The coronavirus outbreak has led theatres around the UK to close their doors, with a number of Shakespeare productions cancelled or postponed. But those looking for a quick fix of our greatest playwright can seek solace on Twitter, as top British actors are sharing videos of themselves performing his words.
Jade Anouka brought together a superb lineup of actors in the cause of “spreading some Shakespeare love”. She performs lines from Portia’s “the quality of mercy” speech from The Merchant of Venice, alongside Judi Dench, Paterson Joseph, Meera Syal, Harriet Walter, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Paapa Essiedu and Simone Kirby.
Dench played Portia opposite Michael Williams as Bassanio in a Royal Shakespeare Company production in 1971, the year she and Williams got married. The video reunites Anouka and Walter who both starred in the Donmar’s all-female Shakespeare Trilogy. Kirby shared the video to her followers, dedicating it to the “many people who had their shows pulled this past week”.
Anouka, who is scheduled to perform her debut play Heart at the Kiln theatre this summer, said Portia’s speech about being kind “seemed to fit with where we all need to be right now”. She added: “The culture lovers of the country are currently all deprived of theatre. A few years ago I managed to persuade a load of excellent women, mainly performers but not all, to be part of a video for a poem of mine called I Am a Woman (which was inspired by Maya Angelou’s Phenomenal Woman). So I thought I’d do something similar and call upon some actor friends and colleagues. Most of us are stuck in our homes eager to find ways of connecting to audiences and keeping theatre alive. The stages are shut but a Twitter post can reach thousands.”
Meanwhile, Patrick Stewart tweeted a video of himself performing Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 with its message that love “is an ever-fixed mark / That looks on tempests and is never shaken”. The video had more than a million views and Stewart followed it up with a tweet saying: “When I was a child in the 1940s, my mother would cut up slices of fruit for me (there wasn’t much) and as she put it in front of me she would say, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” How about, “A sonnet a day keeps the doctor away”? So ... here we go: Sonnet 1.”
Sporting a Gillian Welch T-shirt and clutching a hefty Shakespeare volume, he delivers the lines about beauty, virtue and procreation.
There are five months’ worth of sonnets left if Stewart delivers them daily – a treat for Shakespeare lovers who nevertheless will hope that theatres have reopened by the summer.
Watch the Guardian’s own Shakespeare Solos series