Commenced in July 2006 during the RSC’s year-long Complete Works Festival in Stratford, the two-and-a-half year Histories project culminates next year with a single 35-strong company performing the entire eight-play cycle –comprising Henry VI, parts I, II and III (opened in Stratford in August 2006) and Richard III (opened in January 2007), Richard II and Henry IV, parts I and II (all opening on a single press day on 16 August 2007) and Henry V (opening on 6 November 2007) and totalling 24 hours of Shakespeare - for the first time in the RSC’s history.
The company last staged the cycle in 2000/1, although with multiple companies, theatres and directors. This time, one company – including David Warner as Falstaff (pictured) - performs all eight plays, all under Boyd’s direction. In Stratford, the plays are in repertoire at the Courtyard Theatre, the temporary venue erected during the two-year, £113 million redevelopment of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.
At the Roundhouse, which itself reopened after a £30 million rebuild last June, the plays will run in rep from March through to May 2008, with chances to see all eight performed in sequence, as they are also scheduled to do in Stratford from next February. Pre-renovation, the RSC brought productions of The Tempest, The Winter’s Tale and Pericles to the Roundhouse in summer 2002. Exact dates for the Histories in 2008 are still to be announced.
Ahead of the Histories, the RSC will also transfer two new plays to London’s Tricycle Theatre and premiere a third at Soho Theatre. First up, at Soho from November 2007 to January 2008, will be an as-yet untitled play written and directed by Anthony Neilson (The Wonderful World of Dissocia) and created especially for 11 actors of the RSC ensemble who have recently been performing Macbeth and Macbett in Stratford’s Swan Theatre. Neilson and the actors will work together to develop the new play - on Neilson’s themes of love, perversity and the wildness at the outer reaches of the imagination - in just six weeks, with a press performance set for 5 December.
For six weeks from February to April 2008, the Tricycle will receive two of the “Responses to Shakespeare” plays commissioned as part of the Complete Works Festival - Leo Butler’s I’ll Be the Devil (previously One of These Days), after The Tempest, and Roy Williams’ updated Days of Significance, after Much Ado About Nothing. Butler’s play is set in occupied Ireland in 1775; Williams’, directed by Maria Aberg, is set in market town England and the deserts of Iraq. Both plays will be performed by dedicated companies of actors.
The Histories and new work engagements are in addition to the previously announced West End transfers of the RSC’s King Lear and The Seagull, starring Ian McKellen and directed by Trevor Nunn, which transfer to the New London Theatre for a limited season from 12 November (See News, 30 May 2007).
Commenting on the new announcements, Michael Boyd said: “The Complete Works Festival has left the company with a valuable legacy which continues with more Shakespeare and new work being transferred to a range of venues in the capital for London audiences to enjoy.” Meanwhile, back in Stratford, “As the Royal Shakespeare Theatre continues towards its transformation, the Courtyard Theatre is stepping up to the mark as a vibrant and popular temporary venue and continues to forge a new audience for us in our home town. We will be continuing the Festival’s cross-venue flexibility by staging our Christmas shows at Stratford’s Civic Hall and reprising the open-air theatre at the Dell, and the Film Festival this summer.“
Following its decommissioning at the end of April 2007, work is now under way at the Grade II-listed Royal Shakespeare Theatre and is due to be completed in 2010. Until then, the temporary 1,000-seat Courtyard Theatre acts as the RSC’s main home in Stratford (See News, 19 Apr 2007).
- by Terri Paddock