Antony Sher & Simon Russell Beale return to RSC for winter 2016.

King Lear. Image Paul Stuart
King Lear. Image Paul Stuart

Antony Sher just can’t stay away from the Royal Shakespeare Company. He’s back this autumn, following up his performance in Arthur Miller’s Death of A Salesman with King Lear, one of the greatest parts ever written by Shakespeare.

Lear, directed by Sher’s husband, RSC artistic director Gregory Doran, is just one of the highlights of the winter 2016 season which has been announced for the Stratford-upon-Avon theatre complex.

The RSC brings Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary year in Stratford-upon-Avon to a close with a powerful programme, matching two major Shakespeare titles with two irreverent Jacobean comedies and a new play from Anders Lustgarten, which plays out across 400 years between Caravaggio’s Naples and the housing estates of Bootle.

Gregory Doran

Gregory Doran, said: “We will draw this extraordinary jubilee year in Stratford-upon-Avon to a close by staging two of Shakespeare’s greatest plays – King Lear and The Tempest – and by marking the 30th anniversary of our Swan Theatre with two new productions of plays from its very first season and a visceral new play by Anders Lustgarten.

“Inspired by the spectacular masques of Shakespeare’s day, we have set ourselves the challenge of creating the most technologically advanced production we have ever staged in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, working with Intel and The Imaginarium Studios.

“We will blend ancient theatre skills with innovative digital technology to conjure up Prospero’s island, inhabited by fantastical characters, in Shakespeare’s most magical late play The Tempest.

“I cannot think of a clearer way of showing the ‘infinite variety’ of Shakespeare’s work and the inspiration he has provided over the centuries. Shakespeare is for everyone and we want to share his legacy with the widest possible audience. His inheritance is for the many, not the few.

“And, of course, the whole town will be buzzing with live theatre, events, workshops, films and exhibitions as we continue to celebrate its greatest son here, across the UK and in cinemas and on tour around the world.”

ROYAL SHAKESPEARE THEATRE

King Lear, in rep from August 20-October 15. Live in cinemas October 12.

As age begins to overtake him, King Lear decides to divide his kingdom among his children and live out his days without the burden of power. He allows vanity to cloud his judgement and misjudging his children’s loyalty, soon finds himself stripped of all the trappings of state, wealth and power he had taken for granted. Alone in the wilderness, he is left to confront the mistakes of a life that has brought him to this point.

The Tempest

The Tempest in a straight run of performances from November 8–January 21, also directed by Doran.

Simon Russell Beale returns to the RSC after 20 years to play Prospero. This captivating story of magic, spells and spirits sees the RSC’s skills at theatre-making come together with a truly innovative production which provides the perfect introduction to Shakespeare for families, and a magical and unforgettable experience for a new generation.

On a distant island a man waits. Robbed of his position, power and wealth his enemies have left him to live out his days in isolation. But this is no ordinary man, and this no ordinary island.

Prospero is a magician, able to control the very elements and bend nature to his will. When a sail appears on the horizon, he reaches out across the ocean to the ship that contains the men who wronged him. Creating a vast magical storm, he wrecks the ship and washes his enemies up on the shore. When they wake they find themselves lost on a fantastical island where nothing is as it seems.

Simon Russell Beale last performed with the RSC as Ariel in Sam Mendes’ production of The Tempest in 1996.

THE SWAN

The Two Noble Kinsmen by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher, based on Chaucer’s The Knight’s Tale, directed by Blanche McIntyre, in rep from August 17-February 9.

Two best friends, knights at arms, are captured in battle and imprisoned. From their window they see a beautiful woman and both fall instantly in love with her, turning from intimate friendship to jealous rivalry in the space of a minute.

One is released and goes missing in the woods of Athens, searching for a way to be near his beloved. When the jailer’s daughter frees the other, and follows him into the forest herself, the stage is set for absurd adventures and painful confusions in this study of the intoxication and strangeness of love.

Aphra Behn’s The Rover in rep from September 8-February 11.

Arguably the first ever professional female playwright in England, Behn’s is a strong voice of early feminism. Written in 1677, The Rover was last staged in 1986 as part of the Swan Theatre’s first season, with Jeremy Irons.

The Seven Acts of Mercy marketing image 2016_2016_c_ RSC_181768

The Seven Acts of Mercy by Anders Lustgarten, in rep from November 24-February 11.

This will be the first play by Anders Lustgarten to be produced by the RSC. He won the inaugural Harold Pinter Playwright’s Award for If You Don’t Let Us Dream We Won’t Let You Sleep, which played at the Royal Court Theatre Downstairs, and is adapting David Peace’s The Damned United for a National Theatre tour.

His latest play, Lampedusa, about the current refugee crisis has had two successful runs at the Soho Theatre and Hightide Festival, and will go on tour during this year.

Playing out across a gap of 400 years, Lustgarten’s visceral new play confronts the dangerous necessity of compassion, in a world where it is in short supply.

Naples,1606. Inside an unfinished church, a painting is emerging from the darkness. The Seven Acts of Mercy is Caravaggio’s masterpiece – and his first painting since he killed a man and fled Rome.

As the artist works, he is fuelled by anger, self-loathing and his driving need to create a work that speaks of compassion in a violent world.

Bootle, the present day: a retired dock worker teaches his grandson, as around them a community is disintegrating under the pressure of years of economic and political degradation.

With all he has left, a book of great works of art, he tries to open the boy’s eyes to the tragedy and beauty of the life he faces. And the boy reciprocates in the only way he knows.

THE OTHER PLACE

The first RSC performances in The Other Place will take place in late summer. Last year deputy artistic director, Erica Whyman, asked 20 writers, theatre makers and directors to explore whether anything is truly unsayable in Britain in the 21st Century.

Led by Erica and playwright, Mark Ravenhill, the event included conversations with Rev. Giles Fraser, graphic novelist, Darryl Cunningham, and journalist, Lucy Mangan. There were some astonishing, passionate and provocative responses, two of which will be presented in a festival of new work in late July.

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