From China to South Africa, UK artists collaborate with international creatives to make new work inspired by Shakespeare

We asked a range of creative producing organisations in the UK to nominate outstanding UK-based artists and companies to take part in our Shakespeare Lives programme.    

Artists and companies were invited to develop innovative projects which responded to, reinterpreted or were inspired by the works of Shakespeare in a global context. Nine project proposals from artists and companies were selected, including projects in theatre, dance, live art and music. Each project was then awarded funding for a research and development period collaborating with local artists in their chosen country.

Countries across the world were involved, from Nigeria to China, from South Korea to India. Artists documented their progress across the research and development period from April to November 2015 through blogs, video and audio content as they explored how to develop their projects in an international context.

In November 2015 all projects were reviewed and four of the nine were selected to receive further investment to bring their projects to full production in 2016 overseas, and potentially in the UK. The successful artists and companies are:

Shakespeare Lives
 is a major British Council programme of international events and activities in 2016, marking the four hundredth anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and exploring the work of the world’s most popular playwright in all cultures. In 2015,

The funding opportunity was a closed call. Creative producing organisations across the UK were invited to nominate an artist or company to apply. All project proposals were reviewed by a panel (see below).

For further information please email   

Watch and listen to Shakespeare related programmes on the BBC Shakespeare Lives minisite.

Successful Artists

Amanda Coogan. Photograph: Henry Chan

Amanda Coogan – Run To The Rock

Nominated by Belfast International Arts Festival, collaborating in South Africa

Run to the Rock is a new, multi-faceted Live Art work directed and designed by critically acclaimed live art practitioner, Amanda Coogan and involving Deaf performers from Northern Ireland and South Africa.  The production is a meditation on Shakespeare’s text inspired by Sonny Venkatrathnam's 'Robben Island Bible' and the choreographic potential of sign language, which is at the core of the creative process. Using sections of Shakespeare’s texts as marked out in the 'Robben Island Bible', Run to the Rock weaves a narrative of struggle for recognition, power balance and instability that springs from Shakespeare's continuing political relevance.

The production will be cross-disciplinary, using live multi-media messaging, projected images, sound and choreographed movements that spring from translations of Shakespeare's texts into sign language. This work has been generously informed by collaborators Educape and Jazz Hands, based in South Africa.

Run To The Rock will premiere at the MAC Belfast as part of Belfast International Arts Festival on 20 – 22 Oct. 

Gecko's Missing. Photograph: Richard Haughton

Gecko and Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre co-production – The Dreamer
Nominated by DanceEast, collaborating in China

Gecko are working with the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre on a co-production inspired by Shakespeare's A Midsummer's Night Dream and his Chinese contemporary Tang Xianzu’s The Four Dreams of Linchuan. Following a development residency in July 2016, the show will premiere in Shanghai in October 2016.

The Dreamer will premiere at Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre on 7 – 23 Oct.

James Cousins. Photograph: Pari Naderi

James Cousins Company – Rosalind
Nominated by The Place, collaborating in South Korea

James Cousins Company is collaborating with costume designer Insook Choi, dramaturg Hejin Jang and world-class dancers in Korea to interpret the timeless relationship of Rosalind and Orlando from As You Like It in the modern-day metropolis of Seoul. The aim is to tour the full production in East Asia, Europe and the UK following the premiere in Seoul in October 2016.  

Rosalind will premiere at Seoul Performing Arts Festival on 20 – 21 October and will tour to Indonesia on 25 - 30 October. 

Robert Gale (left) and Garry Robson (right). Photograph: Eoin Carey (left) & Imran Ali (right)

Robert Softley Gale and Garry Robson of Birds of Paradise Theatre Company – Caliban and Miranda: the making of a monster
Nominated by The Arches, collaborating in Hong Kong

Birds of Paradise Theatre Company are devising a new production with disabled artists in Hong Kong and the UK inspired by The Tempest. It will interrogate the ideas of otherness and disability within a post-colonial context. The company will look at the role of physicality and our view of the foreign body, and how this can affect our view of guilt and innocence, of power and vulnerability. Miranda and Caliban: The Making of a Monster will be an immersive theatrical experience for both a live and digital audience performed simultaneously in English, Cantonese, British Sign Language and Hong Kong Sign Language. It will be a joint presentation by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department and the British Council Hong Kong, supported by Glasgow Life, Creative Scotland, Arts with the Disabled Association Hong Kong, and will be performed in Hong Kong and live streamed to Glasgow in November.

Caliban and Miranda: the making of a monster will premiere at the New Vision Festival in Hong Kong on 5 – 6 Nov. 


Successful Artists at R&D stage

Greyscale's Tonight Sandy Grierson Will Lecture, Dance And Box. Photograph: Idil Sukan / Draw HQ

Greyscale Theatre Company – Shakespeare’s Strangers
Nominated by Northern Stage, collaborated in Russia

Greyscale Theatre Company’s Shakespeare’s Strangers will develop an innovative piece of physical theatre inspired by the figure of The Stranger in Shakespeare’s plays and its representation in contemporary theatre. During its research and development period, the company will explore four representative strangers in Henry VI, The Merchant of Venice, Othello and The Tempest, looking at how familiar narratives are told and retold from the perspective of strangers. Working with Russian artists and local communities, Greyscale Theatre Company will subvert our traditional understanding of the plays as it reimagines and presents new narratives from the perspective of The Stranger, and explores ways of presenting this through interactive and multilingual theatre.


Inua Ellams. Photograph: Amaal Said

Inua Ellams - Before The Tempest
Nominated by the Royal Shakespeare Company, collaborated with writers and thinkers in Nigeria

Using ideas of imperial power, colonisation and language as his starting point, poet and playwright Inua Ellams will reset Caliban’s story in a modern context. Ellams will research Nigerian ancestral fables and collaborate with key Nigerian writers, thinkers and theatre practitioners to look at the use of pidgin English and its origins in Africa. Using found objects, guesswork and half-stories handed down between generations, Ellams will create a new language to cast a new light on Caliban’s experiences on the island. Through exploring the power of language to shape narrative, Inua will write a prequel to The Tempest from Caliban’s perspective, building a new language into the reimagining of Caliban’s story.


Melanie and Will. Photograph: Melanie Wilson and Will Duke

Melanie Wilson and Will Duke – The Narrow World
Nominated by Forest Fringe, collaborated in Tunisia

Theatre artist Melanie Wilson and filmmaker Will Duke will develop a new, interdisciplinary performance piece focusing on female empowerment in Tunisia and the UK. Taking Shakespeare’s male speeches as its source material, the piece creates a female expression that both presents and questions ideas of self-determination and authority. Working with professional and amateur female performers in Tunisia and the UK, Wilson will train them to voice a selection of Shakespeare’s male speeches. These speeches will form the content of a series of short films to create a larger online and live performance work. The project combines film, live performance, sound and music to create a highly crafted female re-appropriation of heroism and the power of language.


Opera North's Sonset Song. Photograph: Tom Arber

Opera North – In the Air or the Earth: Composing the Sonnets
Nominated by Sage Gateshead, collaborated in India

Combining elements from classical, electronica and folk music with classical Indian musical traditions, In the Air or the Earth: Composing the Sonnets will explore the tension between the controlled form of the sonnets and the freedom of expression within them. Leading Indian musicians and singers will collaborate closely with musicians from Opera North to set Shakespeare’s sonnets to music, with rewritings of the sonnets by Indian poets including translations into different Indian languages. Exploring these tensions between controlled form and the freedom of language will lead to fascinating discussions and educational programmes both in India and in the north of England.


Peter McMaster. Photograph: Oliver Rudkin

Peter McMaster – Shake Your Spirit Shakespeare
Nominated by Buzzcut, collaborated in China

Shake Your Spirit Shakespeare is a research and development project by experimental performance practitioner Peter McMaster, investigating our emotional and psychological connection as humans to landscape and how contemporary relationships with landscape(s) dictate our artistic methodologies when choosing to work with them. Inspired by the vivid use of land based metaphor, imagery and pathetic fallacy in Shakespeare’s King Lear, McMaster will interrogate these creative choices to determine the Elizabethan value given to landscape in Shakespeare’s works.

McMaster will then engage with communities, artists and land-based practitioners in China to creatively explore their relationships to different local landscapes and compare how contemporary connections to landscape have changed since Shakespeare’s time, particularly in light of current ecological disasters.


Selection Criteria

  • Inspired by, responds to or reinterprets the works of Shakespeare in a global context
  • Will work in different markets, cultures and language
  • Innovative, interesting and artistically strong
  • Demonstrates a clear rationale for working with proposed country
  • Collaborative – UK artists working with contemporaries overseas
  • Ambitious in terms of impact or what it’s trying to achieve
  • Not a traditional stage production or one-man touring show
  • Attractive to young audiences (18-35)
  • Potential to go beyond the R&D stage


Selection Panel

Neil Webb, Director Theatre and Dance, British Council
Leah Zakss, Music Programme Manager, British Council
Rebecca Simor, Shakespeare Lives Programme Manager, British Council
Harun Morrison, Joint Artistic Director, Fierce Festival
Sarah Hickson, Freelance Photographer, Producer, Project Manager and Independent Arts Consultant
Paul Parkinson, Music Programme Manager, British Council 


"I imagine an artist so expedient and of his moment as Shakespeare might be deeply troubled by his work still being staged in 2016. If the social concerns that instigated so many of his storylines are still relevant, what does that say about the cultures that still turn to them 400 years on? How and when do we separate ‘Shakespeare’ as ‘top-down heritage industry’ from ‘Shakespeare’ as a necessary, provocative, writer-philosopher? These supported proposals from a number of the UK’s most dynamic contemporary performance-makers are exciting because they don’t shy away from these difficulties."

Harun Morrison, Joint Artistic Director, Fierce Festival


"It was a pleasure to be part of the Shakespeare Reworked Selection Panel and to see such a diverse and imaginative range of project submissions, which prompted interesting discussions. The proposals selected for the next stage of development represent different approaches and artistic genres, and I very much look forward to seeing how the collaborations develop and the ideas take form across the globe."

Sarah Hickson, Freelance Photographer, Producer, Project Manager and Independent Arts Consultant

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