Michael Boyd's inaugural season as artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, announced at a press conference held this morning at London's Home House (See Today's Other News), will see several high-profile returns and debuts for the company. Along with Judi Dench and Antony Sher, big names that feature will include actors such as Toby Stephens (pictured), Corin Redgrave, Greg Hicks, Sian Thomas, Guy Henry and directors Peter Gill, Mike Alfreds, Nancy Meckler and Bill Alexander.

Winter Season

Written and directed by Laurence Boswell, the 'fairytale thriller' Beauty and the Beast opens at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre on 10 December 2004. The fourth family show presented by the RSC, it follows The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Secret Garden and Alice in Wonderland. Casting has to be announced.

In the previously announced All's Well That End Well, Dame Judi Dench - returning to Stratford for the first time in some 25 years - will be joined by Claudie Blakely (as Helena), Jamie Glover (Bertram) and Guy Henry (Parolles). The production, directed by Gregory Doran, runs in the Swan from 11 December 2003 to 7 February 2004 (previews 3 December), after which it will transfer to the West End's Gielgud Theatre.

And in Doran's 400th anniversary production of Othello, playing at the Swan from 18 February to 3 April 2004 (previews 11 February), Sello Maake ka Ncube's Othello and Antony Sher's Iago will be joined by Lisa Dillon (Desdemona) and Ken Bones (Brabantio). After its straight run at Stratford, the production will embark on a five-week tour of Japan.

Shakespeare's Tragedies

Taking their lead from Othello, the newly formed RSC Core Ensemble embark on a repertoire of four more of Shakespeare's greatest tragedies in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

  • Macbeth, directed by newly appointed associate director Dominic Cooke (Cymbeline, The Malcontent), opens 18 March 2004, with Greg Hicks taking the title role opposite Whatsonstage.com Award winner Sian Thomas as Lady Macbeth (See The Goss, 11 Jul & 3 Sep 2003).

  • Romeo and Juliet, the consummate love story, opens on 7 April 2004. It will be directed by renowned playwright and director Peter Gill, founding director of Riverside Studios and a former associate director at both the National and Royal Court, whose recent productions include Scenes from the Big Picture and his own award-winning play The York Realist. Gill's last work with the RSC was directing John Osborne's A Patriot for Me.

  • King Lear will feature Corin Redgrave - who's currently launching the new Lichfield Garrick with The Recruiting Officer and Resurrection (See Features, 15 Sep 2003) in the title role, directed by Bill Alexander. It opens on 30 June 2004.

  • Hamlet, in which Boyd will make his directorial debut as RSC artistic director, will see Toby Stephens - who last appeared in the West End in The Royal Family and has since achieved international screen recognition as the baddie in the latest James Bond instalment Die Another Day- return to the RSC, after an absence of nearly a decade, to take the title role with Sian Thomas playing Gertrude. It opens 21 July 2004.

    Spanish Golden Age: Shakespeare's Contemporaries

    The Spanish Golden Age season in the Swan Theatre will be curated by RSC associate director Laurence Boswell (whose recent high-profile West End credits include This Is Our Youth, Up for Grabs and A Day in the Death of Joe Egg) and performed by a separate 20-strong ensemble (See The Goss, 13 May 2003). It builds on the success of the Olivier Award-winning season of rarely performed Jacobean plays, which transferred to the West End earlier this year.

  • The Dog in the Manger - Lope de Vega's 1613 social comedy about a countess who compromises her honour - opens the season on 21 April 2004. The new version by poet, journalist and editor Craig Raine is directed by Boswell.

  • Tamar's Revenge - Tirso de Molina's telling of the story of the House of David brought to tragedy by crimes against itself - is newly translated by writer and poet James Fenton. After an absence of ten years, Simon Usher (Herons, Sing Yer Heart Out for the Lads) returns to the RSC to direct the production, which opens on 5 May 2004.

  • House of Desires by poet nun Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, one of the few female playwrights of the age, is a romantic farce involving a brother and sister entangled in a web of love with four others is by one of the few female playwrights of the age. The new version by Bryony Lavery (Frozen) is directed by Shared Experience's Nancy Meckler, making her RSC debut. It opens on 8 July 2004.

  • Pedro, The Great Pretender by Miguel de Cervantes (best known for literary classic Don Quixote) revolves around a lovable trickster whose journey leads him to find his true vocation on the stage. The new version of the play is by Philip Osment. With this final production in the Spanish Golden Age repertoire, Mike Alfreds, founding director of Shared Experience, also makes his RSC debut. It opens 9 September 2004.

    New Work Festival

    The aim of the New Work Festival is challenge contemporary writers "to examine the lyricism, ambition and themes of the RSC's house playwright" (Shakespeare). Dominic Cooke, drawing on his experience developing new work at the Royal Court, heads up the two-week season, which will become an annual fixture in the RSC's Stratford calendar.

    Full details of the 2004 event will be released in the new year, but amongst the premiere projects already confirmed are: Poor Beck by the RSC's current, 24-year-old writer in residence Joanna Laurens (whose second play, Five Gold Rings, premieres at the Almeida in December 2003); Midwinter by former writer in residence Zinnie Harris (Further Than the Furthest Thing); and Pontius Pilate, a devised work, inspired by the book by Anne Wroe and directed by Michael Boyd.

    - by Terri Paddock

    See Also, Today's Other News: "Boyd Sets New Work & Tragedies for RSC Ensemble"