Award-winning RSC associate Michael Boyd (pictured) will succeed Adrian Noble as the new artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, it was announced at a press conference held this afternoon at Brown's restaurant in London's West End. He will take over the flagship theatrical institution in March 2003, when the embattled Noble steps down after 12 years.

Trained at the Malaya Bronnay Theatre in Moscow, Michael Boyd was the founding artistic director of the highly respected Tron Theatre in Glasgow, as well as a former associate director at the Sheffield Crucible and Coventry's Belgrade Theatre. This year, Boyd won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Director for his contribution to the RSC's much-lauded "This England" complete series of Shakespeare's history plays - Henry VI Parts I, II and III and Richard III.

Boyd's other credits for the RSC have included Romeo and Juliet, Measure for Measure, Troilus and Cressida, A Midsummer Night's Dream and, most recently, The Tempest, which reopens this September in Stratford following its run at the London Roundhouse.

Commenting on today's appointment, Boyd said: "I am delighted to lead the RSC into its next chapter. My aspiration is to ensure that we are an agenda-setting theatre company. That's a challenge that really excites me."

Despite nearly 18 months of controversy, Noble's resignation announcement this past April (see News, 24 Apr 02) shocked many in the arts world. His radical plans to shake up the RSC - by withdrawing its London residency at the Barbican Centre, rewriting ensemble contracts and demolishing the listed Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford in favour of a modern "theatrical village" amongst other things - came under fierce criticism from both industry insiders and audiences. (In a recent Big Debate survey, 39% of theatregoers said he'd done the company irreparable harm.)

In a statement issued today by Noble, he said Boyd was the man for the job: "Michael Boyd is one of the most distinctive and original Shakespearean directors in the country. He has flair, intellectual rigour and real powers of leadership." RSC chairman Bob Alexander added: "The choice of Michael as a new leader of the company is of immense importance to our audiences, to all our staff, and all those who care about the RSC and classical theatre....Michael's talent as a director, along with his knowledge of the RSC and capacity for leadership are invaluable qualities for this post."

Since April, the RSC has continued to receive a rocky ride in the press, with regular reports about back-tracking on Noble's plans, inflated cash deficits and poor London attendance figures as well as intense speculation about who would be strong enough to turn the company's fortunes around in Noble's stormy wake.

Many proposed RSC "saviours" have been mooted in the press over the past three months. They have included: acclaimed Shakespearean film and stage actor and director Kenneth Branagh; son of former RSC director Peter Hall, Edward Hall, who made headlines earlier in the year when he abandoned the RSC's production of Edward III in protest; outgoing Almeida artistic directors Jonathan Kent and Ian McDiarmid; National Theatre associate John Caird; and outgoing West Yorkshire Playhouse artistic director Jude Kelly. However, most of the media favourites were either unavailable or ruled themselves out of the running.

Though each of the RSC's four associate directors - Michael Attenborough, Michael Boyd, Gregory Doran and Steven Pimlott - had at various points been mentioned as candidates for the top job in Stratford, apparently, not all of them wanted it either. In January, Attenborough accepted the artistic directorship of the Almeida, which he takes over this month, while just yesterday, Pimlott was confirmed as part of a triumvirate succeeding Andrew Welch at Chichester Festival Theatre. In the end, the RSC selection process appeared to come down to a largely two-horse race between Boyd and Doran. Whether the latter will remain an associate director at the company is not yet determined.

- by Terri Paddock

NOTE: For further reporting from today's press conference, including details on Boyd's plans for the future of the RSC, see our later News story, "Boyd Sees Bright RSC Future After 'Lean' Times".