9th Dec, 2016

Shakespeare Festival - Cumberbatch, Tennant, Dench, Horrible Histories and more

Stratford Editorial 22nd Jan, 2016 Updated: 28th Oct, 2016

THE BBC has revealed full details of the most far-reaching celebration of Shakespeare’s work ever broadcast.

The Shakespeare Festival will highlight the bard’s legacy on screen, on radio and online to mark the 400th anniversary of the death of Straford’s famous son.

The centrepiece will be Shakespeare Live! broadcast on BBC2 from the RSC in Stratford on Saturday April 23 – the date recognised as both the day Shakespeare was born and died.

Hosted by David Tennant, most recently seen on the Stratford stage as Richard II, and directed by RSC artistic director Gregory Doran, it will celebrate Shakespeare’s enduring influence on all art forms.

A stellar cast, including Dame Judi Dench, Joseph Fiennes, English National Opera, Birmingham Royal Ballet, and Akala from Hip Hop Shakespeare, will perform in a unique tribute to the genius and influence of the playwright.

Other festival highlights include:

* The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses starring Benedict Cumberbatch Dame Judi Dench, Keeley Hawes, Sophie Okonedo, Hugh Bonneville and Sir Michael Gambon (BBC Two)

* A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Russell T Davies featuring Matt Lucas, Maxine Peake, John Hannah, Elaine Page, Richard Wilson and Bernard Cribbins (BBC One)

* The world premiere of new work by poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy as part of a BBC Radio 3 residency in Stratford from April 22 to 24

* New Radio 3 dramas include The Wolf in the Water, by Naomi Alderman, which imagines what became of Shylock’s daughter Jessica from The Merchant of Venice, and King Lear, starring Ian McDiarmid

* Radio 4 will broadcast a new production of Julius Caesar starring Tim Piggott-Smith

* Upstart Crow, a BBC Two comedy written by Ben Elton, starring David Mitchell as Shakespeare, Liza Tarbuck as his wife Anne and Harry Enfield as his father

* Cunk on Shakespeare – a half-hour special featuring the character of Philomena Cunk (Diane Morgan), a regular on Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe

* A special episode of Horrible Histories on CBBC, looking at the bard’s early life with Tom Stourton as Shakespeare

BBC One’s Countryfile investigating the landscapes that inspired Shakespeare’s greatest works

* Gyles Brandreth tracks down the UK’s only living William Shakespeares for The One Show

* Best Bottoms in the Land (BBC One English Regions) will follow the RSC’s quest to put on A Midsummer Night’s Dream using a mixture of professional and amateur actors from around the UK

* BBC One daytime soap Doctors will feature storylines inspired by a Shakespearian sonnet

BBC Shakespeare Festival lead Helen Boaden said: “From searching for the ‘Best Bottoms in the Land’, to new exciting drama and documentary commissions across TV and radio; live programming from Stratford to an irreverent on line game using Shakespearian quotes and BBC Local Radio documenting on their websites where and how Shakespeare’s plays have been performed; our aim is to make Shakespeare simply irresistible.

“We want to reach out to every generation and all parts of the UK to ensure everyone can explore the enduring magic of our greatest ever writer.”

Following the live stream on April 23 the diverse collection of work will be available internationally for six months at

www.bbc.co.uk/shakespearelives.