The Royal Shakespeare Company this month celebrates 25 years of its highly popular RSC Newcastle Season, which this year runs from 5 to 24 November in the city in north-east England.

Previously seen as part of the Summer Season at the RSC's base in Stratford-upon-Avon, the six productions comprising this year's Newcastle Season are: Shakespeare's Hamlet, Twelfth Night and Julius Caesar, which will appear in repertory at Newcastle's Theatre Royal; and the Bard's rarely performed King John, Peter Barnes' new work Jubilee and the Restoration comedy Love in a Wood, which will run at the Playhouse theatre.

The productions feature many of the RSC's leading luminaries including Samuel West (pictured), Guy Henry, Tim Pigott-Smith, Zoe Waites, Ian Hogg and Greg Hicks, with direction provided by Steven Pimlott, Lindsay Posner, Edward Hall, Gregory Doran and Tim Supple. Following Newcastle, the Shakespeare productions will transfer to London for the RSC's final winter residency at the Barbican Centre.

Founded in 1977, the Newcastle Season is considered one of the cornerstones in the RSC annual calendar, and a crucial part of the company's aim to make its work geographically accessible to all parts of the British public. Over its 25-year history, the Season has enjoyed performances from some of the country's best-loved actors including Jeremy Irons, Juliet Stevenson, Kenneth Branagh, Peggy Ashcroft, Judi Dench and Ian McKellen as well as numerous landmark productions, such as last year's monumental cycle, This England - The Histories.

In addition to the scheduled productions, the RSC will hold a special celebratory "birthday party" event in Newcastle on Sunday 11 November to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Newcastle Season.

As part of its national outreach, the RSC has also announced major touring productions of The Merchant of Venice and A Midsummer Night's Dream for 2002. Starting in January and continuing through May, The Merchant of Venice will visit 13 cities, including a short season at Davidson College in North Carolina, USA. A Midsummer Night's Dream will embark on a briefer tour, starting in Bradford at the end of March continuing to five more UK cities to the beginning of June 2002.

- by Terri Paddock