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S44 Ep9

Shakespeare Live! From the Royal Shakespeare Company

Premiere: 12/23/2016 | 00:00:30 | NR | Closed Captioning Icon

The star-studded Shakespeare Live! from the Royal Shakespeare Company salutes the Bard across multiple genres. This celebratory event, hosted by David Tennant and Catherine Tate, features Benedict Cumberbatch, Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, Rufus Wainwright, Joseph Fiennes, and many more.

About the Episode

To commemorate the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death on April 23, 2016, The Royal Shakespeare Company hosted a glittering jubilee party with an all-star cast.

Shakespeare Live! — celebrating the international legacy of Shakespeare in all the performing arts, including opera, ballet, hip hop, blues, jazz and musical theater, from The Bard’s hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon– comes to Great Performances, Friday, December 23 at 9 p.m. on PBS to conclude  the 2016 PBS Arts Fall Festival. (Check local listings.)

Many iconic characters, speeches and scenes from Shakespeare’s best-known plays are featured, telling the story of Shakespeare’s life and career.

From the stage of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, hosts David Tennant and Catherine Tate are joined by an eclectic roster of performers including Akala and Hip Hop Shakespeare, Roger Allam, Benedict Cumberbatch, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Ian Bostridge, Judi Dench, Anne Marie Duff, Paapa Essiedu, Joseph Fiennes, Alexandra Gilbreth, Rory Kinnear, the cast of Horrible Histories, Rufus Hound, Henry Goodman, John Lithgow, Ian McKellen, Midlands Youth Jazz Orchestra, Helen Mirren, Alison Moyet, Al Murray, Pippa Nixon, the Orchestra of the Swan, Gregory Porter, the Royal Ballet, Antony Sher, The Shires, David Suchet, Rufus Wainwright, and Harriet Walter, for a very special evening. Even RSC President Prince Charles joins the fun for an impromptu acting class on the proper way to emote Shakespeare’s classic words, “To be, or not to be.”

The once-in-a-lifetime cast was assembled and directed by Gregory Doran, Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and took place in the presence of Their Royal Highnesses the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall.

Beyond the many dramatic highlights of the evening, the show is filled with music and dance.

Country duo The Shires perform a special interpretation of Shakespeare’s poem “Under the Greenwood Tree”; Henry Goodman and Rufus Hound give their own rendition of

“Brush Up Your Shakespeare” from the musical “Kiss Me Kate”; and the Midlands Youth Jazz

Orchestra perform Duke Ellington’s “Black and Tan Fantasy” which is used for an Othello-inspired dance courtesy of the Birmingham Royal Ballet.

Akala and his award-winning music theatre production company Hip Hop Shakespeare perform a brand new composition; while dancers from the Royal Ballet will perform Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet,” accompanied by the 65-piece Orchestra of the Swan.

Musicians Rufus Wainwright, Gregory Porter and Ian Bostridge offer songs inspired by Shakespeare: Rufus Wainwright sings Sonnet 29; a filmed performance of Gregory Porter sings “When That I Was And A Little Tiny Boy”; and there is a haunting rendition of “Come Away, Death” from Ian Bostridge accompanied by Sir Antonio Pappano, recorded at the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon, where Shakespeare is buried.

Reviewing the evening in The Guardian, Robert McCrum found it “an apt and vivid reminder of the playwright’s chameleon brilliance, his astonishing powers of assimilation, and the way in which the inspired juxtapositions of his language and poetry can ignite the cortical synapses of the imagination like no one in our literature.”

Dominic Cavendish in The Telegraph noted, “McKellen’s fiery delivery of lines about refugees from Sir Thomas More or Rufus Wainwright’s beautiful version of the sonnet ‘When In Disgrace with Fortune and Men’s Eyes,’ sent shivers down the spine. Roger Allam as a raving Lear, Harriet Walter as a dying Cleopatra and Helen Mirren as Prospero provided a last-minute embarrassment of tragic riches.”

Shakespeare Live! From The Royal Shakespeare Company is produced for television by John Wyver, Director, RSC Screen Productions, and BBC producer Catherine Stirk. with Phil Dolling as executive producer

For Great Performances, Bill O’Donnell is series producer; David Horn is executive producer.

Great Performances is produced by THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC for WNET, one of America’s most prolific and respected public media providers. Throughout its more than 40 year history on public television, Great Performances has provided viewers across the country with an unparalleled showcase of the best in all genres of the performing arts, serving as America’s most prestigious and enduring broadcaster of cultural programming.

The Great Performances presentation is funded by The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation, the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Arts Fund, the Irene Diamond Fund, the LuEsther T. Mertz Charitable Trust, Rosalind P. Walter, The Agnes Varis Trust, The Starr Foundation, the Kate W. Cassidy Foundation, Ellen and James S. Marcus, the Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, the Lenore Hecht Foundation, The Abra Prentice Foundation, The Lewis “Sonny” Turner Fund for Dance and PBS.

Visit Great Performances Online at for additional information about this and other programs.


PBS Arts Fall Festival

Shakespeare Live! From the Royal Shakespeare Company is part of the sixth annual PBS Arts Fall Festival, a ten-week series hosted this fall by Grammy and Tony Award-winning star Lin-Manuel Miranda. Starting October 21, the festival features a variety of legendary artists, dazzling musical performances and captivating dance works, beginning with “Hamilton’s America” from Great Performances, a look at the making of the hottest show on Broadway. The PBS Arts Fall Festival, which last year reached more than nine million viewers, is a cornerstone of the Friday primetime lineup, underscoring PBS’  ongoing commitment to give audiences the best seats in the house to watch arts performances on air and online. Most programs will be available online at after their broadcast premiere. For more, visit


NARRATOR: Coming to the PBS Arts Fall Festival 'So to be or not to be, that is the question.'

'To be or not to be.. that is the question!'

'To be or not to be.. that IS the question!'

Narrator: Join a star-studded gala commemorating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death.

With Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, Ian McKellen, Benedict Cumberbatch and many more.

Great Performances presents: Shakespeare Live!, from the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Friday December 23 at 9/8 C.

Only on PBS.


PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.