A guide to the Royal Shakespeare Company

By | Posted on 09-Jul-2019

A guide to the Royal Shakespeare Company

The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) is one of Britain’s well-known theatre companies, producing over 20 shows a year. Performing a variety of Shakespearean classics, as well as works by his contemporaries and brand new works across the country, RSC productions are watched by over 1 million audience members each year. Whether you want to see a centuries-old play by William Shakespeare or you’re wanting to find out more about the Company, find out about the history of the RSC as well as their upcoming shows in London.

A complete guide to the Royal Shakespeare Company

Foundations of the RSC

Although there have been performances of Shakespeare’s works in Stratford-upon-Avon since the 18th century, the presence of the RSC has grown substantially, with 17 buildings now used to house Shakespeare productions. However, the first RSC venue opened in 1879 with a performance of Much Ado About Nothing. Named the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, audiences flocked to see one of the Bard’s works in his home county, dedicated to keeping the texts of Shakespeare alive.

When the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre was destroyed in a fire in 1926, it took six years for a new venue to be rebuilt. The building eventually opened on the anniversary of Shakespeare’s passing (23rd April 1932) and was named the New Shakespeare Memorial Theatre.

When was the Royal Shakespeare Company formed?

The idea for a ‘Royal Shakespeare Company’ is relatively new in the RSC’s history. In 1959, artistic director Peter Hall aimed to create a company of actors who would perform Shakespeare’s works and related contemporary texts at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre. Determined to overhaul the RSC, Hall looked to acquire a new venue in London as well as continuing productions in Warwickshire to promote the growth of the Company.

In more recent years, the RSC has continued to break records. In 2006-2007, the complete works festival saw all of Shakespeare’s plays, sonnets and poems performed in one place, while 2008 saw The Histories project, with 34 actors playing 264 roles in eight Shakespeare plays. Now with productions filmed live and broadcast around the world, as well as new works regularly transferring to London, all theatre audiences can access the latest shows performed by the RSC.

Do the Royal Shakespeare Company just perform the Bard’s works?

No! Even though the RSC regularly perform some of the biggest works by Shakespeare, new productions also premiere at the RSC. For example, the stage adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Matilda was first performed in Stratford-upon-Avon before transferring to the West End’s Cambridge Theatre, where it continues to run today.

Notable non-Shakespeare productions to have also been staged at the RSC include Wolf Hall, adapted by Mike Poulton and the world premiere of Christopher Hampton’s Les liaisons dangereuses starring Juliet Stevenson and Alan Rickman.

Which actors have performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company?

The RSC features a notable list of alumni, with some of the biggest actors in the twentieth century listing an RSC production in their performing credits. See if you can work out which stars have been in Shakespeare shows with our quiz.

Ian McKellen: Making his RSC debut in the 1970s, McKellen has performed in titular roles including Macbeth, Romeo in Romeo and Juliet as well as Iago in Othello delivering stellar performances in productions both directed by Trevor Nunn and later adapted for film. McKellen returned to the RSC in 2007 to star in King Lear and The Seagull, seeing him reunite with Nunn as director.

Mark Rylance: Rylance’s RSC debut came in 1982, starring in The Tempest as Ariel, quickly followed by Peter Pan where he played the title role. Rylance gained notoriety within the company in 1988 when taking on the title role in a national touring production of Hamlet.

Kenneth Branagh: The British actor has starred in a number of RSC productions, including Henry V and Hamlet.

Where can I see RSC shows in London?

Royal Shakespeare Company
Photo from The Taming of the Shrew

The Royal Shakespeare Company reprise three productions, first performed in Stratford-upon-Avon at the Barbican each year.

It’s not just RSC shows that offer audiences the chance to see a Shakespeare show. With our guide to all things Shakespeare in London, embrace the Bard’s best texts with us.