The Royal Shakespeare Company today published the full 12-month programme for its Complete Works Festival (See News, 11 Jul 2005). Running from April 2006 to April 2007 in Stratford-upon-Avon, the year-long celebration of the RSC’s “house playwright” – featuring 23 new RSC productions as well as 14 productions from visiting UK companies and 17 from international companies - marks the first time that all of Shakespeare’s plays and poems will be staged at the same event.

More casting, notable returns

In addition to the previously announced returns of stars Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Judi Dench, Harriet Walter and Janet Suzman, new RSC casting highlights include: Tamsin Greig and Joseph Millson as Beatrice and Benedick in Marianne Elliot’s production of Much Ado About Nothing; Finbar Lynch and John Light as Cassius and Brutus in Julius Caesar; Desmond Barrit as Falstaff to Dench’s Mistress Quickly in Gregory Doran’s musical version of Merry Wives; William Houston as Coriolanus with Suzman as Volumnia; and Geoffrey Streatfeild, Chuk Iwuji and Jonathan Slinger in the title roles of Henry V, Henry VI and Richard III as part of artistic director Michael Boyd’s two-year project to stage Shakespeare’s complete History Cycle.

Amongst the other names now confirmed for the RSC’s own ensemble are Joseph Alessi, Bette Bourne, Sorcha Cusack, Edmund Kingsley, Golda Roshuevel and Critics’ Circle Most Promising Newcomer Mariah Gale.

The programme will also see the return of RSC founder and inaugural artistic director Sir Peter Hall with his first UK production of Measure for Measure staged by his own company. Sir Peter’s son Edward Hall will bring his own company, the all-male Propeller ensemble, to Stratford with a new staging of The Taming of the Shrew.

Meanwhile, Samuel West, previously one of the RSC’s leading men and now artistic director of Sheffield Theatres, will offer his Sheffield staging of As You Like It, and Berliner Ensemble, which inspired the creation of the RSC, will restage its 2000 production of Richard II.

New work, fresh twists

Amongst the festival’s other newly detailed highlights: Shakespeare’s sonnets will be set to music, curated by composer Gavin Bryars and performed by singers from Opera North with RSC actors; a 100-seat studio called The Cube will be installed within the Royal Shakespeare Theatre auditorium in October 2006; a year-long series of Broadside debates tackling issues from the plays will involve the Archbishop of Canterbury and others; and a free series of bard-related films will be shown on a outdoor, riverside screen.

The festival will also feature four new commissions inspired by Shakespeare’s plays and written by leading contemporary playwrights: Rona Munro’s The Indian Boy (written in response to A Midsummer Night’s Dream); Roy WilliamsDays of Significance (Much Ado About Nothing); Leo Butler’s One of These Days (The Tempest) and Peter Straughan’s Regime Change (Julius Caesar).

Year-long exchange

The Complete Works officially launches with a series of special events taking place over Shakespeare’s birthday weekend (22-23 April 2006). The final production in the festival will be a new RSC King Lear, directed by another former artistic director Trevor Nunn and starring Ian McKellen in the title role. Booking opens this summer for the production which will run in rep in the new Courtyard Theatre from March 2007.

Commenting on the Complete Works, Michael Boyd said: “With visiting companies from almost every continent, this is a real opportunity to extend our relationships with audiences and artists from around the world. As well as a platform to celebrate our own work, the festival is a conscious attempt to showcase and explore the way different cultures, languages, styles of theatre and art forms approach Shakespeare.”

He added: “The festival is very much our own Complete Works – a year-long exchange with a group of artists who share more than just performing Shakespeare. I hope the legacy of the festival will be a set of partnerships and new relationships that extend well beyond the life of the Complete Works and an outward-looking RSC that is challenged and stimulated by theatre from around the world.”

- by Terri Paddock