Royal Shakespeare Company director Gregory Doran has revealed his ambitious plans for the company’s new season which will include the return of esteemed theatre director Sir Trevor Nunn and plans to mark 400 years since the Bard’s death.
Venice is the major theme of the new season, as plays are staged about both the Merchant and the Moor of the Italian city.
There will also be a return of RSC stalwart Hugh Quarshie, who Doran says he has been trying to coax into returning to play Othello, the Moor of Venice, for the past 10 years. He will star with Lucian Msamati in the play, which will run in the main house from June to August 2015.
It will run alongside The Merchant of Venice and be preceded by Doran directing his partner Antony Sher in Death of a Salesman, to mark the 100 years since Arthur Miller’s birth.
The Venetian theme continues in the Swan Theatre, with productions of The Jew of Malta by Christopher Marlowe, Love’s Sacrifice by John Ford and Volpone by Ben Jonson.
Henry Goodman is in the title role of Volpone, directed by Trevor Nunn who returns to the Swan for the first time since he created and opened the theatre in 1986.
The plans for an “all-singing, all-dancing Shakespeare jubilee” in 2016, which will be the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death, are also well underway as Doran plans a Play For The Nation to involve as much of the country as possible.
It seems a long way off, but then Doran is already thinking beyond that, as he’s working to a six year plan.
“It’s like doing a jigsaw and trying to fit the pieces in,” he muses.
“I knew 2016 was going to a big thing, so we have to fit the puzzle around that.
“When I took on the role, I roughed out the next six years. I said we were going to perform all 36 plays in the First Folio of the Shakespeare canon without hesitation, repetition or deviation. We won’t be doing As You Like It, for example, every three years.
“I think that single, simple thing has had the most effect on us as a company. It has given us a sense of forward planning that we didn’t have.
“The theme for next summer is Venice, but also outsiders. I think the Moor and the Merchant both stood outside society.
“I believe that Antonio, the merchant, is in love with Bassanio and so feels isolated. Portia is isolated by her wealth and gender.
“The plays at the Swan continue this theme. The Jew of Malta is Marlowe’s take on the situation and is very relevant in the current climate, with Christianity versus Islam. It’s a provocative, challenging play but exactly what we should be doing.
“Love’s Sacrifice is a rarely-performed play but a thrilling revenge tragedy which echoes Othello as it explores the destructive power of jealousy.
“I had been talking to Hugh Quarshie for 10 years about playing Othello, which seemed to really exercise him.
“In the end we did a workshop and we realised he had to do it.
“He was one of the first black actors of the RSC to rise through the ranks – I remember him playing Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet.
“I am thrilled he is returning to his first love. And it’s fantastic to have Trevor Nunn back at the Swan, which was his baby.
“Death of a Salesman is actually the play that was to mark Tony Sher’s return to Stratford. That was my plan, but then I was casting Falstaff in Henry IV Parts I & II for earlier this year.
“I was talking to Ian McKellen about why he has never played Falstaff and he said ‘I don’t understand why you are looking for Falstaff when you live with him!’.
“Tony went away and read it and said ‘Why have I never considered this before?’. So that’s how he made an unexpected RSC return.
“I was thrilled when we did The Crucible with Iain Glen so brilliantly in 2006 but I think Death of a Salesman is Miller’s greatest play and perfect to mark his centenary.”
More than 50,000 children have so far been able to watch RSC productions of Shakespeare plays in their classrooms, thanks to live streaming initiatives, and to then go online to ask questions of the cast and director.
Mr Doran is also continuing with the First Encounter project to adapt plays for younger audiences.
Next season’s is The Famous Victories of Henry V, which condenses the three plays of Henry IV Parts I & II and Henry V into a 90-minute adventure for eight to 13 year-olds.
Mr Doran said: “I think youngsters should be able to identify with a bad boy Prince Harry!”
Almost 500 children will also be able to act on stage with professionals as part of a major production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Next spring, recruitment will begin for the 90 amateur performers to play Bottom and his mechanicals, and around 480 children who will play Titania’s fairies.
The RSC will work with 13 theatres around the country as it tours for 12 weeks in the spring and summer of 2016. In each location, a new group of amateur performers will join the cast.
The tour will culminate in a Midsummer month of performances at the RST in June 2016 featuring all the amateur actors.
RSC deputy artistic director Erica Whyman adds: “We should all feel as though Shakespeare belongs to us, and yet we know that not everyone does.
“We want to celebrate his legacy as we lead up to 2016 and find new ways of bringing the pleasure of his plays to the widest audience.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream is probably the play most of us begin with, so it made sense to choose this as a title for this unique celebratory production.
“There’s some fantastic and unexpected talent out there in the amateur theatre world and it’s a real treat to be able to bring the professional and amateur worlds together.”