2012 is the year of the Brits: as the Olympics and the Diamond Jubilee take centre stage, the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) follows suit and will stage the World Shakespeare Festival from April until September this year in a bid to put “art at the heart of the Olympics.”

The World Shakespeare Festival forms part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad, the largest cultural celebration in the history of the modern Olympic and Paralympic movements. Since 2008, more than 16 million people participated in or attended performances nationwide, over 160,000 people attended more than 8,300 workshops and an excess of 3.7 million have taken part in almost 3,700 ‘Open Weekend’ events; all inspired by London 2012. The London 2012 Festival, in accordance with the London 2012 Olympics, will reach its peak by providing over 10 million opportunities to see free world-class events throughout the UK at various venues.

Ruth Mackenzie , Director of the Cultural Olympiad and London 2012 Festival, describes the breadth of The World Shakespeare Festival as “a celebration of Shakespeare as the world’s playwright, produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company in an unprecedented collaboration with leading UK and international arts organisations and with Globe to Globe, a major international programme produced by Shakespeare’s globe, it’s the biggest celebration of Shakespeare ever staged.”

Almost 60 partners will come together to bring the World Shakespeare Festival alive and thousands of artists from around the world will take part in almost 70 productions. There will also be supporting events, exhibitions and educational events right across the UK, including in London, Stratford-upon-Avon, Newcastle, Birmingham, as well as online. The festival will run from April 23rd to November 2012, forming part of the London 2012 Festival, the culmination of the Cultural Olympiad, and the idea is to bring leading artists from all over the world together in a UK-wide festival this summer. Over one million tickets are on sale, so the emphasis is for all to get involved.

Michael Boyd, Artistic Director of the RSC, equally puts emphasis on Shakespeare as a vehicle for multiculturalism: “The World Shakespeare Festival celebrates this most international of artists at a time when the eyes of the world will be on London, that most international of cities, for the Olympic Games.”

Although “William Shakespeare is our greatest cultural export” as Boris Johnson has put it, the festival’s productions are not limited to Shakespeare’s plays. Other so-called themes include: ‘Arab Theatre Season’, ‘Globe to Globe’, ‘Open Stages’, ‘Shakespeare Re-imagined’, ‘Nations at War’ and ‘What Country Friends is this?’ In spite of this, the themes adopted by the RSC are definitely influenced by the Bard. ‘What Country Friends is this?’ encompasses Shakespeare’s shipwreck trilogy: The Tempest, The Comedy of Errors and Twelfth Night, and these are cast from one acting company, looking at migration, exile, and the discovery of brave new worlds. King John, Richard III and A Soldier in Every Son – The Rise of the Aztecs are the three plays under the umbrella title ‘Nations at War’, exploring the struggle for absolute power and the right to lead a nation. Further productions include A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Julius Caesar, but also adaptations like Romeo and Juliet in Baghdad or Two Roses for Richard III.

In addition, the Globe in London has announced its Globe to Globe Festival as part of the Shakespeare celebrations for the London 2012 Festival and will endeavour to present all of Shakespeare’s plays over 6 short weeks. Whilst it will stage one production itself, the remaining 36 plays will each be performed in different languages by different countries from around the globe, the epitome of global arts coming to London in celebration of this momentous year and as part of the events, which will be the finale to the Cultural Olympiad.

Click here to view the other side of the debate.

Lisa Neiss

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