The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) has revealed further 2023 shows for its Swan Theatre re-opening season.
Tanika Gupta’s The Empress is a new production directed by Pooja Ghai, which opens in the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon from 7 July to 15 September 2023. It then transfers to the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre from 4 to 28 October 2023, before heading back to the Swan to finish its run from 1 to 18 November 2023.
Set in 1887, the year of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, the play tells the story of the sixteen year-old Rani Das, ayah (nursemaid) to an English family, who arrives at Tilbury docks after a long voyage from India, to start a new life in Britain. On the boat, Rani befriends a lascar (sailor), an Indian politician and a royal servant destined to serve the Queen. Full of hopes and dreams of what lies ahead, they each embark on an extraordinary journey.
The original production, directed by Emma Rice for the RSC, first premiered in the Swan Theatre in 2013. The Empress will have Design by Rosa Maggiora, Lighting by Matt Haskins, Music and Sound by Ben and Max Ringham, Movement by Wayne Parsons, Fights and Intimacy by Rachel Bown-Williams and Ruth Cooper-Brown.
Another new play will follow, with Falkland Sound by Brad Birch, directed by Aaron Parsons, telling the story of a rural community turned upside down through an international crisis.
This timely and evocative play tells the story of a community and way of life turned upside down following the invasion of the Falkland Islands by Argentine forces in April 1982, inspired by the real-life testimonies of those who lived through this seismic moment in history.
Falkland Sound plays from 5 August to 16 September 2023, with design by Aldo Vázquez and further creatives to be announced.
The Merchant of Venice 1936 starring Tracy-Ann Oberman as Shylock, and directed and adapted by Brigid Larmour, will play The Swan from 21 September to 7 October 2023.
The play is about to open at the Watford Palace Theatre and go on a UK tour.
This gripping new production promises to offer a rare and vivid insight into a dark chapter in our history, all too relevant to Britain today.
Fascism is sweeping across Europe, and Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists threatens a paramilitary march through the Jewish East End. Shylock (Tracy Ann-Oberman), a widowed survivor of anti-Semitic pogroms in Russia, hopes to give her daughter Jessica a better life. She runs a pawnbroking business from her house in Cable Street where Mosley will march. Charismatic heroine Portia and the Merchant himself, Antonio, are aristocratic Mosleyites, their playground is piano bars at the Ritz, bias cut silk gowns, white tie and tails. As these worlds collide, a struggle for morals, power and prejudice ensues with devastating consequences.
Other members of the creative team are Costume and Set Design by Liz Cooke. Lighting Designis by Rory Beaton and Sound Design by Sarah Weltman. The Composer is Erran Baron Cohen. Movement is by Richard Katz and Video Design is by Greta Zabulyte.
Finally, a queer cowboy show called Cowbois from the writer of Shakespeare’s Globe hit I, Joan – Charlie Josephine, will comes to the Swan from 14 October to 18 November 2023, co-directed by Charlie Josephine and Sean Holmes, and designed by Grace Smart.
This rollicking queer cowboy show is part gun-slinging Western, part love-story for our times, and promises to be a playful and exuberant celebration of queer love, freedom and self-expression, It tells the story of handsome bandit Jack Cannon, whose unprompted arrival in the sleepy frontier town inspires a gender revolution and starts a fire under the petticoat of every one of the town’s repressed inhabitants.
Other events at the Swan include the return of Live at the RSC, in association with Underbelly and Orchestra of the Swan, featuring a mixed bill of live comedy, music and discussion including Fern Brady, Nina Conti, Ivo Graham, Jessica Fostekew, Sarah Keyworth and improv comedy troupe Austentatious.
The Swan Theatre is set to re-open following its refurbishment on 1 April 2023, with the world-premiere stage production of Hamnet, based on the award-winning novel by Maggie O’Farrell, adapted by Lolita Chakrabarti and directed by RSC Acting Artistic Director, Erica Whyman. The show is almost sold out.
Other RSC shows coming up include As You Like It directed by Omar Elerian, from 17 June to 5 August 2023, and Macbeth directed by Wils Wilson, from 19 August to 14 October 2023, both in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.
Erica Whyman, Acting Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) said in a statement:
“This season is a celebration of the power of theatre and of stories we should have heard or should have listened to, but we haven’t dared. We live in a volatile, fractious world. Shakespeare would have recognised its energy; he too knew a world of accelerating change, inventive and exhilarating, but also furious, divisive, unequal, uneasy. The RSC has always believed it essential to support and celebrate the living writers that have their fingers on this unease, who can expose new ways of seeing our history and conjure a brave new world that we don’t yet understand. Now more than ever it takes courage to speak these truths, as new cultural wars roar and mutter. All four Swan productions are surprising, illuminating, strong of mind and big of heart. Falkland Sound by Brad Birch explores with compassion the human experience of the Islanders during the conflict, and the ferocious politics which informed the British response. The Empress by Tanika Gupta – now on the GCSE syllabus – presents an extraordinary friendship and a beautiful love story, whilst forensically exposing the blithe injustice of empire. Tracy-Ann Oberman’s Shylock in The Merchant of Venice 1936 is breathtakingly honest about the antisemitism described in the play and its new setting in 1930s Cable Street reveals a shameful slice of our history. And Cowbois by Charlie Josephine is a glorious unfolding of desire and hope – a Western like you’ve never seen it before – and an ingenious metaphor for the flowering of human potential that is possible when we can truly be ourselves. The Swan has a long and distinguished history of staging expansive, thoughtful new plays alongside plays by Shakespeare and his contemporaries. It is an epic theatre in which you can create electric intimacy and a space in which to tell stories which really matter.”
The Royal Shakespeare Company’s new co-artistic directors, Daniel Evans and Tamara Harvey, start their posts in June.