The Royal Shakespeare Theatre (RST) in Stratford-upon-Avon reopens for public performance today (10 March 2011) following a three-and-a-half year £112.8 million redevelopment. The theatre, which has undergone months of testing in a preview period since being shown off to the press last November, has been open for a programme of tours, exhibitions and activities.

Encompassing a new thrust stage with audience on three sides, the Royal Shakespeare Theatre reopens with a short repertory run of David Farr's King Lear and Rupert Goold's Romeo and Juliet. Both productions are performed by the RSC's current long ensemble, who return from their London Season at the Roundhouse.

The plays are presented for the press with a double opening, King Lear playing a matinee followed by the evening performance of Romeo and Juliet. The rep will run until 2 April 2011 prior to the start of the 50th anniversary season.

The Swan reopens with the debut of a new production of The Tempest, created by Little Angel Theatre and helmed by their artistic director Peter Glanville. The puppet-based production runs from 15 March (previews from 11 March). The RSC ensemble have also been testing the Swan with revivals of the acclaimed Young People's Shakespeare version of Hamlet directed by Tarell Alvin McCraney and Michael Boyd's Antony and Cleopatra.

As previously reported, the company's 50th birthday programme will commence with Macbeth in the RST helmed by the RSC's artistic director Michael Boyd. The first new production to play the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, The Scottish Play will open on 26 April (previews from 16 April 2011).

Other highlights in the season include director Rupert Goold and Patrick Stewart reuniting for The Merchant of Venice, in which Stewart will play Shylock alongside Susannah Fielding as Portia. That production joins the rep from 19 May to 26 September 2011 (previews from 13 May).

Goold and Stewart previously worked together on the RSC’s 2006 production of The Tempest, which transferred to the West End, and most famously, on the multi award-winning 2007 Chichester production of Macbeth, which transferred to the West End and Broadway and was subsequently filmed. Following Macbeth, Stewart returned to the RSC in 2009 to play Claudius to David Tennant’s Hamlet, which also transferred to the West End and which won Stewart both Olivier and Whatsonstage.com Awards for Best Supporting Actor.

The new season gets under way in the Swan Theatre with Shakespeare's "lost play" Cardenio from 27 April (previews from 14 April 2011). Directed by the RSC's chief associate Gregory Doran, conducting what is described in marketing material as "literary archaeology" Cardenio is a 1612 play inspired by Cervantes' Don Quixote. Doran reopens the Swan 25 years after his production of The Two Noble Kinsmen originally opened the theatre.

The birthday season, which includes a review of “50 years of RSC commissions”, will be performed by two companies of actors performing across both the Royal Shakespeare and Swan Theatres.