After an absence of 40 years, David Warner (pictured) will return next summer to the Royal Shakespeare Company, where he appeared in the 1960s in landmark productions including The Wars of the Roses and, perhaps most memorably, Hamlet, in which he took the title role in 1965/6 in his final RSC production.

Warner will join the ensemble of artistic director Michael Boyd’s ongoing Histories cycle, which commenced in July 2006. He’ll play Falstaff in Henry IV Parts I and II, which join the rep in Stratford-upon-Avon’s temporary Courtyard Theatre in August 2007.

The two-and-a-half year Histories project culminates in 2008, with a single 35-strong company performing the complete cycle – also comprising Henry VI, parts I, II and III (already playing), Richard III (opening January 2007), Richard II (July 2007) and Henry V (November 2007) and totalling 24 hours of Shakespeare - for the first time in the RSC’s history. The company last staged the cycle in 2000/1, although with multiple companies, theatres and directors. This time, one company performs all eight plays in the Courtyard, all under Boyd’s direction. After Stratford, the complete cycle will transfer to London in 2008.

Following his 1972 West End turn in I, Claudius, David Warner, suffering from stage fright, left the theatre for more than 30 years, during which time he became a regular of film and television. Over the past few years, he has made a comeback, appearing in the West End in 2002 in Feast of Snails and at Chichester Festival last summer, taking the title role in King Lear (See News, 8 Jan 2005).

Boyd’s Histories ensemble will also premiere a new play by American Adriano Shaplin - founder of the New York-based Riot Group which has had hits in Edinburgh and London with Pugilist Specialist, Victory at the Dirt Palace and Switch Triptych - who has been appointed an international writer-in-residence and who will be working closely with the company to create a tailor-made ensemble piece for them.

Timothy West will also make a return to the RSC in the coming months, back – after a 31-year absence - to play Menenius in Gregory Doran’s production of Coriolanus, opposite Janet Suzman’s Volumnius and William Houston in the title role. The final production in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, which closes next spring for a three-year, £100 transformation (See News, 14 Jun 2006), Coriolanus runs from 22 February to 30 March 2007.

And in the Courtyard Theatre, fresh from her Antony and Cleopatra at the Globe this summer, Frances Barber has been cast to appear with Ian McKellen in Trevor Nunn’s RSC double bill of King Lear, the final Complete Works production, running from 24 March to 21 June 2007, and The Seagull, running 17 April to 21 June 2007. Following Stratford, the productions will tour internationally, including dates in the US and Australasia, ahead of a London transfer.

Finances & future programming

At a lunch with arts correspondents held today in London, Michael Boyd said that, now just half-way through the Complete Works, the company has already achieved 80% of its income budget for the year, selling over 450,000 tickets in total and taking over £8.4million at the box office.

Overall, the RSC’s newly released Annual Report shows an operating deficit, as budgeted, at £0.1million on a total operating income of £30million. Looking ahead, the RSC has already raised 87% of the funds necessary to complete the Stratford rebuilding project, due to be completed in 2010. Executive director Vikki Heywood said: “We will come out of the festival year in a very healthy financial position.”

Boyd also revealed further programming plans for 2007 and beyond. Playing in rep with the Histories from August to October 2007, a separate 24-strong company will perform Twelfth Night, directed by former Lyric Hammersmith artistic director Neil Bartlett. The same company will then reprise Nancy Meckler’s 2005 production of The Comedy of Errors for a UK tour.

In the Swan Theatre, a third ensemble will perform Shakespeare’s Macbeth (April to July 2007), directed by Irish writer and director Conall Morrison, alongside Ionesco’s re-envisioning of the tragedy Macbett (May to July 2007), newly translated by Tanya Ronder and directed by Romanian Silviu Purcarete. Following its six weeks at London’s Roundhouse (See News, 30 Oct 2006), Tim Supple’s Indian Midsummer Night’s Dream will also return to the Swan for three weeks from 23 April 2007.

After the success of the Histories, Boyd will form another long-term ensemble, which will work together on a body of work for a minimum of three years from October 2008. As with Adriano Shaplin and the Histories, three writers will be assigned to the ensemble, codenamed ‘company pink’, to create new drama specifically for the actors. Boyd aims for new writing to represent up to 50% of the RSC’s output in years to come. “What’s most exciting to me,” he told journalists today, “is the tension line between the Renaissance and now.”

- by Terri Paddock