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Complete Works of Shakespeare Staged in Stratford Next Year

The Royal Shakespeare Company will launch an extravagantly ambitious year-long festival of Shakespeare next year, with all 37 of the Bard's plays being presented in Stratford-Upon-Avon, the playwright's birthplace.

Foreign productions and musical adaptations of Shakespeare's plays will be performed, as will sonnets, poems, apocryphal plays, and plays based upon or in reponse to Shakespeare's works (such as Roy Williams' interpretation of Much Ado About Nothing set during the Iraq War).  Nancy Meckler, Gregory Doran and Dominic Cooke will each head his/her own company, with Meckler staging the inaugural production of Romeo and Juliet when the season kicks off next spring, according to Variety.

Dame Judi Dench, Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellan, all RSC veterans, will be some of the starrier performers to headline the festival, with Dench playing Mistress Quickly in a musical adaptation of The Merry Wives of Windsor.  Directed and adapted by Doran, Merry Wives will feature a score  by Paul Englishby and lyrics by Ranjit Bolt.  Stewart will play Prospero, the exiled wizard of The Tempest, as well as Antony opposite the Cleopatra of Janet Suzman.  McKellen will essay the title role of King Lear in a production directed by Sir Trevor Nunn.  Nunn will also stage another non-Shakespearean work to run in repertory with Lear.

As for foreign-born stagings, the Cornish company Kneehigh will present their Cymbeline,
Yukio Ninagawa's Japanese Titus Andronicus will have its UK premiere, a 2-hour Belgian production of Othello directed by Luk Perceval will be staged, as will Sulayman Al-Bassam's Kuwaiti Richard III, a South African Hamlet helmed by Suzman and a Two Gentlemen of Verona by Brazil's Nos do Morro company.  There will also be no shortage of American productions; Barbara Gaines' Chicago Shakespeare Theatre of Henry IV, Michael Kahn's Shakespeare Theatre (in DC) staging of Love's Labour's Lost and Theatre for a New Audience's The Merchant of Venice (starring F. Murray Abraham as Shylock) will all be staged in Stratford.

In addition to the RSC's normal expenses, the Complete Shakespeare Season is expected to cost the venerable company an additional
£3.6 million ($6.33 million).  Also, an extra 100,000 people will have to be provided for; 500,000 annually visit Stratford.  To accomodate the increased audiences, the RSC will build the Courtyard Theatre.  The theatre will seat 1,000 people, and will serve as a temporary home while the RSC's main stage is revamped in 2007.  Some of the productions are expected to later receive commerical productions in London.

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