“By medicine life may be prolong’d, yet death
Will seize the Doctor too.”
Cymbeline (1609, publ. 1623), Act 5, Scene 5.
In a week of special episodes inspired by a Sonnet, BBC One drama series, Doctors, will be bringing the magic of Shakespeare to the small screen to mark the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death.
The Sonnets will form part of the narrative and will be heard in voice over at a key point in the story and the episodes will air from Monday 18th April through to Friday 22nd April at 1:45pm each day.
Talking of the reasons behind the idea, Peter Lloyd, Series Producer said: “As Shakespeare was a Midlands boy we wanted to play a part in the BBC’s celebrations to mark 400 years since his death. On Doctors we have the ability to do something a little different. A lot of people know one of the Sonnets, or lines from them and they can be a bit more digestible than entire plays.”
Peter confirmed that they didn’t consider repeating another ‘Austenland’ style episode for the special week, explaining, “It’s quite a big deal to do something period, it’s also very expensive and the BBC are doing a lot of more traditional Shakespeare so I want to do something a bit different and our regular viewers could see an episode and it was an ordinary episode but then you heard Shakespeare as part of it. For those that aren’t interested they can just watch the episode, but for those who are, hopefully they can appreciate the themes and the story from the original.”
“For one of the episodes we got to film at the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) in Stratford-upon-Avon which was wonderful. One of the scenes we filmed there involved Heston reciting Sonnet 73 to Ruhma as a way of wooing her. It is terribly romantic.”
In between scenes filmed at the RSC, I managed to catch up with Owen Brenman (Heston Carter) and Bharti Patel (Rhuma Hanif) to ask them about their own thoughts on Shakespeare.
Bharti started by sharing her previous experience of Shakespeare, “Much Ado About Nothing, here at the RSC in 2013, is the only Shakespeare I’ve ever done, which was great. I loved doing it. I played two characters, Verges and Ursula, but they combined the roles for the performance. I’ve been known to say, in the Evening Telegraph (Coventry), that I am not a Shakespeare girl and then I actually worked here and when you break the words down, and you do have to work at it, it’s very transforming.”
Owen spoke about his early acting career, “I did a very little bit of Shakespeare in my second job, I did Comedy of Errors. I also did the The Pocket Dream which is a play about a Shakespeare play going wrong, written by Sandy Tolksvig and I loved doing that. It’s one of those where the shows gone wrong and the backstage staff have to put it on [think Noises Off], which is more my natural home, the comedy side of things. I always feel with Shakespeare that it’s this huge mountain that’s probably much bigger than it really is and I feel that if you’re a ‘proper’ actor you do Shakespeare, where my background is more comedy sitcom, but everyone thinks whatever someone else does is more important and difficult, it’s just the nature of doing anything creative.”
Standing at the side of the RSC stage, Owen continued, “I quite like Macbeth, oh I’m not supposed to say that” at which point he starts turning a full 360 degrees on stage, “I should call it the Scottish play. I’m no good with his comedies, I find them not that funny, for my taste, so I like the tragedies more. I wouldn’t mind performing Shakespeare on stage but my background is more comedy, through shows like Alexi Sayle and One Foot in the Grave, that’s just the way my career has gone. I do theatre, but I feel more at home on TV, but I do miss the audience of live theatre.”
I asked Bharti what it was like being the new girl on set, she explained, “I think I’ve settled in, they are really lovely. I started last July and everyone has been really lovely and it is a big team and you have to just get in there and get mucky and everybody is there supporting and helping and it feels a really good tight unit and I think because we work so quickly we have to be like that.”
Picking up on a BBC online interview with Bahrti, I asked about her first day prank when she joined Doctors. Immediately dropping into a, near perfect, deep Scottish brougue, she said “I’m nae saying anything noo, I’m just saying Bhhaarrti.” Owen elaborated, “Oh yes, that’s some nerve. She spent the whole day pretending she was Scottish, on her first day. I went round telling everybody in the office that she was Scottish, and she said her name was Bhhaarrti.” Bharti added, “I only told him three days later.”
In the same interview Bharti ruled out any romance story lines, so I asked her if the story came as a surprise. Bharti confessed, “We know in advance and we know what’s going to happen a little bit so, Bharti the actor, knew. The character, Ruhma, wasn’t expecting anything, it was a bolt out the blue as much as it was for the audience so, definitely, she knew nothing about it. I think she’d just resigned herself to, I’ve got my kids, I’ve got a really great job, I’ve got good mates and that’s my lot.”
To end with I asked, after all the ups and downs of their romance so far, if it was going to be a case of ‘All’s Well That Ends Well’ for Heston and Ruhma?
Bharti: “Well, that would be telling.”
Owen: “Go and get your coat, no well done. Is it a case of that, we hope it is, we don’t know for sure do we.”
Bharti: “What ups and downs or a happy ending.”
Owen: “We’ll have to wait and see.”
Bharti: “Oh we’re back on.”
…and with that they were whisked away for another scene.
These special Sonnet-inspired episodes of Doctors will broadcast on BBC One from Monday 18th April – Friday 22nd April at 1.45pm.
Monday 18 Apr ‘When in disgrace’ by Dale Overton (Sonnet 29)
A chauffeur faces divorce, unemployment and ill health, but the one shining light in his life keeps him going – his young daughter. Emma visits mum-to-be Rhiannon, who is facing the prospect of Social Services taking away her baby as soon as it’s born. Does Rhiannon deserve this?
Tuesday 19 Apr ‘In ghastly night’ by Ray Brooking (Sonnet 27)
A young student is mourning his failed relationship, and his nights are filled with pain and grief. Will these night terrors force him into drastic action?Rob returns home after a terrible night shift at the station, his sleep constantly disturbed by Karen wanting to discuss her idea to foster difficult kids.
Wednesday 20 Apr ‘Past reason hunted’ by Steph Lloyd Jones (Sonnet 129)
Rob investigates a case of stalking, fuelled by a dangerous lust. But has he got the right man? Anthony’s lust for power and money finally gets the better of him as Daniel frames him for embezzlement and the slippery Practice Manager is finally fired.
Thursday 21 Apr ‘I know she lies’ by Bill Armstrong (Sonnet 138)
Adam and Michelle have a marriage that works, despite the lies. But people can get caught in the crossfire, and when Michelle gets pregnant, events become rather dangerous. Heston takes Ruhma to Stratford for their minibreak, but they argue about Shakespeare, government policy on the Arts and ultimately, fidelity. Heston ruminates that all the women he has been with have lied to him; she is just part of a long line …
Friday 22 Apr ‘Where late the sweet birds sang’ by Hiser & Colgan (Sonnet 73)
Tom and Jerry have been together for fifty years, but as they face death, can they do it together or will they be torn apart? Heston makes his apologies to Ruhma in dramatic fashion. As they explore the RSC on a backstage tour, he’s invited to take to the stage and he recites Sonnet 73, which moves her to tears.