Looking forward to Autumn with the RSC at the Barbican.
The summer season of the Royal Shakespeare Company transfers from Stratford-Upon-Avon and opens at the Barbican Theatre on 26 October 2019. The RSC at the Barbican season comprises three of Shakespeare’s plays and features 27 actors each of whom appears across two of the three productions.
The plays this season are all comedies – As You Like It, The Taming of the Shrew and Measure For Measure. Greg Doran, Artistic Director of the RSC said that this season the company will reflect the nation in ways not done before.
‘We have introduced a 50/50 gender balanced ensemble across the entire season for the very first time and brought together talent from all corners of the United Kingdom, reflecting both the ethnic, geographical and cultural diversity of Britain today and those artists that are underrepresented on our stages. We want to create a season of work which places contemporary audiences at its heart, which speaks directly to the present moment’.
The season opens with As You Like It which will be directed by Kimberley Sykes. Lucy Phelps will play Rosalind while David Ajao will play Orlando. The RSC describes the play as one that ‘subverts the traditional rules of romance. Gender roles, nature and politics are confused in a play that reflects on how bewildering yet utterly pleasurable life can be’. As You Like It runs from 26 October 2019 – 18 January 2020.
The Taming of the Shrew will be directed by Justin Audibert. It is set in a world in which women hold the power, a re-imagined 1590 where England is a matriarchy. The director turns Shakespeare’s ‘fierce, energetic comedy of gender and materialism on its head to offer a fresh perspective on its portrayal of hierarchy and power’. In a cast where women play roles written as men, and men play roles written as women, Claire Price will play Petruchio and Joseph Arkley will play Katherine. The Taming of the Shrew runs from 5 November 2019 – 18 January 2020.
Measure for Measure will be directed by Gregory Doran. For a play written in the 1600s, the storyline is one that resonates with our current times. When a young novice nun is compromised by a corrupt official, who offers to save her brother from execution in return for sex, she has no idea where to turn for help. When she threatens to expose him, he tells her that no one would believe her. Sandy Grierson will play Angelo, Antony Byrne will play The Duke while Lucy Phelps will play Isabella. Measure for Measure runs from 12 November 2019 – 16 January 2020.
What I have enjoyed about past productions by the RSC is the way in which contemporary issues are highlighted. Partly this is due, of course, to the genius of Shakespeare’s writing and the fact that the human condition is not that different now than in Elizabethan England. It is also thanks to the directors who continue to adapt the plays to highlight the concerns of modern audiences.
The RSC programme extends beyond the productions themselves and a number of events are on offer which will enable participants to engage more broadly with the plays and their themes. Two Onstage Talks will address the role of comedy and that place of free speech. One will focus on the question of to what extent can comedy effect real change. The second concerns free speech which can make for uncomfortable listening. Do we have an ethical responsibility to censor the problematic or is addressing difficult issues through culture effective in our recognising of right and wrong? These talks take place on the mornings of Sat 9 and 23 November respectively. Speakers are yet to be announced.
The RSC is keen to engage with the widest audience groups. There will be a post-show talkback session for each play as well as chilled performances, where audience members can come and go from the auditorium during the performance. These are especially welcoming to parents with babies or people with dementia. Touch tours will be conducted before the audio-described performances and there are also performances with Integrated BSL Interpreter.
Finally, there will be a conference for teachers on Friday 10 January 2020 – Towards a Creative Curriculum will focus on early years to Key Stage 3 and will look at how arts and cultural learning support the new Ofsted framework. The conference aims to support teachers to develop their knowledge about the ways in which arts and cultural learning can support children and young people to develop resilience and creativity and find their voice.
All three plays will be playing in Salford in 2019 while continuing on to Canterbury, Plymouth, Nottingham, Newcastle upon Tyne and Blackpool in 2020. There will be live screenings from Stratford-Upon-Avon on 5 June ( The Taming of the Shrew) and 31 July (Measure for Measure).
Booking for all three productions by the RSC at the Barbican opens on 29 May. There are 200 seats at £10 or less for every performance.
Barbican Theatre Box Office: 020 76388891
London EC2Y 8DS