s work. Experiencing Shakespeare in your own home allows you to own his words.  Whether they are resonating around your living room or a theatre auditorium, adaptations like these remind us that Shakespeare is and can be for everyone. Accessibility is also paramount to SSF’s mission.

These Elizabethan texts were written to be performed to audiences reflecting all aspects of the community, and through our Festival process we give young people nationwide the tools to make this a reality.

Anthony Hopkins takes on the title role at the age of 80, a lifetime of experience behind him. The youngest King Lear we have seen take part in our Festival was just 10 years old.  Hopkins attacks and unravels Lear’s sense of morality and familial duty, politics and leadership; for the 10 year old standing on the stage in Skegness, Lear’s character presented the opportunity to explore issues of responsibility and identity. Though 70 years apart in age, both actors were able to make the role their own. From this, the timeless nature of Shakespeare’s work is clear to see. His plays explores some of the most fundamental questions of what it means to be human. Themes on the agenda 400 years ago are just as pertinent now.

Anthony Hopkins and his co-stars - Emma Thompson, Emily Watson and Jim Broadbent (to name a few) -  attract an audience that might not ordinarily choose to watch a traditional Shakespeare play. However, Richard Eyre’s direction and cast have brought a relevance to the script, characters and themes. Florence Pugh ( Macbeth, The Falling), Andrew Scott (Hamlet, Sherlock Holmes), SSF Patron Christopher Eccleston (Doctor Who, Macbeth) and John Macmillan (The Dark Knight Rises, Hanna) demonstrate that there is no rule-book to performing Shakespeare’s canon. At SSF, we too champion this approach by working with young people from all backgrounds and abilities.

We encourage every cast to own Shakespeare’s words and tell the story in a way that is most appropriate and meaningful for them.

In a recent article on playing Oswald, Christopher Eccleston extols the importance of access and opportunity in the arts, no matter who you are or where you are from. Through our Festival, up to 30,000 young people from primary, secondary and special educational needs schools get this chance - to play their own Lear, Caesar, Titania or Macbeth. To take to their stage.

To find out more about our work please read our latest Impact Report.

SSF is a cultural education charity that exists to instil curiosity and empathy, aspiration and self-esteem, literacy and teamwork - giving young people the confidence to see that all the world is their stage.

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