First among equals


The idea of a Shakespeare hall of fame is outdated, says Michael Billington. Modern theatre demands actors who are prepared to share the spotlight.

Nothing stimulates debate like the Bard. Somewhat contentiously, Shakespearean performances and productions dominate this year’s Olivier award nominations. On top of that, the Birthplace Trust in Stratford has just set the cat among the pigeons by announcing 12 candidates for a hall of fame. I sense, in the list, a fairly desperate desire to cover all contingencies. So we get Ellen Terry but not her partner, Henry Irving, who was the driving force behind Lyceum Shakespeare. We also get Paul Robeson to avoid any hint of racial bias and Leonardo DiCaprio, on the strength of single movie, to appeal to modern youth. It’s a rum dozen bound to cause controversy.

It also necessarily makes invidious choices. So, on the acting front, it includes Olivier rather than Gielgud, Dench rather than Ashcroft, Branagh rather than Tennant. Which, in itself, raises a number of fascinating questions. What makes for great Shakespearean acting? Are there timeless qualities or does the definition change with every generation? And who, in today’s celebrity culture, where fame is easily purchased, achieves greatness rather than having it thrust upon them?

Full published article at: Guardian

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