Notebook - Rosie Millard

Think Baddiel and Skinner. Shakespeare, like football, is Coming Home

Who owns Shakespeare? When the National Theatre decided to produce Henry IV this year, the general consensus was that this meditation on kingship and national power was being done by the "right" theatre. There are other claimants, though: Shakespeare's Globe, coming in from left field with its "authentic" thatch and alfresco style, and the mighty RSC, which recently has not been in contention for anything much, due to several miserable years in the doldrums, during which time artistic concerns were overshadowed by the distracting revelation that its former leader Adrian Noble was off to direct Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Now, however, the RSC is coming out fighting. Its ammunition includes all 37 plays, all the sonnets, all the long poems; even incidentals such as The Rape of Lucrece, The Two Noble Kinsmen and something to do with a Turtle (which sounds very Lewis Carroll, but apparently isn't). After all, who better to put on a year-long festival

of Shakespeare's canon than the national company with Shakespeare in its name?

Launching the festival at the Telecom Tower, the RSC presented a short video explaining a) why the RSC must mount this event, which kicks off next April, and b) why it should happen in Stratford. Cynics might well drily point out that the reason it has to happen in Stratford is that the RSC has no well-established base in London to speak of, having hurled its home at the Barbican out of the cot several years ago. As far as the RSC is concerned, however, there is a far more plangent reason to host "The Complete Works" (as the festival will be named) in Stratford. Stop thinking Troilus and Cressida; start thinking Baddiel and Skinner. Shakespeare, like football, is Coming Home.

Lest we forget that the Bard grew up in ye olden days, and that those times can still be imagined in the coach-congested streets of Stratford, the video focused on show-and-tell shots of Anne Hathaway's half-timbered house and Shakespeare's school, while an enthusiastic voice informed us that frankly, there was nowhere better to experience Shakespeare than Stratford.

The film even posited the startling notion that the Midlands Effect, in effect, informs all of Shakespeare's plays."This is Shakespeare country," said the thrilling voice of Dame Judi Dench. "That makes a difference to me. Here, Shakespeare created words to go around the whole world." It's a nice thought, but surely Shakespeare created his words firmly within the vibrant turmoil of Elizabethan and Jacobean London, with its merchants, foreigners, royalty, Inns of Court, streets, drunkards and bear-baiters, all informing and framing his art.

Michael Boyd, artistic director of the RSC, is no fool. Nor does he have sufficient resources to put on 37 full-length plays. So, having made the case for "Shakespeare on Shakespeare's Own Soil", he then announced that 22 of the productions in the festival will come from elsewhere: guest companies from the Continent, Russia, South Africa, Asia and America are bringing their Shakespeares to the party. Indeed, as was pointed out, Shakespeare in translation works as well as Shakespeare in the original, and some of his plots ring true, if not more profoundly, abroad. An Iraqi version of Richard III, for example, which focuses on Saddam Hussein's early days as a secular Arab hero, will be one to watch.

Rosie Millard was previously Arts Editor for the NS and a Theatre Critic. She was the Arts Correspondent for BBC News for 10 years and is now a broadsheet columnist. She lives in London with heaps of small children, which may partially explain her love of going to the theatre.