The current year is proving to be something of a Shakespearean renaissance for the Old Vic. The theatre’s reputation as a home of classic drama was earned under Lilian Baylis, who presided over a string of Shakespearean productions in the 1910’s, 1920’s and 1930’s, and the Old Vic was also the base for Laurence Olivier’s National Theatre before the company’s current home, on the South Bank, was built.
Earlier this year saw Sir Derek Jacobi star as Prospero in The Tempest, and beginning March 25, Timothy West plays the title role in King Lear. Now it has been announced that the RSC will bring its double bill of Coriolanus and The Merry Wives of Windsor to the Old Vic for a 12-week season beginning June 6.
Coriolanus, in particular, earned rave reviews at Stratford, with Greg Hicks acclaimed for his performance in the title role. The play describes the tragedy facing a gifted but arrogant aristocratic general who, exiled from Rome by his political rivals, joins the enemy. At the point of victory, his mother — perhaps the one person (although he’s married) who can emotionally appeal to him — begs him not to attack his home city. His agonizing choice is whether to ignore her or agree with her: If he ignores her, Rome will fall; if he agrees, then he will be killed by the enemy army of which he is joint commander. The Merry Wives of Windsor, by contrast, is a comedy.
The RSC moved out of the Barbican on the grounds that it wanted to be seen in a variety of London theatres, and to have a higher profile with West End theatregoers. The choice of the Old Vic fits this idea very well, and for the theatre it provides a useful continuity of artistic direction while the forthcoming season (in 2004) lead by Kevin Spacey is planned.