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Full Program Announced for RSC's Complete Works Festival in April

The Royal Shakespeare Company has announced the full program for its year-long Complete Works festival in Stratford-upon-Avon. The festival, which launches on Shakespeare's birthday on April 23rd, will mark the first time that all of Shakespeare's plays and poems have been staged at the same event.

"With 23 RSC shows, 17 international productions and 14 by UK-based visiting companies, the RSC is gearing up to host what will be one of the major international cultural events of 2006," state press notes.

Newly announced highlights include:

Nothing Like The Sun – The Sonnet Project: a new project curated by Gavin Bryars featuring Shakespeare's sonnets set to music by contemporary musicians.

Shakespeare on Film: A free series of films shown on an outdoor screen on the banks of the River Avon, curated by film critic and presenter, Mark Kermode.

Debate: A year long series of Broadside debates tackling the issues raised in Shakespeare's plays. Speakers include the Archbishop of Canterbury, Fay Weldon and Robert Fisk.

Casting update: Geoffrey Streatfeild, Chuk Iwuji and Jonathan Slinger play the title roles in Henry V, Henry VI and Richard III respectively, as part of Michael Boyd's two-year project to stage Shakespeare's complete History Cycle.

Visiting companies: Visiting companies from across the UK and from Italy, China, Russia, Germany, Poland and the United States join those companies already confirmed from Japan, South Africa, India, the United States and the Middle East.

RSC Artistic Director Michael Boyd stated: "With visiting companies from almost every continent, this is a real opportunity to extend our relationships with audiences and artists from around the world. As well as a platform to celebrate our own work, the festival is a conscious attempt to showcase and explore the way different cultures, languages, styles of theatre and art forms approach Shakespeare. Like any great festival, there's plenty of opportunity to experiment and stumble across the new. There's enough in this year to cover all tastes, but in the process you might also experience the Sky Orchestra floating over Stratford in hot air balloons, or catch the Tiny Ninja's unique take on Hamlet."

 "The festival is a year-long exchange with a group of artists who share more than just performing Shakespeare. I hope the legacy of the festival will be a set of partnerships and new relationships that extend well beyond the life of the Complete Works and an outward-looking RSC that is challenged and stimulated by theatre from around the world".

Shakespeare From Around the World

Newly confirmed highlights among the visiting companies include:

- New York-based theatre company, Tiny Ninja Theater, performs Hamlet for the first time using an inch-high cast of small, plastic ninja figurines

- The award-winning Compagnia Pippo Delbono from Italy performs the UK premiere of Enrico V, inspired by Henry V. Involving cabaret, comedy, music and dance, the cast will include a chorus of locally-recruited amateur actors

- Multi award-winning Teatr Piesn Kozla (Song of the Goat Theatre) from Poland, presents its current work in progress, based on Macbeth

- The legendary Berliner Ensemble – which inspired the creation of the modern RSC presents its production (first staged in 2000) of Richard II directed by the company's artistic director, Claus Peymann

- Cardboard Citizens applies its unique brand of theatre to Shakespeare's supposedly unfinished text Timon of Athens

- RSC founder, Sir Peter Hall, makes a welcome return to Stratford after an absence of nearly 11 years, with his first UK production of Measure for Measure staged by his own company

- Sir Peter's son, director Edward Hall, also returns to Stratford with his all-male company, Propeller, presenting The Taming of the Shrew

- Samuel West, the newly appointed artistic director at Sheffield Theatres, makes a welcome return to the RSC and brings his new company to Stratford for the first time with As You Like It

- Yellow Earth in association with Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre gives King Lear a modern spin in its bilingual (English and Mandarin) production

- Chekhov International Theatre Festival in association with Cheek by Jowl performs its all male Russian version of Twelfth Night.

RSC Productions and Casting Update

Onstage the festival opens in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre with Nancy Meckler's production of Romeo and Juliet. Rupert Evans and Morven Christie make their RSC debuts as the star-crossed lovers and Sorcha Cusack returns to the RSC as Juliet's nurse. In the Swan Theatre, Patrick Stewart and Harriet Walter take on the title roles in Gregory Doran's Antony and Cleopatra.

As well as the productions already announced, the RSC has confirmed that it will also be staging the following productions: Coriolanus directed by Gregory Doran; Julius Caesar directed by Sean Holmes; King John directed by Josie Rourke; Much Ado About Nothing directed by Marianne Elliott; Richard III directed by Michael Boyd; Pericles and The Winter's Tale directed by Dominic Cooke. The final production as part of the Complete Works Festival will be King Lear, directed by Trevor Nunn and with Sir Ian McKellen in the title role. King Lear will run in rep in the Courtyard Theatre from March 2007.

New casting

- Tamsin Greig and Joseph Millson as Beatrice and Benedick in Marianne Elliott's Much Ado About Nothing.

- Patrick Stewart plays Prospero in Rupert Goold's production of The Tempest.

- Finbar Lynch returns to the RSC after nearly 12 years as Cassius in Julius Caesar. Directed by Sean Holmes and with John Light as Brutus.

- Desmond Barrit joins Judi Dench (Mistress Quickly) as Falstaff in Merry Wives: The Musical directed by Gregory Doran and with music by Paul Englishby and lyrics by Ranjit Bolt.

- William Houston and Janet Suzman make a welcome return to the RSC to play Coriolanus and Volumnia in Coriolanus.

Nothing Like The Sun – The Sonnet Project

In a unique commission by the RSC, Shakespeare's sonnets will be set to music. Curated by one of the world's leading contemporary composers, Gavin Bryars, musical heavyweights such as singer/songwriter Natalie Merchant and violinist Alexander Balanescu, are among those who will set their chosen sonnets to music.

The project also features the premiere of a major new commission: Gavin Bryars' Nothing Like The Sun. A through-composed musical rendition of a series of Shakespeare's sonnets, the piece will be accompanied by a film projection. Nothing Like The Sun - The Sonnet Project will be presented in speech and song in The Courtyard Theatre by singers from Opera North and RSC actors to the backing of an eight-piece orchestra.

Launching the festival

The RSC marks the official launch of the festival with a series of special events taking place over Shakespeare's birthday weekend (22 and 23 April). These include a Montague Vs Capulet football match; behind the scenes workshops; live music; and the first in a year-long series of Broadside debates with the Archbishop of Canterbury discussing 'Shakespeare and The Creative Imagination'. Joining Michael Boyd in the celebrations are Patrick Stewart, Harriet Walter, Janet Suzman and Sir Peter Hall.

Shakespeare re-invented

As well as full-scale productions onstage, the festival will also explore new takes on Shakespeare's plays, including original interpretations from experimental companies and new plays from contemporary dramatists.

The Cube

In October 2006, the RSC will construct an intimate and unique 100 seat studio theatre within the Royal Shakespeare Theatre auditorium. The Cube at the RST will host a range of innovative and small companies including:

- Tiny Ninja Theater's miniature version of Hamlet

- Forkbeard Fantasy's production of Rough Magyck which looks for the supernatural in Shakespeare using mechanical sets, film, cartoon and puppetry

- Filter Theatre's physical and visual 'work in progress' based on Twelfth Night

- The UK premiere of Yellow Earth and Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre's bilingual and modern take on King Lear

New Work

Continuing the RSC's commitment to new work, the festival will feature four new commissions inspired by Shakespeare's plays and written by some of the country's leading playwrights:

- The Indian Boy: a new play by Rona Munro written in response to A Midsummer Night's Dream. Set in an ancient forest, nature defies the property developers.

- Days of Significance: a new play by Roy Williams written in response to Much Ado About Nothing. Set in market-town England and the deserts of Iraq.

- One of These Days: a rehearsed reading of Leo Butler's dark response to The Tempest, set in occupied Ireland in 1775.

- Regime Change: Peter Straughan's new play is produced in collaboration with BBC Radio 3. Set in Istanbul, the play is a response to Julius Caesar. A single reading by the RSC will take place in October before the play is recorded for broadcast on BBC Radio 3.

Festival Events Program

Underpinning the main performance line-up is a full programme of events and activities planned for the year, designed to appeal to theatre and non-theatre goers.

Headline events announced today include:

Shakespeare On Film – In August, Mark Kermode curates a free series of films to be shown on an outdoor screen on the banks of the River Avon. Films include: Baz Lurhmann's Romeo and Juliet (1996); Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet (1996); Laurence Olivier's Oscar-winning Henry V (1944); and Roman Polanski's Macbeth (1971).

Broadsides – Exploring the issues raised in Shakespeare's plays, topics covered in this series range from language, sex, film, Englishness, faith, war and the supernatural. Speakers include the Archbishop of Canterbury; Fay Weldon; former MP Chris Smith; Roy Hattersley and award-winning Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk.

Mini Complete Works Festival – In June and July school children will stage their own version of the Complete Works in The Dell, a new open air theatre set alongside the River Avon. The Mini Complete Works Festival will feature the schools' reduced versions and responses to Shakespeare's plays.

Playing With Histories – The staging of Sulayman Al-Bassam's The Bahgdad Richard alongside Michael Boyd's own production of Richard III provides a platform for a series of debates and discussions around Shakespeare's History Plays. The Playing With Histories series runs over four days in February 2007 and kicks off with Michael Boyd and Sulayman Al-Bassam examining political power in the History Cycle.

 A full programme of other events including: talks and demonstrations with actors, directors and RSC practitioners; debates; live music; backstage tours; workshops and family and schools events, will be available to the public in March 2006. Details from www.rsccompleteworks.co.uk or from the RSC Ticket Hotline: 0870 609 1110. A PDF of the year's performance schedule can also be found in the press section at www.rsc.org.uk.
 



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