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New RSC season announcement delayed as Gregory Doran takes time out to look after husband Sir Antony Sher, who has terminal illness

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It is not known what productions will be on at the RSC in the new year and an announcement will not be made until mid-October, the theatre has confirmed.

Usually the full winter season is announced the January or February before it starts. Besides Covid considerations, the delay may be linked to last Friday’s news that Gregory Doran will be temporarily stepping down from his role as artistic director.

He is taking a period of compassionate leave to care for his husband, Sir Antony Sher. Antony has a long and celebrated association with the company and is an RSC honorary associate artist.

Sir Antony Sher and Gregory Doran pictured at Sher's arts exhibition at the RSC in 2018. (51268227)
Sir Antony Sher and Gregory Doran pictured at Sher's arts exhibition at the RSC in 2018. (51268227)

Gregory explained: “I am very sorry to say that my husband, Tony Sher, has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, and in order to look after him, and with the agreement of the board, I will be taking a period of compassionate leave with immediate effect. I expect to return in early 2022.”

In past interviews with the Herald, Gregory had always said he would step down once every Shakespeare play had been performed under his tenure as artistic director. Had Covid not conspired against that, then he would have been due to finish the canon this year.

Announcing the ill-fated Winter 2020 season back in February 2020, a month before lockdown, he said: “When I became artistic director, I wanted to stage every Shakespeare play in the canon once. We are more than two-thirds of the way through that journey, which will conclude at the end of 2021.”

“We began with Richard II in 2013, developing the History cycle with the two Henry IVs and Henry V. We played all four shows as one cycle in London and New York, and took the productions to China, the first time the plays had ever been performed there. This journey now continues with The Wars of the Roses, our two-part staging of Shakespeare’s epic history cycle which he wrote as Henry VI Parts 1, 2 and 3.”

However during Covid restrictions Gregory and Owen Horsley ended up directing Henry VI Part 1 as a streamed open rehearsal project, with an audience invited to watch the production being developed online before a final run-through was shown.

It is now unclear when the duo will be picking up Parts 2 and 3 and what format they would take. The performance of the two plays would fulfil Gregory’s vow to complete all the canon as artistic director at the RSC.

It is currently not known what will be on at the RSC after The Magician’s Elephant closes at the RST on 1st January. Although an RSC spokesperson told the Herald: “We are currently finalising plans for an announcement about our 2022 programme. We anticipate to make this announcement in mid-October.”

During Gregory’s absence RSC deputy artistic director, Erica Whyman, will take on the role of acting artistic director until his return. She will have overall artistic responsibility as well as wider organisational accountability which she will share with Catherine Mallyon, executive director.

Erica has been deputy artistic director since 2012 working alongside Gregory and the artistic programming team on all aspects of our activity, with specific responsibilities to the company’s approach to inclusion, new writing and The Other Place.

RSC chair Nigel Hugill said: “All our thoughts are very much with Greg and Tony at this extremely difficult time. The board thank Erica for agreeing to take on the role of acting artistic director and alongside Catherine as executive director, the RSC remains in very safe hands.”

The RSC said it would not comment any further and asked that “Gregory and Antony’s privacy be respected at this difficult time”.

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