By Mark Shenton
22 Sep 2008
Boyd has committed to a long-cherished desire to balance new plays alongside the Shakespearean repertoire. Under the umbrella title Other Russia, the RSC will launch a strand of work that, in Boyd's own words, is "a new exploration of Russia and the former Soviet Union countries, drawing on the great Russian theatre tradition with some of Eastern Europe's most inspirational new writers." It begins with two large-scale new commissions to be premiered in the Courtyard Theatre in 2009: Natal'ia Vorozhbit's The Grain Store, described in press materials as an "urgent and epic account of the Ukrainian famine in the 1930s," which Boyd will direct and will feature RSC artistic associate Kathryn Hunter in the cast; and The Drunks by Mikhail and Vyacheslav Durnenkov, described as a "dark and freewheeling epic about a soldier returning from Chechnya to his home town as a reluctant war hero," which RSC literary associate Anthony Neilson will direct. In 2011 Other Russia will continue with Rona Munro's RSC commission, Little Eagles, that covers the years from the Sputnik to the Apollo moon landings and beyond to explore a time when one man's dream became a reality and the world changed forever; and Silence, a new collaboration with Filter that David Farr will direct that follows a disenchanted British journalist traveling to Moscow to meet a controversial theatre-maker.
The RSC will also explore the connections between the classical repertoire and new forms of playwrighting. Ben Power, literary associate at Headlong Theatre, is under commission to do two radical reworkings of classical material – the first, A Tender Things, to be produced in 2009, is inspired by and entirely composed of material drawn from Romeo and Juliet. RSC chief associate director Gregory Doran will direct Morte D'Arthur, a new version by Mike Poulton of the original source material of the King Arthur Legend. Furthermore, American playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney (whose plays include In the Red and Brown Water opening at the Young Vic in October and Wig Out!, opening at the Royal Court in November), joins the company as the new RSC/Warwick International Playwright in Residence. He will be in the RSC rehearsal rooms, embedded with the ensemble acting company to write a new commissioned play for the company, and will additionally teach at Warwick University as part of his residency.
The RSC will also intertwine its artistic program with, in Boyd's words, "our continued commitment to passing on the buzz of Shakespeare to young audiences with titles to match the curriculum, and a Young People's Shakespeare with a physically arresting adaptation of The Comedy of Errors," to be created in a stripped down version in association with acclaimed theatre company Told by an Idiot, directed by Paul Hunter. This represents part of the RSC's manifesto to enliven Shakespeare in schools, and is to become a key influence in all of the company’s planning.
In addition the RSC continues its commitment to touring and continuing collaborations with international theatre-makers. A new production of The Tempest, presented in association with the Baxter Theatre Centre in Cape Town, South Africa, will open there before coming to Stratford-upon-Avon, then tour to Richmond, Leeds, Bath, Notingham and Sheffield. It will star Antony Sher as Prospero and John Kani as Caliban under the direction of Janice Honeyman, and is set to draw on the music, dance and ritual of Africa. A new production of Othello, directed by RSC associate artist Kathryn Hunter, will open at Coventry's Warwick Arts Centre next year, before touring to London's Hackney Empire, Oxford, Liverpool and Newcastle, featuring Patrice Naiambana – who was in the RSC's Histories ensemble – in the title role, Michael Gould as Iago and Natalia Tena as Desdemona.
In a press statement announcing these various plans, Boyd said, "We bring an enormously varied programme of Shakespeare and New work together with some of the UK's most innovative directors, designed to excite and challenge audiences who will be able to watch the acting company develop over time." That ensemble, comprising 44 actors, will undergo intensive training in voice, verse, movement and rhetoric as part of the ongoing Artist Development Programme. This follows the collaborative success of The Histories, and the press materials note that it takes the company "back to its roots as a centre of ensemble theatre-making."