The shake-up of the Royal Shakespeare Company continues with the announcement of a new artistic model for the spring 2002 season. Instead of one company performing a pre-determined number of plays in Stratford, the new model will feature three separate ensemble companies performing simultaneously - two in Stratford-upon-Avon and one in London, where the RSC will return to north London's Roundhouse after an absence of 33 years.

The first company will perform a repertoire of three of Shakespeare's late plays in promenade at The Roundhouse (pictured) in Camden, north London, from March to July 2002. The Winter's Tale, directed by Matthew Warchus will open the schedule, followed by Michael Boyd's production of The Tempest and RSC artistic director Adrian Noble's Pericles.

The second company will reside at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, where they will perform two of the bard's works, one tragedy and one comedy, both with a pair of passionate but warring lovers. Stuart Wilson and Sinead Cusack will star in Michael Attenborough's new production of Antony and Cleopatra, while Harriet Walter and Nicholas Le Provost will star as Beatrice and Benedick in Gregory Doran's Much Ado About Nothing. The two pieces will be performed in repertoire from April to July 2002.

Meanwhile, the third company will be busy with a collection of Elizabethan and Jacobean plays at the Swan Theatre in Stratford from April to July 2002. Twenty-eight actors will perform five rarely performed works: Shakespeare's Edward III, directed by Edward Hall; Lucy Chapman's production of Eastward Ho! by George Chapman, Ben Jonson and John Marston; Philip Massinger's The Roman Actor, directed by David Hunt; John Fletcher's The Island Princess, directed by Gregory Doran; and Dominic Cook's production of The Malcontent by John Webster and John Marston.

Commenting on the new three-pronged model, Adrian Noble said: "These projects herald a new way of working for the RSC, but they also celebrate the very best of the past. All three projects explore the idea of an ensemble theatre company - something that's always been important at the RSC. Yet they also demonstrate the benefits of programming around ideas rather than schedules - matching an artistic idea with the right team in the right space. That's exactly what the changes we've made have been about."

The announcement is the latest in a series of controversial plans unveiled by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2001, including the withdrawal of the company from London's Barbican Centre, changes to actors' contractual terms, redundancies of backstage staff and the scheduled demolition of the listed Royal Shakespeare Theatre in order to create a 21st century riverside "theatre village" in Stratford.

- by Terri Paddock