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Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary year, 2016, will not only be a celebration of dead white males

Hamlet at Kourion Amphitheatre, CyprusThe death of most performed playwright in the world is to be marked in Stratford-upon-Avon, London and across the globe this year.

Researchers from the Multicultural Shakespeare in Britain Project at the University of Warwick are set to launch a new online Shakespeare performance database on 15 Jan 2016 that holds three years of research which documents and contextualises BAME performers’ crucial yet undervalued contribution to our understanding of Shakespeare - our greatest cultural symbol of ‘Britishness’.

The Multicultural Shakespeare project was launched in 2012. Since then, issues of diversity, access and representation have become the centre of a national debate. As we enter 2016, Lenny Henry, the Act for Change movement, Equity and so many others are campaigning for more diversity on stage and screen and for more power for black and Asian practitioners behind the scenes.

With nearly 1200 productions, The British Black and Asian Shakespeare Performance Database reveals how over 85 years Shakespeare's plays have become more multicultural. While BAME performer participation has unequivocally increased, casting patterns have meant that opportunities to play the great Shakespearean leads have remained slim.

The database shows:

  • BAME performers have been cast most often in Macbeth as one of the three witches.
  • BAME actors have been cast more often as Laertes, Ophelia, Horatio, Guildenstern and Rosencrantz than as Hamlet. Guildenstern and Rosencrantz have 1% and 2% of the total lines in Hamlet.
  • BAME performers are more often cast as Hero and Claudio in Much Ado About Nothing than as either of the leads - Hero has 5% of the lines; Claudio has 11% of the lines.

The database is being launched at a special event, ‘In Robeson's Footsteps: British Black and Asian Shakespeare Now’ at the Tricycle Theatre in London on 15 January 2016.

The performance of In Robeson’s Footsteps (16:00- 17:30), a drama documentary devised by Tony Howard, draws on research interviews with BAME actors and directors across the generations, including Adrian Lester, Mona Hammond, Noma Dumezwemi, Iqbal Khan, Rakie Ayola, Paterson Joseph, Lucy Sheen, and Oscar James.

In addition at the event there will be an opportunity to see the exhibition To Tell My Story, which tracks and illustrates the contribution of BAME performers in Shakespearean theatre over the last 85 years.

Dr Jami Rogers, Research Assistant and Honorary Fellow at the University of Warwick, says,

"The British Black and Asian Shakespeare Performance Database is a fantastic resource for a wide audience, celebrating inclusive classical productions. Students, teachers and academics will find it a rich resource for this little understood facet of theatre history. The database also tracks casting patterns and will provide a basis for understanding how cultural stereotypes have sometimes inhibited parity in classical theatre for the same performers the Multicultural Shakespeare project celebrates."

This event is hosted by the Multicultural Shakespeare in Britain Project (University of Warwick) and Global Shakespeare (Queen Mary University of London/University of Warwick).

If you haven’t done so already book your place now. We look forward to seeing you there.


Additional information:

Either beforehand or at the event there is the opportunity to interview:

Dr Jami Rogers, Research Assistant and Honorary Fellow at the University of Warwick.

Paterson Joseph – Possibly best known for his television appearances, including Peep Show, Joseph was born in London and trained at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. He began his Shakespeare career with Cheek By Jowl and shortly afterwards the Royal Shakespeare Company. While at the RSC, he took over the role of Troilus from Ralph Fiennes in Sam Mendes's acclaimed production of Troilus and Cressida. He was nominated for the Ian Charleson award for that first RSC season. Most recently for the RSC, he played Brutus in Gregory Doran's 2012 production of Julius Caesar. Joseph's other Shakespeare credits can be found here:

Noma Dumezweni – Dumezweni was born in Swaziland to South African parents and grew up in Ipswich. She began her Shakespeare career with London Bubble and two years later was cast in Gregory Doran's production of Macbeth with Sir Antony Sher and Dame Harriet Walter. She has worked extensively at the Royal Shakespeare Company, most recently during the 'long ensemble' from 2009 – 2011. Dumezweni is an Associate Artist of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Until 9 January, she can be seen in Penelope Skinner's play Linda at the Royal Court, having taken over the title role from Kim Cattrall at short notice. She will be playing Hermione Grainger in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at the Palace Theatre from July 2016.

Kobna Holdbrook-Smith – Holdbrook-Smith was born in Ghana and trained at the Guildford School of Acting. His Shakespeare credits include playing the King of Navarre at Shakespeare's Globe and, most recently, played Laertes to Benedict Cumberbatch's Hamlet. Holdbrook-Smith has worked extensively on stage and television. He is an Associate of the National Theatre and one of the founding members of Act for Change, the organisation that campaigns for better representation across the live and recorded arts.

High res image available:

Project video:


Event details:

In Robeson's Footsteps: British Black and Asian Shakespeare Now

Tricycle Theatre, London, 15 January 2016, 13:30 - 19:00.


Part I: ‘This Island’s Mine?’ - Shakespeare’s Communities Today (13:30 - 15:45)

A public seminar, highlighting connections and differences in contemporary approaches to Shakespeare across cultures.

Part II: In Robeson’s Footsteps (16:00- 17:30)
A performance of a drama documentary, drawing on recent interviews with BAME actors and directors and on the words of those who came before them.

Drinks Reception (17:30 - 19:00)

Alex Buxton
Communications Manager
Tel: 02476 150423
Mob: 07876 218166