The Royal Shakespeare Company launches it final winter season at London's Barbican Centre tonight with the opening of Hamlet, starring Samuel West. As part of a major shake-up announced by RSC artistic director Adrian Noble last spring, the company will abandon its London home in order to mount more ad-hoc West End productions. The final 2001/2002 Barbican season continues to 11 May 2002.

The RSC has used the Barbican as its base in the capital for nearly two decades, but began a partial withdrawal from the complex in 1997 when it reduced its annual residency there to only the six winter months of the year. At the time of the spring announcement, Noble said that the permanent move out would allow the company to mount "bold and original theatre" for one-off runs, kicked off by glittering openings, in the "heart of the West End".

The final Barbican season comprises seven productions seen earlier this year in Stratford, a fresh production of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream and a new play by David Farr. In the Barbican Theatre, Steven Pimlott's production of Hamlet is followed in repertory by Lindsay Posner's Twelfth Night and Edward Hall's Julius Caesar. A Midsummer Night's Dream, directed by opera and theatre director Richard Jones in his RSC debut, follows in the Barbican from 17 April to 11 May.

In the Pit, Gregory Doran's production of King John opens on 13 December and is then joined in repertory by four new plays - Martin McDonagh's controversial The Lieutenant of Inishmore, David Edgar's Prisoner's Dilemma, Peter Whelan's A Russian in the Woods and Farr's Night of the Soul.

Elsewhere in London this winter, the RSC reprises Adrian Noble's production of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, at Sadler's Wells from 6 December 2001 to 26 January 2002, and presents Heinrich von Kleist's The Prince of Homburg, in a new version by Neil Bartlett, co-produced by and mounted at the Lyric Hammersmith.

- by Terri Paddock