A History of the Royal Shakespeare Company
In 1875, Charles Edward Flower, a Stratford brewer, launched an international campaign to build a theatre in the town of Shakespeare's birth. Four years later the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre opened with a performance of Much Ado About Nothing. A Royal Charter was granted in 1925, but the next year the theatre succumbed to fire. The festival director, William Bridges-Adams, continued productions in a local cinema, and a worldwide campaign was launched to build a new theatre. In 1932 the new Shakespeare Memorial Theatre was opened by the Prince of Wales on April 23, Shakespeare's birthday.
From 1945 the company's work began to win critical acclaim. Michael Redgrave, John Gielgud, Peggy Ashcroft, Vivien Leigh, and Laurence Olivier acted alongside new faces such as Richard Burton. Invitations to perform in Russia, Europe, and the United States broadened the company's outlook in the late 1950s. In 1960, Peter Hall formed the modern Royal Shakespeare Company, and in 1961 the Memorial Theatre was renamed the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. The repertoire widened to take in modern work and classics other than Shakespeare. The decade also brought a new generation of actors and directors–David Warner, Judi Dench, Ian Richardson, John Barton, Trevor Nunn, and Terry Hands–and landmark productions like Peter Hall's Wars of the Roses.
Over the next thirty years the company expanded under a succession of visionary artistic directors: Peter Hall (1960-1968), Trevor Nunn (1968-1978), Trevor Nunn and Terry Hands (1978-1987), Terry Hands (1987-1991), and Adrian Noble (1991-2003). The Swan opened in 1986, built inside the surviving shell of the Memorial Theatre. A modern space based on the design of Elizabethan playhouses, it allows for intimate staging and the audience's close proximity to the action.
In July 2002, Olivier Award-winner Michael Boyd was announced as artistic director for the RSC. Despite the growth from festival theatre to international status, the values of the RSC today have changed little since 1905: it is still formed around an ensemble of actors and a core of associate actors who give a distinctive and unmissable approach to theatre. The RSC also acts as a superb training ground for the artistic and technical talents of British and international theatre.
Courtesy of the Royal Shakespeare Company, www.rsc.org.uk