The Royal Shakespeare Company, currently on a roll with its successful Complete Works festival, has announced plans for next year, writes Terry Grimley
The Royal Shakespeare Company's Complete Works festival is proving a big commercial as well as artistic success.
With four months still remaining, the ambitious project to perform all of Shakespeare's works within a single year, with RSC productions taking place alongside visiting companies from around the world, has already achieved 80 per cent of the income budget for the year, selling more than 450,000 tickets in total, and taking more than #8.4 million through the box office.
The August bank holiday weekend broke all box office records with more than 8,000 tickets sold for performances in five venues (98 per cent of capacity). At least one in ten audience members so far are under 25 years old, and the festival has attracted more than 100,000 new visitors to the RSC.
Now the RSC has announced plans for 2007 beyond the festival. They include David Warner, whose Hamlet at Stratford was one of the seminal theatre performances of the 1960s, rejoining the company after a gap of 40 years.
He will play Falstaff in Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 as part of an epic presentation of Shakespeare's complete history plays. Continuing from the Henry VI plays first staged in 2001 and revived as part of the Complete Works festival, the cycle will eventually comprise all eight plays, covering 88 years of turbulent English history, performed for the first time by the same company of actors under the directorship of RSC artistic director Michael Boyd.
The plays will be performed in the Courtyard Theatre, the temporary 1,000-seat auditorium which will enable the RSC to continue to perform in Stratford during the reconstruction of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, due to begin next spring.
The RSC last staged Shakespeare’s history cycle in 2000/01, although with more than one company of actors, and four directors.
The plays will be introduced in the order in which they were written, reflecting Shakespeare’s development as a playwright, before the complete series is played in historical order. The company will add Richard III to the repertoire in January 2007, Richard II in July, closely followed by the two parts of Henry IV.
David Warner's return to the RSC in these plays will provide a link back to the first RSC cycle of the histories, The Wars of the Roses, staged in 1963/64 by Peter Hall and John Barton, in which he played Richard II and Henry VI.
Henry V will be the final play to join the Histories in November 2007, followed by performances of the complete cycle in Stratford and London during 2008.
The same ensemble will also stage a new play written by Adriano Shaplin, artistic director of groundbreaking New York company The Riot Group, who also wrote the award winning play The Pugilist Specialist. His appointment as international writer-in-residence is a joint initiative between the RSC and the University of Warwick.
Playing in repertoire with the Histories will be a new company of actors with a production of Twelfth Night, directed by Neil Bartlett, the former artistic director of the Lyric Hammersmith whose last production for the RSC was The Prince of Homburg in 2001.
This company will also then revive Nancy Meckler’s recent hit production of The Comedy of Errors, part of the RSC’s Comedies season in 2005, for a national tour including a West Midlands venue yet to be confirmed.
The 2007 Swan Season will see a new ensemble performing Shakespeare’s Macbeth, directed by the Irish writer and director Conall Morrison in his RSC debut. This ensemble will also perform Eugene Ionesco’s surrealist reworking of the play, Macbett, directed by acclaimed Romanian director Silviu Purcarete.
The season also includes another chance to see Dash Arts’ highly praised pan-Indian production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Tim Supple and commissioned by the British Council in India. The production was first seen in the UK as part of the Complete Works festival and returns to Stratford in May for a three-week run as part of a national and international tour.
Meanwhile, plans for the remaining Complete Works festival continue to develop with Antony Hegarty from Mercury Prizewinning band Antony and the Johnsons now added to the composers taking part in Nothing Like The Sun, the collaboration with Opera North featuring new musical settings of Shakespeare's Sonnets. Others taking part include Natalie Merchant, Gavin Friday, Alexander Balanescu and Liz Fraser of the Cocteau Twins.
Frances Barber has now been cast as Goneril and Arkadina in Trevor Nunn's double-bill of King Lear and The Seagull, alongside Sir Ian McKellen as Lear and Sorin. After their run in Stratford these two productions will embark on an international tour, including dates in the United States and Australasia.
The final production in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre before it closes for its redevelopment will be Coriolanus, with Janet Suzman as Volumnia, Timothy West as Menenius, and William Houston in the title role.