Cicero, Dickens and talent development at the RSC

Steve Orme

The world première of a new adaptation of Robert Harris’s Cicero trilogy, a new adaptation of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol and the introduction of a talent development programme are among the highlights of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s winter 2017 season.

In the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Angus Jackson will direct Coriolanus as the final Shakespeare production of the Rome season, transporting audiences back to the very beginnings of the republic. Sope Dirisu takes the title role of the unwilling leader who vows revenge after he is banished from Rome.

In the Swan Theatre, RSC artistic director Gregory Doran will direct Imperium, Mike Poulton’s new stage adaptation of the Cicero trilogy. Staged as six plays, presented in two performances, Part I: Conspirator and Part II: Dictator, this epic event traces the triumphs and disasters of Rome’s greatest orator as he defends Rome’s republic against the predatory attacks of political rivals, discontented aristocrats and would-be military dictators.

The talent development training programme will give young people from financially disadvantaged backgrounds the chance to explore a career in acting, directing or working backstage. RSC Next Generation is a response to the fact that young people from low-income backgrounds remain under-represented across the theatre sector.

Up to 24 youngsters between the ages of 13 and 18 will develop their skills as actors. The RSC will continue to offer these students support until they are 18, recruiting new members of the young company each year.

Young people over 18 who demonstrate the creative leadership and directing skills needed to take a play from page to stage can join Next Generation Direct.

Each year, between 40 and 50 students aged 13 to 18 will be given a “backstage pass” to discover everything that goes on behind the scenes to bring each production to life.

Those who take part in the programme will be drawn from the thousands of young people who attend or have attended the RSC’s associate and partner schools nationwide in communities that are under-represented in the cultural industries.

Doran said, “we so often return to old stories to make sense of the world around us. In a year which has seen more than its share of political intrigue and unease, we complete our exploration of Rome and see how Shakespeare, his contemporaries and today’s writers seek inspiration in myth and history.

“We’re also looking forward to the future, developing new talent with RSC Next Generation. Theatre has been my passion since childhood and it’s there that our imaginations are first sparked. I’m so pleased that we’re opening up opportunities for a new generation of young talent to explore theatre careers in acting, directing and backstage, and that we’re doing this important work in collaboration with our theatre partners and schools across the country.

“Shakespeare belongs to everyone and what better legacy from 2016 than to give new voices a chance to shine.

“Coriolanus will be the last of Shakespeare’s Roman plays in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and I’m delighted that Angus Jackson will direct Sope Dirisu in the title role. Sope is a rising talent and he’ll make a truly exciting Coriolanus.

“Mike Poulton’s brilliant new adaptation of Robert Harris’s thrilling Cicero trilogy will cover this huge canvas in six plays, across two evenings, and we will match the whole season with a programme of talks and events marking 2,000 years since the death of Ovid. Ovid’s stories were Shakespeare’s greatest inspiration and this will be a chance for people to gain a greater appreciation of these wonderful tales.

“Chris Luscombe will be back with us to direct Twelfth Night and we’ll première David Edgar’s wonderfully funny and surprising adaptation of A Christmas Carol.

“And Natalie Abrahami’s gripping Queen Anne, with Romola Garai as the Duchess of Marlborough, will play in the West End alongside my production of The Tempest at the Barbican, where we’ll announce more transfers from the Stratford repertoire later this spring. With Matilda The Musical we’re performing in London all year round.”

The programme in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre includes Coriolanus (15 September until 14 October), Twelfth Night (2 November until 24 February 2018) and A Christmas Carol (27 November until 4 February 2018).

In the Swan Theatre, Christopher Marlowe’s Dido: Queen of Carthage runs from 15 September until 28 October and Imperium: The Cicero Plays, Part 1: Conspirator from 16 November until 10 February 2018 and Part 2: Dictator from 23 November until 10 February 2018.

The Mischief Festival in the RSC’s “creative engine room” The Other Place runs from 24 May until 17 June. It features a double bill of new plays, Myth by Matt Hartley and Kirsty Housley, and The Earthworks by Tom Morton-Smith.

The Theatre Royal Haymarket will present the RSC production of Queen Anne, directed by Natalie Abrahami, for a 13-week season from 30 June until 30 September. It plays in London at the same time as the RSC’s The Tempest at the Barbican Theatre (30 June until 18 August).