#191 Gordon is the driving force behind Shakespeare400

I’m Gordon McMullan, I’m professor of Shakespeare Studies here at King’s College London and I direct the London Shakespeare Centre. And I’ve been at King’s for 21 years now to my slight surprise. So my first degree was a BIA in English language and literature. In the first year at Birmingham U, get taken off in the summer for a week in Stratford. And we were all a little irritated, because our peers back in Birmingham were partying after the exams. And here we were stuck in this little town called Stratford. Being forced to see all these plays, you know: Derek Jacobi and Sinéad Cusack in Much Ado About Nothing, Fiona Shaw and Juliet Stevenson in As You Like It. A most astonishing season of plays, which at that age I took rather for granted. And later realised I’d been lucky enough to see an amazing season. And I suppose that must have really begun the fondness I have for going to see Shakespeare in the theatre. My first, as it were, professional visit to London was when I was a graduate student in Oxford and I was working on Jacobean drama, the drama of Shakespeare’s day. But I had never been to the Bankside area. I’d never walked around the area where The Globe Theatre was. So I brought myself down on the train and I took a little walk from… basically from where the National Theatre is heading East along the South Bank. In what was basically a very rundown area. I came across a little area of ground with a chain link fence around it. And there was a little note stuck in the fence, just written in felt pen, that said: we hope that we will rebuild The Globe here one day. To my mind, it was a slightly oddly, antiquarian idea, rebuilding The Globe. I had no idea of the positive energies that the project would eventually bring with it. The first play I saw at The Globe was The Two Gentlemen of Verona, which was in their Prologue season. So, the season before they officially opened. They officially opened with a Henry V. But that Two Gents in that Prologue season, it had Mark Rylance in it, and to my surprise they wore modern dress for it, which I absolutely loved. I thought it was lovely to begin in The Globe not doing the predictable thing of being in Elizabethan costume doing the double-up nose thing. So, Shakespeare400 is a consortium of 26, 27 of London’s leading cultural and creative organizations, which we at King’s College London have led and facilitated and publicised. We started conversations with The Barbican, National Theatre, Globe, London Philharmonic etcetera, etcetera. Just to say, you know: 400th of Shakespeare’s death is coming up in 2016, are you planning to do something for that? And it seems to have worked. And obviously there’s been a whole load of exhibitions and concert series and performances. Well I probably won’t be running another large-scale Shakespeare festival in London. One is probably enough for an academic. It’s back to writing actual critical books now, the thing that I’m probably happiest doing.

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