Three of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s most critically acclaimed productions from its year-long Complete Works Festival in Stratford-upon-Avon to date - Antony and Cleopatra and The Tempest, both with Patrick Stewart who returned to the company after a 24-year absence to star in them (See News, 11 Jul 2005) and Much Ado About Nothing - will transfer to the Novello Theatre this winter to form the company’s now-annual West End residency, running for 16 weeks from December to March.

Much Ado About Nothing, starring Tamsin Greig and Joseph Millson as warring lovers Beatrice and Benedick, opens the London season with a straight run from 13 December 2006 to 6 January 2007 (previews from 7 December). Currently in rep at Stratford’s Swan Theatre, where it opened in May and continues until 12 October, Marianne Elliot’s production sets the action in 1950s Cuba.

It’s followed, from 15 January to 17 February 2007 (previews from 11 January), in the Novello by Antony and Cleopatra. Patrick Stewart and Harriet Walter (pictured together) take the title roles in RSC associate director Gregory Doran’s staging, which launched the Complete Works in April and continues in rep at Stratford’s Swan until 14 October.

The Tempest, in which Stewart plays Prospero, complete the London schedule, running from 28 February to 24 March 2007 (previews from 22 February). Directed by Oxford Stage Company artistic director Rupert Goold, the cast also features Critics Circle best newcomer and Ian Charleson winner Mariah Gale as Miranda as well as Finbar Lynch (Alonso) and John Light (Caliban). The production opened in July at Stratford’s Royal Shakespeare Theatre, where it continues in rep until 12 October 2006.

This is the second year that the RSC has presented a winter season at the Novello, as part of a five-year arrangement with theatre owner Cameron Mackintosh (See News, 7 Jun 2005). Last year, the company presented four productions during the same time period that it’s this year presenting three. For its main 2004 West End residence, prior to the Mackintosh deal, the RSC brought five productions to the Albery Theatre over 22 weeks (See News, 15 Jul 2004).

A spokeswoman told today that this year’s three productions were selected because “they’ve had fantastic lives in Stratford and we wanted productions that would do extremely well in London”.

Unless taken up by a commercial producer, other RSC productions opened in the first half of the Complete Works – including Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar and King John - are unlikely to be brought to London. Michael Boyd’s restaging of the History plays must remain in Stratford as part of a two-year ensemble project. Other productions – including a musical version of The Merry Wives of Windsor starring Judi Dench and Desmond Barrit, and Trevor Nunn’s Ian McKellen-led productions of King Lear and The Seagull - open during the second half of the Complete Works.

Meanwhile, the RSC’s two-part staging of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales has extended its run by five weeks at the West End’s Gielgud Theatre, where it’s produced by Bill Kenwright and Thelma Holt. Adapted by Mike Poulton and directed by Gregory Doran, Rebecca Gatward and Jonathan Munby, the productions were seen in Stratford last winter, prior to the Complete Works, and opened in the West End on 13 July 2006 (previews from 8 July).

- by Terri Paddock