The gargantuan, year-long, festival will see companies from across the world visiting the RSC’s Stratford-Upon-Avon base, as well as returning RSC stars including Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Janet Suzman and Harriet Walter.
The RSC will stage 15 of the Bard’s plays themselves. Stewart will play Prospero in The Tempest, Walter Cleopatra in Antony And Cleopatra, Ian McKellen will star in King Lear directed by Trevor Nunn, and Dench will lead a musical adaptation of The Merry Wives Of Windsor. The company will divide into four ensembles:- Gregory Doran will head “The Romans” cycle and direct The Tempest, Nancy Meckler’s company will tackle Romeo And Juliet, King John and Much Ado About Nothing, Dominic Cooke will transform the Swan Theatre for a new take on the late plays and Michael Boyd (the RSC’s artistic director) will lead a history cycle for which he has negotiated special two-year contracts with his actors.
A large amount of outside companies will swell the ranks to be able to present all 37 plays, the sonnets and the long poems (it is, says the RSC, the first time all of these will ever have been performed in the same event). These range from South Africa’s Baxter Theatre – Janet Suzman, as well as starring in the RSC’s own Coriolanus, will direct the Baxter’s Hamlet with John Kani as Claudius and Dorothy-Anne Gould as Gertrude – to the Anglo-Kuwaiti director Sulayman Al-Bassam, who will direct an Iraqi Richard III adaptation which will draw parallels between Richard Crookback and Saddam Hussein.
Cheek By Jowl will bring their Russian Twelfth Night, Yukio Ninagawa his Japanese Titus Andronicus, German director Peter Stein his Troilus And CressidaA Midsummer Night’s Dream. Other companies will include the Belgian director Luk Perceval with the Munchner Kammerspiele’s Othello and from the U.S., the Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Henry IV plays (directed by Barbara Gaines), Love Labours Lost from Michael Kahn’s Washington Shakespeare and New York’s Theatre For A New Audience’s The Merchant Of Venice, starring F.Murray Abraham as Shylock.
Edward Hall’s all-male Propeller Theatre Company will be one of the company’s visiting the new, temporary Courtyard Theatre, which will house 1,000 people. Propeller will present The Taming of the Shrew. And a temporary 100-seat studio theatre will be created within the Royal Shakespeare Theatre auditorium, with guest companies including Filter, Forkbeard Fantasy and Yellow Earth. Other sites will include the Holy Trinity Church, which will house Greg Thompson’s production of Henry VIII, and a local hotel, which will hold Timon Of Athens staged as a management–training course in a local hotel, by the homeless people’s theatre company Cardboard Citizens. There will also be a new outdoor theatre, The Dell, planned for the RSC’s riverside theatre gardens, which will host a fringe festival of amateur, school and student groups.
Leading Shakespeare scholar Jonathan Bate will edit a new “RSC edition” of the Shakespeare works to commemorate the festival, based on the First Folio. And the festival will include new work, responses to Shakespeare plays by Roy Williams, Rona Munro, Leo Butler and Peter Straughan. In addition there will be community projects, talks, student productions (Warwick University is itself staging a rival, complementary Complete Works season), a film festival and activities. There will be a special ticket-discount scheme to allow young people aged between 16 and 25 to buy seats for £5 either in advance or on the day of performance.
Boyd said, at the press conference, “This is probably the biggest cultural project going on in 2006 to 2007. It’s a chance for us to see the plays afresh…It is also a national knees-up, a celebration of our national poet. There have been times in our history that our size has felt cumbersome. Right now it feels very useful. We are big enough to do this.”.
Not only big enough, but rich enough. From a sizeable debt when Michael Boyd took over the reins from Adrian Noble, the RSC now has enough in the bank to pay the £3.6 million the festival will cost. And they expect 100,000 more visitors than usual.
While Boyd said that some of the productions will journey to London, the festival is essentially a Stratford event. The first booking period will be for April through October 2006, with more details being released nearer the time – following which a second half of the festival will have its own launch. “It’s going to be like a huge pop festival here in Stratford, lasting a year!” enthused Doran in a promotional video.
For more information, visit the festival website, www.rsccompleteworks.co.uk(http://www.rsccompleteworks.co.uk/).