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OLT Guide: London 2012 Festival

Published 21 June 2012

There are a staggering 12,000 events being staged as part of the London 2012 Festival, which launched today. If it was possible to see one a day until you had completed the set, it would take you nearly 33 years. But the festival, the cultural offering complementing the Olympic and Paralympic Games, only runs for 11 weeks, so we thought we’d help by offering you our guide to what we think might be the highlights for London theatre fans.

Opening Act

The first weekend, 21 to 24 June (okay, that’s a long weekend, but stay with us), of the London 2012 Festival is a big one. Towering above the headline grabbers is, of course, Trafalgar Square’s free festival of entertainment West End LIVE, in association with MasterCard. Where else could you see every single musical currently playing in the West End performing on the same stage over the course of one weekend. Nowhere! It’s extraordinary. But don’t take our slightly biased word for it – we help organise the event and will be providing online coverage during the weekend – ask one of the 500,000 people who saw the extravaganza last year. Did we mention that it’s all absolutely free? We did. Let’s just mention it again then; the West End’s finest performers entertaining you for no cost. We’ll see you there.

There’s more colossal entertainment available pre-West End LIVE on Friday, when Prometheus Awakes uses 10-metre high puppets, large-scale digital projection, disabled and non-disabled volunteers and professional performers to tell the famous Greek myth. Fans of keeping wallets firmly in their pockets will be delighted to hear that this, the first ever large-scale outdoor theatre production in the UK to be led by disabled artists, is as free as West End LIVE.

Best Of The Bard

The World Shakespeare Festival is playing a part weightier than a heavy Hamlet in the London 2012 Festival, which means there’s enough verse-based variety around the capital to please the most hardcore of Elizabethan enthusiasts.

The Royal Shakespeare Company, not surprisingly, is, like Henry V, leading the charge, with offerings at two different London theatres. Camden’s Roundhouse plays host to the currently playing What Country Friends Is This? season of The Comedy Of Errors, Twelfth Night and The Tempest, while the Meera Syal-led Much Ado About Nothing and its Africa-set interpretation of Julius Caesar come to the Noël Coward theatre later this summer.

Away from the Bardic bastion that is the RSC, you can dig in to King Lear at the Almeida, where Jonathan Pryce will be playing the misguided monarch, or explore a trio of global interpretations: Macbeth: Leila And Ben – A Bloody History (Riverside Studios), a Tunisian production of the famous play looking at the way Arab leaders use power; Romeo And Juliet In Baghdad (Riverside Studios), an Iraqi take on the classic love story; and Desdemona (Barbican), created by Malian singer Rokia Traoré and Nobel Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison, which imagines a conversation between the tragic Shakespearean character and her African nurse.

If you’ve seen a play but have a hunger for Shakespeare that cannot be satiated, you can nibble on a nugget of information at the British Museum’s Shakespeare: Staging The World exhibition.

Messing About On The River

What better place to celebrate London in the summer than on the iconic South Bank. We love it there even when there’s nothing to see. This summer there will be plenty.

The National Theatre is heavily involved with the London 2012 Festival, with indoor productions The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time, The Last Of The Haussmans and Timon Of Athens all part of the festival, along with its Inside Out programme, which will bring ingenuity and entertainment out of the building and onto the terracing and streets.

Just next door, the South Bank centre is packed with more shows than a maxed out Sky+ box. From Poetry Parnassus, the largest poetry festival in the UK, to circus and dance by disabled theatre company Graeae and Leaving Limbo Landing’s performance across land, water and air, you could say they’ve thrown an eclectic blanket over the South Bank.

Song And Dance

Not to be outdone, the Olympic spirit is shining as brightly as the Olympic flame itself across the capital’s opera and dance houses. At the London Coliseum, Blur and Gorillaz star Damon Albarn is performing in his own opera Dr Dee, while at the Royal Opera House, Otello, Les Troyens and Metamorphosis: Titian 2012 are all taking part, along with With One Voice, which brings together 200 performers who have experienced homelessness.

The Covent Garden venue’s latest artwork, Globe Head Ballerina, which adorns the exterior of the venue like a supersized bauble, is also part of the Festival, along with a free exhibition including Olympic medals and torches, The Olympic Journey: The Story Of The Games.

Family Fun

Because we’re more excited than a squirrel in a nut warehouse about being part of the London 2012 Festival and celebrating its 15th birthday, Kids Week is running throughout the entire month of August. Our annual promotion that offers one free child’s ticket with every paying adult to nearly 40 London shows, with an additional two tickets for children available at half price, and is a fantastic way to take children to London’s world leading shows for a fraction of the usual cost.

At Soho theatre, kids can enjoy a tale from master wordsmith Alan Ayckbourn, whose work has been so prevalent in London in recent years. The Boy Who Fell Into A Book is the story of a boy who, well, you can guess. With the help of a streetwise investigator, the literary captive has to find his way through all the books on his shelf to find his way home.

Something A Little Different

I know it’s a cliché, but that’s never stopped me before – there really is something for everyone in the London 2012 Festival. Fancy an eight-hour epic retelling of an American classic novel? There’s Gatz. Brand new plays inspired by the 2012 Olympics? Take a look at Taking Part and After The Party. A trio of productions about Irish emigration? I offer you DruidMurphy at Hampstead theatre.

You like both the puppetry of War Horse and Ted Hughes’ poetry? Then take a look at Crow, which uses Handspring Puppet Company’s genius and a guiding hand from Matthew Dunster to visualise Hughes’ Crow poems. Hackney Empire’s ambitious 100% London features a cast of 100, all from London, each representing 1% of the capital’s population. And if it’s 2000 dancers shaking their groove thang in Trafalgar Square that would really make your day, the Festival is providing that too as part of the Big Dance.

There’s much more to enjoy as part of this summer like no other, along with all the regular summer treats London theatre offers year after year, but if I kept writing about them all – and I could – it would be winter before this article ever got published and I’d have missed out on all the fun.

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