RSC's Boyd Gets Political in 2005 Before Bard FestDate: 14 September 2004
Royal Shakespeare Company artistic director Michael Boyd today launched plans for next year’s Stratford season, running from March to October 2005.
Making good on several of Boyd’s previously stated aims (See “Changing of the Guard: RSC”, Features, 6 Oct 2003), highlights will include a reintroduction of new work to the main repertoire, a continuation of the company’s ensemble emphasis and an “overtly political” season of little known Jacobean and Elizabethan drama coinciding with the 400th anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot (pictured), ahead of a year-long Complete Works of Shakespeare Festival (from April 2006 to April 2007).
Tragedies Success Leads to Comedies
The 2005 programme builds on the strength of this year’s Festival season that has, to date, recorded the highest box office at Stratford in more than a decade, with most productions playing to an average 80% capacity. That success has helped the company bring its deficit of £2.8 million to under £500,000 and, said Boyd at today’s press conference at Brown’s in London, it “gives us the confidence to be bolder in our ambitions in the coming years.”
In response to this year’s Tragedies, the 2005 season will open with four of Shakespeare’s best-loved comedies - A Midsummer Night’s Dream (directed by RSC associate director Gregory Doran), Twelfth Night (directed by Michael Boyd), The Comedy of Errors (directed by Nancy Meckler) and As You Like It (directed by RSC associate director Dominic Cooke) - performed in repertory by a 44-strong ensemble in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.
Gunpowder for Guy Fawkes
Gunpowder builds on the success of the two ‘new-old play’ experiments, the 2002 Olivier award-winning Jacobean season and this year’s Spanish Golden Age season. Headed by Gregory Doran - who was behind the West End-transferred Jacobeans – the season will feature four plays never before performed by the RSC. Though written in part by Shakespeare, the first, Thomas More, has not had a major production in four centuries.
It will be accompanied by contemporary pieces A New Way to Please You (by Middleton, Rowley and Massinger) and Believe What You Will (Massinger) as well as the world premiere of a new related political drama by Irish playwright Frank McGuinness entitled Speaking Like Magpies.
In addition to the 400th anniversary of Guy Fawkes’ unsuccessful coup attempt, the Gunpowder season will mark the 20th anniversary season of the Swan, where the quartet will be performed in rep by a separate 28-strong ensemble. Fittingly, the schedule will culminate, on 5 November 2004, with a bonfire.
More Political Premieres
Political themes will carry through to two more new plays at Stratford’s reopened The Other Place studio space (closed since 2001) as part of the main Stratford schedule. Zinnie Harris’ Solstice - a companion piece to Midwinter, which premieres as part of this month’s inaugural two-week New Work Festival, running 29 September to 17 October 2004 (See News, 20 Apr 2004, & Features, 4 May 2004) – concerns faith and terrorism in a family’s intergenerational conflict. And, in David Greig’s The American Pilot, the parachuting of US military man into an enemy village explores “the extent to which we have all become Americans”.
Harris and Greig’s plays will precede the return in autumn 2005 of the New Work Festival, which will feature two more politically-inclined pieces: Fraser Grace’s Breakfast with Mugabe, following the Zimbabwean leader’s sessions with a psychiatrist prior to the African country’s controversial 2002 elections, and Eric La Rue, Brett Neveu’s piece about school shootings in the American mid-west.
The RSC’s programming follows in the wake of last week’s premieres of David Hare’s Stuff Happens at the National and Tim Robbins’ Embedded at Riverside Studios as well as the Tricycle Theatre’s ongoing series of documentary plays such as Guantanamo. Speaking at today’s press event, Dominic Cooke, who oversees the RSC’s new work schedule, commented on the current climate in drama: “Writers are writing political plays at the moment. There is a real hunger to question what’s going on politically.”
Boyd added: “There’s something in the air that could be described as a discursive vacuum. And nature abhors a vacuum. The arts have a responsibility to seek out truth.”
Ahead of the launch of the above programme, the 2004/2005 Stratford season - Boyd’s inaugural season as artistic director – concludes with a return Christmas run of Beauty and the Beast, now redeveloped, in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre (RST); Vanessa Redgrave taking the title role in Tony Harrison’s new version of Hecuba at the RST ahead of transfers to the West End and Washington, DC (See News, 29 Mar 2004); a double bill of Julius Caesar and The Two Gentlemen of Verona in the Swan interspersed with regional touring; and, newly announced, Doran’s Japanese puppet-based staging of Shakespeare’s erotic poem Venus and Adonis, in a collaboration with London’s Little Angel theatre, at The Other Place.
- by Terri Paddock
NOTE: Dates for the 2005 productions will be announced in the coming weeks. For further reporting from today’s RSC press conference, see The Goss.