Notes from West London · Shakespeare

“Coriolanus” and completing the set, twice

Last night, courtesy of my son’s godmother Angela, I had a most enjoyable evening watching the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of “Coriolanus” at the Barbican. This means that I have now seen at least two different stage productions of every Shakespeare play. I make no apologies for making lists and crossing things off them, on paper or figuratively. By “every Shakespeare play” I mean the 37 that are in my 1970s hardback edition of the Complete Works, the same 37 plays screened by the BBC between 1978 and 1985. It’s a closed list. There are three other plays which are widely acknowledged to have been written, at least in part, by Shakespeare, but they’re not included in either collection: “Two Noble Kinsmen”, “Thomas More” and “Edward III”. I have seen the first two of these on stage, once each, but not “Edward III”. Whenever it’s staged again I hope to be see it but it won’t be added to my official list of 37.

If you have taken the time to read the 9,000 words I posted last year, about seeing every Shakespeare play, thank you. If not, you’ll find them here. See how far you get. The piece details “how I first tried to track down a performance of every play in 2003/4. It incorporates miscarriage, pregnancy and a happy ending”. Between July 2003 and March 2004 I saw (on stage, on film, or from the BBC’s Complete Works season) all 37 plays at least once. By then my wife was pregnant for the fifth time. Unlike the previous four pregnancies this one went to term. Our son was born on 9 November 2004. He turned 13 today. Happy birthday to us.

Our daughter was born in October 2006, and that was the month that I first “completed the set”, at least one stage production of all the plays that I had previously only seen on film or TV. It was a rather experimental “Timon of Athens” in Stratford-upon-Avon that got me over the line.

If you ever set out, consciously, to see all 37 Shakespeare plays on stage you will probably have the same difficulty that I have had tracking down the following, each of which I have seen exactly twice: “Two Gentlemen of Verona”, “Merry Wives of Windsor”, “King John”, “Henry VIII”, the three parts of “Henry VI”, “Timon of Athens” and “Coriolanus”. If it weren’t for Shakespeare’s Globe on Bankside and the RSC’s Complete Works season in Stratford in 2006 I would never have seen some of these works. Since 2003, as far as I know, “King John” and “Henry VIII” have only been staged once each at the Globe and in Stratford. (The latter’s production of “Henry VIII” was in Holy Trinity Church, where Shakespeare is buried.) If you missed them, you’ll be waiting a while for them to come round again. I saw the three parts of “Henry VI” in one day in Stratford in the summer of 2006 and again in one day at the Rose Theatre in Kingston in October 2015, the latter directed by Trevor Nunn. He also directed a local production of “Two Gentlemen of Verona” earlier in 2015, at the Arts Educational School. Without that I would be still be looking out for a second stage production of this early comedy to complete the set. It took me 30 years, from a school production of “Henry IV part I” in 1976 to that experimental “Timon of Athens” in 2006, to see at least one production of each play. It has taken just over 11 years to complete the set again.

You’re not expecting a proper review of “Coriolanus” here are you? I’ll leave that sort of thing to the professionals, like Michael Billington here in the Guardian, reviewing the production in Stratford before its transfer to London. In my dealings with Shakespeare, as with so many other things, I am an amateur. An enthusiastic amateur, but still an amateur, with a fondness for lists, and on the train home last night, in a Word document on my phone, I typed up three more: the plays that I have definitely seen three or more times; those that I have seen exactly twice (listed above), and those that I’m not sure about. Have I managed to see a third stage production of “Taming of the Shrew”, “Merchant of Venice” or “Love’s Labour’s Lost”? Possibly not. And will I make a conscious effort to complete the set for a third time? Probably not. This isn’t an obsession you know.



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