As previously tipped (See The Goss, 8 Jun 2005), the Royal Shakespeare Company’s acclaimed Gunpowder season will transfer from Stratford-upon-Avon to the West End’s Trafalgar Studios later this year. Timed to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot to blow up Parliament, the season of five plays will run for ten weeks from 21 December 2005 to 25 February 2006. Nearby, on the Aldwych, the RSC’s Comedies season will launch its own 16-week West End engagement at the Novello Theatre (formerly the Strand) in mid-December.

Currently running in the Swan Theatre in Stratford, 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, both of which also had West End stints. Headed by RSC associate director Gregory Doran, the season features four Jacobean and Elizabethan plays never before performed by the RSC - Thomas More (partly written by Shakespeare), A New Way to Please You, Believe What You Will and Sejanus: His Fall (pictured) - as well as the world premiere of Irish playwright Frank McGuinness’ new related political drama Speaking Like Magpies.

Trafalgar Studios – which, at 400 seats carved out of the former Whitehall Theatre, is a similar size to the Swan in Stratford - was inaugurated in June 2004 with the RSC’s 2003/4 Swan production of Othello, starring Antony Sher and Sello Maake ka Ncube and directed by Doran, which had an extended run there (See News, 2 Apr 2004).

Commenting on the RSC’s return to the theatre with Gunpowder, the company’s executive director Vikki Heywood said: “We were delighted to open the Trafalgar Studios in 2003 with a sell-out run of Gregory Doran’s production of Othello. The venue proved then that it works well for transfers from the Swan theatre so it’s a wonderful opportunity to be able to return with our acclaimed Gunpowder season. We look forward to welcoming our audiences in the capital who will be able to see nine RSC productions as part of our London season this year.”

The schedule of the five Gunpowder plays at Trafalgar Studios is as follows:

  • 21 to 31 December 2005 - A New Way to Please You, directed by Sean Holmes and designed by Kandis Cook. 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.

  • 4 to 14 January 2006 - Thomas More, directed by Robert Delamere. 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 takes the title role.

  • 17 to 28 January 2006 - Sejanus: His Fall, directed by Gregory Doran and designed by Robert Jones. Written in 1603, Ben Jonson’s political thriller follows the rise and fall of Emperor Tiberius’ right-hand man.

  • 31 January to 11 February 2006 - Believe What You Will, directed by Josie Rourke and designed by Stephen Brimson-Lewis. 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 plays the exiled King Antiochus.

  • 14 to 25 February 2006 - Speaking Like Magpies, written by Frank McGuinness and directed by Rupert Goold. It deals with the background of the 1605 Gunpowder Plot and was specially commissioned for the Swan, where, as the final of the season’s productions in Stratford, it receives its world premiere on 29 September 2005 (previews from 21 September).

    - by Terri Paddock