The Royal Shakespeare Company has announced casting details for its 2005 Festival season, running from March to November in Stratford-upon-Avon (See News, 14 Sep 2004). Lia Williams, Malcolm Storry, Nicky Henson, Amanda Harris and Joe Dixon are amongst the actors who will join the ensemble to present “The Comedies” and “Gunpowder” - a season of little known Jacobean and Elizabethan political drama coinciding with the 400th anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot – as well as new writing.

The Comedies – Royal Shakespeare Theatre

Building on the success of 2004’s Tragedies, transferred to the West End’s Albery Theatre, the 2005 season opens with four of Shakespeare’s best-loved comedies - A Midsummer Night's Dream, Twelfth Night, The Comedy of Errors and As You Like It - performed in repertory by a 44-strong ensemble in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

A Midsummer Night's Dream, directed by RSC associate director Gregory Doran and designed by Stephen Brimson-Lewis, opens on 14 April 2005 (previews from 14 April). Amanda Harris (a and Olivier nominee for last year’s RSC production of Othello) plays Titania, Queen of the Fairies, with Joe Dixon (Cruel and Tender, RSC’s 2003 Titus Andronicus) as Oberon. Malcolm Storry (Cyrano de Bergerac, The Caretaker, Art, The Tempest) is Bottom with the lovers played by Trystan Gravelle (Lysander), Oscar Pearce (Demetrius), Sinead Keenan (Hermia) and Caitlin Mottram (Helena).

Twelfth Night, directed by RSC artistic director Michael Boyd and designed by Tom Piper, opens on 28 April 2005 (previews from 22 April). Nicky Henson (who last appeared at the RSC in 1986) plays Sir Toby Belch and Kananu Kirimi (Juliet at the Globe in 2004) plays Viola. Richard Cordery (Malvolio), Meg Fraser (Maria), Forbes Masson (Feste) and John Mackay (Andrew Aguecheek) all return from the Tragedies ensemble. Also featured are Barnaby Kay (Orsino) and Aislin McGuckin (Olivia).

The Comedy of Errors, directed by Nancy Meckler and designed by Katrina Lindsay, opens on 27 July 2005 (previews from 15 July). The two sets of twins are played by: Christopher Colquhoun (currently in Simply Heavenly in the West End) and Joe Dixon as Antipholus of Ephesus and Syracuse and Forbes Masson and Jonathan Slinger as Dromio of Ephesus and Syracuse, respectively.

As You Like It, directed by RSC associate director Dominic Cooke and designed by Rae Smith, opens on 17 August 2005 (previews from 5 August). Lia Williams (Skylight, The Homecoming, Mappa Mundi) makes her RSC debut as Rosalind with Amanda Harris as Celia. The cast also features Paul Chahidi (as Touchstone), Meg Fraser (Audrey), Trystan Gravelle (Jacques de Boys), Nicky Henson (Dukes) and Caitlin Mottram (Phebe).

Gunpowder – Swan Theatre

“Gunpowder” builds on the success of the two ‘new-old play’ experiments, the 2002 Olivier award-winning Jacobean season and last year’s Spanish Golden Age season, now transferred to the West End. Headed by Gregory Doran, the season features four Jacobean and Elizabethan plays never before performed by the RSC as well as the world premiere of a new related political drama by Irish playwright Frank McGuinness. The season also marks the 20th anniversary season of the Swan Theatre, where it will be performed in rep by a separate 28-strong ensemble.

The season kicks off on 24 March 2005 (previews from 9 March) with Thomas More, directed by Robert Delamere (Accidental Death of an Anarchist, The Earthly Paradise). The ‘banned’ play, which tells of the race riots and dissent that More attempted to quell, was written between 1592 and 1595 by Shakespeare along with Anthony Munday and Henry Chettle but has not had a major production in four centuries. Nigel Cooke (Macbeth, The Permanent Way) takes the title role.

A New Way to Please You, directed by Sean Holmes (The Price, The Roman Actor) and designed by Kandis Cook, also opens on 24 March 2005 (previews from 16 March). Written in 1632 by Thomas Middleton, William Rowley and Philip Massinger, the black comedy revolves around a law requiring every man of 80 years and woman of 60 years to be ‘put down’ as they’re no longer useful to society.

Believe What You Will, directed by Josie Rourke (World Music) and designed by Stephen Brimson-Lewis, opens on 26 May 2005 (previews from 18 May). In it, a Middle Eastern leader comes out of hiding to reunite his people, but the all-powerful Roman Empire threatens war on the state that grants him refuge. Peter de Jersey returns to the RSC after 12 years to play the exiled King Antiochus.

Sejanus: His Fall, directed by Gregory Doran and designed by Robert Jones, opens on 26 July 2005 (previews from 20 July). Written in 1603, Ben Jonson’s political thriller follows the rise and fall of Emperor Tiberius’ right-hand man. Frank McGuinness’ Speaking Like Magpies, which deals with the background of the 1605 Gunpowder Plot and was specially commissioned for the Swan, receives its world premiere on 29 September 2005 (previews from 21 September) and is directed by Northampton Theatres artistic director Rupert Goold (See Today’s Other News). Fittingly, the Gunpowder season will culminate, on 5 November 2004, with a bonfire.

In addition to Cooke and De Jersey, the ensemble features: Barry Aird, Teresa Banham, Ishia Bennison, Michelle Butterly, Nigel Betts, Peter Bramhill, Miranda Colchester, Ewen Cummins, Ian Drysdale, Evelyn Duah, Jon Foster, Geoffrey Freshwater, Kevin Harvey, James Hayes, David Hinton, Michael Jenn, Jonjo O’Neill, Keith Osborn, Fred Ridgeway, Vinette Robinson, Matt Ryan, Mark Springer, Julian Stolzenberg and Tim Treloar.

New Writing – The Other Place

Political themes 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 premiered as part of last year’s inaugural two-week New Work Festival (See News, 20 Apr 2004, & Features, 4 May 2004) – concerns faith and terrorism in a family’s intergenerational conflict. Directed by the playwright with a cast including Suzanne Burden, it runs from 6 April to 9 July 2005 (previews from 30 March).

In David Greig’s The American Pilot, the parachuting of a US military man into an enemy village explores “the extent to which we have all become Americans”. The play, directed by Ramin Gray, runs from 5 May to 9 July 2005 (previews from 27 April). The cast features David Rogers as the pilot, Malcolm Storry, Paul Chahidi and Amanda Harris.

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.

- by Terri Paddock