Based at Stratford upon Avon, Shakespeare's birthplace, the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) is probably one of the most famous theatre companies in the world. Founded in 1879 as the Shakespeare Memorial Company, it was established when a local brewer, Charles Flower, donated land adjacent to the river Avon to build the first permanent theatre in Stratford dedicated to performing Shakespeare. The Shakespeare Memorial Theatre was built in 1879.

The original Memorial Theatre was destroyed by fire in 1926, and the current theatre, designed by Elisabeth Scott was erected in 1932. In 1986 the site of the original Memorial Theatre was converted into the award-winning Swan Theatre.

In 1961, director Peter Hall reorganized the company and divided it into twin units, one based at Stratford-upon-Avon, the other based in London, performing at the Aldwych Theatre (later at the Barbican Theatre Centre. The new company was christened the Royal Shakespeare Company. Hallís changes enabled the company to develop into a professional ensemble working year-round. In 1963 the company was given its first Arts Council subsidy. In 1978 the company launched an annual regional tour. In 1996 the company was remodelled to increase national touring. In 2001 the RSC announced plans to redevelop the Stratford theatres and reinvigorate the company's presence in London.

Before the establishment of the RSC, the Stratford Memorial Theatre had three artistic directors: Barry Jackson, Anthony Quayle and Glen Byam Shaw. Since 1960, the RSC has had four artistic directors. Sir Peter Hall from 1960 to 1968, Trevor Nunn from 1968 to 1978. In 1978 Trevor Nunn was joined by Terry Hands as Joint Artistic Director until 1986, when Terry Hands became sole Artistic Director. Adrian Noble, the current post holder, was appointed Artistic Director in 1991. Michael Boyd will take over as Artistic Director in March 2003.

In July 2002 Michael Boyd was announced as the new Artistic Director for the RSC, replacing Adrian Noble, and signalling a new chapter in the companyís history. Boyd became an Associate Director of the company in 1996 and has directed numerous productions for the company. In 2000/01 he won an Olivier Award for Best Director for the productions Henry VI: Parts I, II, and III, and Richard III. The productions formed part of the RSCís This England: The Histories Cycle, and were co-produced with the support of the University of Michigan and the University Musical Society.

Todayís Royal Shakespeare Company performs not only the Shakespeare plays that are its central focus, but also other European classics, new plays and contemporary drama, and rare works from the Elizabethan repertoire. Despite the companyís international status, its ideals today are the same as those of director Sir Frank Benson in 1905: the RSC is formed around a core of associate actors and actresses whose skills continue, over the years, to give a distinctive and unmistakable approach to theatre.

Hyperlinks:

The Official RSC Home Page
http://www.rsc.org.uk/

Over the last forty years the RSC has produced hundreds of new productions. Many of these have been landmarks in the history of British theatre.

Key RSC productions include:

The Wars of the Roses directed by Sir Peter Hall with John Barton (1963-4);
A Midsummer Night's Dream directed by Peter Brook (1970);
Macbeth, starring Dame Judi Dench and Sir Ian McKellen (1977);
The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (1980);
Richard III starring Sir Antony Sher (1984):
Les Miserables (1985);
Les Liaisons Dangereuses, starring Lindsay Duncan, Juliet Stevenson and Alan Rickman (1985);
The Plantagenets, directed by Adrian Noble (1988);
The Gift of the Gorgon starring Dame Judi Dench (1992);
Hamlet, starring Kenneth Branagh, directed by Adrian Noble (1992);
This England: The Histories
(2000).