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RSC goes Roman for 2017: new season announced

Cleopatra-to-be Josette Simon with publicity images for Titus Andronicus and Coriolanus
Cleopatra-to-be Josette Simon with publicity images for Titus Andronicus and Coriolanus

This week the Royal Shakespeare Company announced the artistic programme for 2017 spring/summer which it is calling its ‘Rome season’. It leads with four of Shakespeare’s most political and bloody plays, set in and around ancient Rome.

Taking the stage at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre will be: Julius Caesar, directed by Angus Jackson, and Antony & Cleopatra, directed by Iqbal Khan, both of which open in March 2017 and run until September; while Titus Andronicus, directed by Blanche McIntyre will run from June to September 2017; dates for Coriolanus, directed by Angus Jackson, are yet to be announced.

Gregory Doran, left, and Angus Jackson
Gregory Doran, left, and Angus Jackson

The RSC in part chose Shakespeare’s four great political thrillers plays to mark 2000 years since the death of Ovid.

Speaking to the Herald, RSC artistic director said: “There’s a real conversation between the plays. There’s a reason why Shakespeare starts to look at Rome for the source of his material rather than British history, which he had done up until that point. His greatest source material is Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

I have always loved Ovid and always wanted to do something on him, and I noticed he died in AD17 – so, 2,000 years ago. Yes we’ve got centenaryitis!”

Angus Jackson, who recently directed the sell-out RSC productions of Oppenheimer and Don Quixote, is season director for the Rome season. He will direct the opening and closing plays of the season, Julius Caesar and Coriolanus.

Meanwhile The Swan Theatre opens the season with the world premiere of Snow in Midsummer (which runs from 23 March to 25 March 2017) a contemporary re-imagining of Guan Hanqing’s Chinese classic drama by the playwright Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig, and directed by Justin Audibert.

The Swan then sees a co-production with Hull Truck Theatre of The Hypocrite by the award-winning playwright, Richard Bean, directed by Phillip Breen, opening 30 March to 29 April.

Both these productions play in straight runs before the Swan Theatre also turns its attention to a season touched by Rome. Vice Versa (or the Decline and Fall of General Braggadocio at the hands of his canny servant Dexter and Terence the monkey) opens the repertoire on 11 May, written by Phil Porter and inspired by the comedies of Plautus. It is directed by Janice Honeyman, who was last at the RSC to direct the Baxter Theatre Centre’s production of The Tempest with Antony Sher.

The season continues on 2 June (until 6 September) with Oscar Wilde’s lyrical one-act play, Salomé, set during the reign of Tiberius, and staged to mark 50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales. This new production, directed by Owen Horsley, Associate Director on the RSC’s ‘King & Country’ season, explores sexual ambiguity in the contemporary world.

Gregory Doran then revives Venus & Adonis, his unique version of Shakespeare’s great erotic poem, created with Little Angel Puppet Theatre. This was Shakespeare’s first bestseller, drawn from Ovid’s famous tale. It runs from 26th July to 4th August. Christopher Marlowe’s Dido, Queen of Carthage, concludes the season (dates to be announced), directed by Kimberley Sykes, who was Associate Director on the RSC’s recent production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

RSC Artistic Director, Gregory Doran, said: “Exactly 2000 years after the death of Roman poet Ovid, whose work has inspired artists for millennia, we stage Shakespeare’s four great political thrillers in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, in a new season touched by the influence of Rome.

“Ovid was probably Shakespeare’s greatest inspiration and his stories are sprinkled throughout his plays, most prominently the comedy of Pyramus and Thisbe in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

“But today, some of those fantastical stories are being forgotten and our appreciation of Shakespeare's plays will be lessened if that happens. Who was Proserpina, and why did she “let her flowers fall “? What happened when glistering Phaeton lost the manage of his father's chariot? And why was Niobe "all tears". We will uncover all this and more next year as we celebrate 2000 years of Ovid’s influence.”

See Thursday’s Herald for our interview with Greg about the new season.

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