Maxine Peake in upcoming BBC Shakespeare Festival in April

The event is part of the BBC Shakespeare Festival which will take place in April to mark 400 years since the writer’s death.

The live television event will be hosted by David Tennant and directed by RSC Artistic Director Gregory Doran, and will feature Dame Judi Dench, Sir Ian McKellen, Joseph Fiennes, the English National Opera and more.

Also announced to perform as part of the event are Rufus Wainwright, Tim Minchin, Al Murray, Meera Syal, Alison Moyet, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Paapa Essiedu, Pippa Nixon, Alexandra Galbraith, Noma Dumezweni, The Royal Ballet and The Orchestra of the Swan.

The BBC Shakespeare Festival takes place throughout April 2016 across TV, radio, online and the world.

On BBC One, Russell T Davis is adapting on of Shakespeare’s best loved plays A Midsummer Night’s Dream which will star Maxine Peake as Titania, Matt Lucas as Bottom and John Hannah as Theseus. Elaine Paige, Javone Prince, Nonso Anozie, Hiran Abeysekera, Richard Wilson and Bernard Cribbins complete the cast.

The cream of UK talent, Hugh Bonneville, Benedict Cumberbatch, Judi Dench and Michael Gambon, will star in The Hollow Crown: The War of the Roses on BBC Two, a series of three new Shakespeare adaptations, Henry VI (in two parts) and Richard III.

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BBC announce 2016 Shakespeare Festival

Maxine Peake stars as Titania in Russel T Davies’s adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream coming to BBC ONE in Spring.

The BBC has today announced its plans to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death including the line-up for BBC Two’s Shakespeare Live! From the RSC.

The programme, hosted by David Tennant, will be broadcast during the weekend of Shakespeare’s birthday in April. Directed by RSC artistic director Gregory Doran, the cast will include Judi Dench, Ian McKellen and Joseph Fiennes.

Tennant appeared at the launch of the festival at the BBC Broadcasting House in London and explained how his first experience of Shakespeare was in his school gym. ‘I thought Touchstone was the coolest man alive.” He added: “These characters in [Shakespeare’s] stories are catnip for actors… Shakespeare Live! is a kind of variety bill. We’ve got some of the greatest classical actors around. Judi Dench will be there, Ian McKellen will be there. Live performance is what Shakespeare is all about.”

Further highlights of the celebration include BBC Two’s The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses featuring a wealth of talent including Benedict Cumberbatch, Keeley Hawes, Sophie Okonedo, Sir Michael Gambon and Judi Dench. As previously announced, Matt Lucas, Maxine Peake and Elaine Paige will star in A Midsummer Night’s Dream on BBC One.

Sam Mendes, who is executive producer on Hollow Crown, took to the stage at BBC Broadcasting house to explain how “unbelievably proud” he was of the series. “When I was doing Bond, I was stuck in Mexico and getting daily updates from Hollow Crown… Benedict Cumberbatch gives a great performance of Richard III. It’s been made unbelievably well by Dominic Cooke ”

The festival will also feature new Radio 3 dramas inspired by the life and work of Shakespeare. Naomi Alderman’s The Wolf in the Water will imagine what became of Shylock’s daughter Jessica from The Merchant of Venice, and Ian McDiarmid will take on the title role in a new version of King Lear. Radio 4 listeners will hear Tim Piggott-Smith play Julius Caesar in a new three-part production.

Back on BBC Two, David Mitchell will play the bard opposite Liza Tarbuck as his wife and Harry Enfield as his father in Ben Elton’s comedy Upstart Crow. Horrible Histories returns to CBBC with a special episode about the life and times of Shakespeare.

Best Bottoms in the Land will broadcast on BBC One English Regions and follows the RSC’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play for the Nation as it tours the UK, with professionals joined by local amateur theatre companies.

Shakespeare fans around the world will be able to join in the celebrations with Shakespeare Day Live on April 23. Hosted in Birmingham and co-curated by the BBC and British Council, the initiative will bring together interpretations of Shakespeare’s work in one digital space for audiences around the world to experience.

Talking at the launch, Gregory Doran said: “Shakespeare is for everyone so we want as many people as possible to have a chance to experience his work this year.

“We are thrilled to collaborate with the BBC in a fantastic initiative to bring Shakespeare’s legacy to audiences all over the UK.”

In some of the more ‘quirky’ offerings, daytime soap opera Doctors will offer storylines ‘inspired by a Shakespearean Sonnet’, and a new online guide ‘ShakespeareMe iWonder’ will ‘let the user find a perfect Shakespeare emoji quote to fit their mood’.

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Russell T Davies: ‘You never stop coming out of the closet’

Russell T Davies talks about Maxine’s appearance in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream‘, coming soon to the BBC!

Russell T Davies is showing me a snippet of film on his phone in a Manchester restaurant. There, on the screen, is Maxine Peake as you’ve never seen her before. She’s standing in a forest as a proud Amazonian queen, with shield and on-trend Miley Cyrus faux hawk hairstyle.

Truly, Peake has never played a role further removed from her performance as charming simpleton Twinkle in Dinnerladies. I put on my glasses. Is that muscle tone? Now she’s shouting angrily in iambic pentameter. “She’s posh and rough at the same time,” says Davies. “Only Maxine could do that.”

Then something even more unexpected happens. From across the clearing comes a lightning bolt that smacks into Peake’s chest. It looks like a Doctor Who/Game of Thrones mash-up, but what we’re watching is a scene from Davies’s new 90-minute adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, part of the BBC’s spring season of plays commemorating 400 years since Shakespeare’s death. Matt Lucas will be Bottom (naturally) and other cast members include Bernard Cribbins, Richard Wilson and – my personal favourite – Elaine Paige as Mistress Quince.

“Dreams, chases, people changing identities and species,” he says. “If that’s not an episode of Doctor Who, I don’t now what is.” Clearly, you can take the man out of Doctor Who, but not Doctor Who out of the man. “I’ve wanted to make this for 30 years,” he says, setting about his eggs benedict. But his obsession with the play goes back even further. “It was the first drama I was in.” He pauses. “I was 11 when I gave Swansea my Bottom.”

Davies has been sent the footage of Peake getting zapped so he can sign off on the special effects. The lightning bolt was fired by Theseus at Peake’s Hippolyta: in Davies’s reboot of the Bard, the former is a fascist ruler holding the latter as a prisoner of war. He insists, however, that he’s been faithful to the play. “I have only changed five words” In fact, he argues he’s been more faithful than Shakespeare. “Its title is its greatest enemy. It’s not summer. The seasons have been turned upside down. It’s a tough, wintry place.”

A Midsummer Night’s Dream will be broadcast in spring on BBC One.

Read the rest of his interview here.

Maxine Peake and Matt Lucas to star in Russell T Davies’ A Midsummer Night’s Dream

This sounds absolutely brilliant!

Peake will play the fairy queen Titania with Lucas taking on the part of self-important Bottom in the former Doctor Who showrunner’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s comedy

Silk and Shameless star Maxine Peake has been cast as the lovelorn fairy queen Titania in Russell T Davies’ reworking of Shakespeare’s much-loved comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

She will be joined by Sliding Doors and Rebus star John Hannah who takes on the role of King Theseus in the former Doctor Who showrunner’s 90-minute adaptation of Shakespeare’s tale of love and magic in an around a fantasy Athens.

Little Britain star Matt Lucas has been called on to play the part of Bottom, the Athenian weaver who organises a troupe of actors to venture into the wood to rehearse their play – only to fall prey to the mischief of the fairies who rule the forest.

Bottom’s troupe will be played by a diverse range of performing talent. One Foot in the Grave actor Richard Wilson will star as Starveling, with former Doctor Who star Bernard Cribbins playing Snout. Comedian Javone Prince has been cast as Snug and Fisayo Akinade as Flute.

The part of Mistress Quince – the wife of Peter Quince who wrote the play performed by the so-called Rude Mechanicals of idiotic actors – will be taken by singer Elaine Paige.

Eleanor Matsuura – Bev in Channel 4’s drama Utopia – plays Queen Hippolyta with the part of Oberon’s messenger fairy Puck played by relative newcomer Hiran Abeysekera.

The play starts with two sets of lovers eloping to the forest where they encounter a magical world overseen by Theseus and Hippolyta’s other-worldly counterparts Titiania and Oberon, who are themselves engaged in a quarrel.

Russell T Davies said of his cast: “This is such an exciting range of actors from stage and screen, from wild comedy to high drama, and some making their first ever appearance on camera. The Dream is coming to life like never before.”

Davies has promised a “bold and accessible” 90-minute version of the play which BBC1 controller Charlotte Moore says will be a “truthful version of the play – the original play, the original words, the original Shakespeare”.

She added that it would be “warm and funny” and “will have as much attitude and invention as any theatrical interpretation.”

When the drama was announced last month, Davies said: “I’ve wanted to make this for the BBC for my entire adult life – and only the BBC can put on a play like this, for all the family, smack-bang in the heart of primetime. With a riot of prosthetics, CGI, magic and action, it needs the brilliant Doctor Who team in Cardiff to bring it to life.”

A Midsummer Night’s Dream will be filmed in Cardiff’s Roath Lock studios and will air in 2016.

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Thanks to Gemma for the heads-up!