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Wednesday, 28 March, 2001, 12:43 GMT 13:43 UK
RSC: Shakespeare and beyond
Future uncertain: The theatre building at Stratford
The Royal Shakespeare Company describes itself as the world's leading classical theatre company.

Based in Stratford-upon-Avon and London, the RSC produces up to 30 productions annually.


It has two companies of 80 actors each, playing in the RSC's five theatres.

Despite the company's name, its productions go beyond Shakespeare, including other Elizabethan dramatists or contemporary drama.

Brief history

In 1875 Charles Edward Flower, a member of a Stratford-upon-Avon brewing family, commissioned the world's first arts centre incorporating a theatre, picture gallery, library and music room on the banks of the River Avon.

The 800-seat Shakespeare Memorial Theatre opened in 1879 and hosted an annual festival of Shakespeare's plays.

Its resident company, known as the Shakespeare Memorial Company, was granted a royal charter in 1925.

Sir Peter Hall
Sir Peter Hall: Behind the RSC's expansion
The following year, a fire destroyed the auditorium and stage.

Chairman Sir Archibold Flower raised funds for the rebuilding work, mostly in the USA.

The New Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, with a capicity of 1,500 opened in 1932. Parts of the Gothic-styled building that survived the fire were incorporated into the present picture gallery.

Two sites

Artistic director Peter Hall reorganized the company in 1960 and began a separate operation at London's Aldwych Theatre.

It was renamed the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1961, receiving its first Arts Council subsidy two years later.

Adrian Noble
Artistic director Adrian Noble took over in 1991
In 1982 the company moved its London headquarters to the Barbican arts centre.

The RSC's other artistic directors have included Anthony Quayle, Glen Byam Shaw, Trevor Nunn and Terry Hands.

At Stratford, The Other Place theatre was created from a prefabricated former store and rehearsal room in 1974. A purpose-built theatre opened in 1991.

In 1986 the Swan Theatre (440 seats) was created from 1879 theatre remains with funds donated by Frederick Koch.

A new theatre space in London - The Warehouse - was created from a former London banana warehouse in 1977.

New horizons

The company began annual UK national tours in 1988.

Henry VI - DAVID OYELOWO
David Oyelowo as Henry VI
The RSC raises nearly 2m in corporate sponsorship each year.

Under current artistic director Adrian Noble, the RSC broke with its own traditions in 2000, casting a black actor in the role of an English monarch for the first time.

Noble's recent productions include Chekhov's The Seagull and CS Lewis' The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and the musical version of Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden.

In 1997, Noble restructured the RSC to be able to tour more work across the UK and overseas.

He is currently overseeing ambitious plans for the major redevelopment of the Stratford theatres.

In March 2001, the Arts Council of England announced an extra 3m of funding - an increase of 24.3 per cent.

See also:

22 Mar 01 | Arts
Cash boost for arts
02 Feb 01 | Entertainment
Barbican may get listed status
19 Sep 00 | Entertainment
Black actor cast as English king
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