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Last Updated: Sunday, 23 April 2006, 09:07 GMT 10:07 UK
Ambitious Bard festival under way
William Shakespeare
Shakespeare is being produced in Japanese and Polish
The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) has launched one of the UK's most ambitious theatre projects, in Shakespeare's birthplace of Stratford-upon-Avon.

The year-long Complete Works festival, which begins on the anniversary of the bard's death, will stage his sonnets, poems and all 37 Shakespeare plays.

Dame Judi Dench and Sir Ian McKellen are among the performers taking part.

RSC artistic director Michael Boyd told the BBC that the event would be a "national knees-up".

"Our ambition is to stage one of the most significant cultural festivals of the year in Stratford-upon-Avon," said Mr Boyd.

Shakespeare is traditionally said to have been born on 23 April 1564, and to have died on the same day 52 years later, in 1616.

Hailed as the biggest theatrical celebration in the company's history, the RSC claims the festival marks the first time all the plays have been staged in one continuous season.

Titus Andronicus - Japan
Richard III - Kuwait
Richard II - Germany
Two Gentlemen of Verona - Brazil
Macbeth- - Poland
Midsummer Night's Dream - India
Hamlet - South Africa

Seventeen overseas theatre companies and 14 UK theatre companies will perform at the festival, as well as the 23 productions being staged by the RSC.

Ten of the productions will be in languages other than English, at least in part.

"It shows how fantastically universal the plays are, and seeing people's different approach," said Dame Judi, who will play Mistress Quickly in The Merry Wives of Windsor.

Outdoor theatre

BBC arts correspondent Rebecca Jones called the project "a gamble", but said ticket sales were already up by a 25 per cent on the equivalent period last year.

"If the festival is a success it could help revitalise a company which has been criticised by some for losing its way," said Jones.

A new outdoor theatre - The Dell - will be built in the riverside gardens beside the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, and a temporary 100-seat studio will be erected inside the auditorium for a month.

Actors will also perform in the 1,000-seat Courtyard Theatre, which is scheduled to open in July 2006, and Holy Trinity Church, the burial place of Shakespeare.

See excerpts from the new RSC productions

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