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The London Festival 2012 officially launched on 21st June, and promises to offer up a host of once-in-a-lifetime performances before finishing up on 9th September. As the grand finale to the UK’s Cultural Olympiad, the festival features 12,000 events, more than 25,000 artists, 900 venues, and boasts 137 world premieres. Right, that’s the impressive numbers out of the way, but what can we expect to see, theatrically-speaking, during the city’s huge cultural celebration?

World Shakespeare Festival

Without a doubt, the jewel in the Cultural Olympiad’s crown is the World Shakespeare Festival. Produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company, it’s by far the biggest celebration of the Bard ever staged. Almost 70 productions will take place to honour his 448th birthday. Head to Shakespeare’s Globe by the River Thames and you’ll catch the Globe to Globe series – theatre companies from all over the globe will perform each and every Shakespeare play in their native language. So far we’ve had Troilus and Cressida in Maori, and Henry VI, Part 2 in Albanian.


At the Barbican, you’ve just missed a collaborative reimagining of Othello from US Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, director Peter Sellars and Malian singer/songwriter Rokia Traoré, but innovative takes on Shakespeare still abound through to September. Check out Timon of Athens at the National Theatre, and the award-winning actor Jonathan Pryce treads the boards in King Lear at the Almeida from 31st August.


If you’re looking for a breather between performances, how about a stroll around the British Museum’s Shakespeare: Staging the World exhibition, which runs until 25th November. Be sure to check out the final exhibit, the ‘Robben Island Bible’. This well-worn volume of Shakespeare’s plays belonged to Sonny Venkatrathnam, a former South African anti-apartheid prisoner. Convincing guards the book was the bible, he kept it secretly hidden in the notorious Robben Island prison, sharing it with other inmates, including Nelson Mandela, who underlined and signed the passages that meant the most to them.


If the Shakespeare festival hasn’t managed to cleanse you of your torturous school memories, there are plenty of other exciting, alternative theatre happenings taking place throughout the city. The Southbank Centre is one cultural hub offering up a plethora of new, innovative and challenging performances, including Menage a Trois, a stunning new dance-theatre production from award-winning Claire Cunningham and Skewered Snails by Ramesh Meyyappan.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

The National Theatre next door stages a whole host of firsts, including a brand new stage adaptation of Mark Haddon’s touching and award-winning novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Julie Walters also stars alongside Helen McCrory in Stephen Beresford’s blackly comic new drama, The Last of the Haussmans, from 27th July through to 6th September.


The festival also offers up plenty of chances to get involved in theatre and performance art yourself. The National Theatre is running pop-up workshops, Monday to Saturday throughout the summer, where all ages can get involved in puppetry, with the War Horse company, prop-making, and performance, alongside the understudy cast of One Man, Two Guv’nors.


Or for a night that’s truly out of the ordinary, join the You Me Bum Bum Train. The participatory theatrical adventure takes place in a mystery East End location, encouraging audience members to perform in a string of scenes, from hosting a talk show to robbing a bank. More details available here, and YMBBT are looking for volunteers to help stage the performances too.


And if you’re looking to stay in London after a visit to the theatre, consider the Holiday Inn Regent’s Park hotel for a great value, central accommodation option.