Bard in the West End

Royal Shakespeare Co. plans London residency

LONDON — The Royal Shakespeare Co. will launch a 22-week West End residency in November at the Albery Theater in what artistic director Michael Boyd calls “a major new chapter in the reorganization of the company’s relationship to London.”

Thursday’s announcement ends months of speculation that the state-funded RSC — along with the National, one of the two largest theatrical institutions in the U.K. — would turn their London attentions to the considerably larger Piccadilly Theater.

But “Jailhouse Rock” is continuing at the Piccadilly into the fall and it’s being eyed for the West End revival of “Guys and Dolls” next spring.

The Albery season will open Nov. 18 with Toby Stephens in “Hamlet” and continue with three more Shakespeare tragedies: “Romeo and Juliet,” “King Lear” and “Macbeth.”

The productions will do straight runs as opposed to the more traditional RSC repertory stands. The season ends in April-May with Vanessa Redgrave in Euripides’ “Hecuba.”

All five shows will by then have previously played the RSC’s home base in Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s birthplace.

“Hecuba,” directed by Laurence Boswell, is expected to travel from Stratford and London on to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and then to New York’s Brooklyn Academy of Music.

“Vanessa Redgrave in Washington within a stone’s throw of Congress: I cannot wait,” said Boyd, deadpan, referring to the actress’s fairly radical politics.

“Neither can Congress,” chimed in the RSC’s new chairman, Christopher Bland.

For years, the RSC had a London home at the Barbican Center in the capital’s financial district, the City. In recent years it moved between addresses — some with successful productions (Ralph Fiennes in “Brand,” a commercial co-venture with impresario Kim Poster), some not (last summer’s Old Vic seasons of “Coriolanus” and “The Merry Wives of Windsor”).

What has long been missing is a permanent London base. The Albery won’t fill that need since the ownership of the 850-seater shifts in fall 2005 from the Ambassador Theater Group to Cameron Mackintosh.

Royal ‘renewal’

But the residency, said Bland, “is an important step in that journey” toward a London address as well as “part of a program of renewal and regeneration for the RSC.”

The RSC has scarcely been absent from the capital of late, having sent 18 shows to London during the past two years.

The biggest straight play hit of the year so far remains Judi Dench in the RSC’s since-closed “All’s Well That Ends Well,” which went clean for impresarios Bill Kenwright and Thelma Holt.

The same team previously produced an ambitious “Jacobethan” repertory season of plays by the RSC. That lineup did less well, as did the West End transfers of “The Taming of the Shrew” and its sequel, “The Tamer Tamed.”

The RSC is producing the Albery tragedies itself and has a yearly subsidy of $23 million-plus to provide at least some financial cushion. The shows will break even at a reasonable 50% capacity, a figure Boyd seemed confident of meeting: “I think we’re going to sell very well.”

The company will bring its new plays from Stratford to London’s Soho Theater for at least three weeks, starting in late February. And there are plans for possible commercial runs of at least two of the productions from Stratford’s season of plays from the Spanish “Golden Age” — “The Dog in the Manger” and “House of Desires.”

Up in Stratford, plans will be announced in September for the fate of the Royal Shakespeare Theater, a protected venue in architectural terms that also is the first major public building in the U.K. built by a femme architect, Elizabeth Scott, in 1932.

Bland said that, contrary to speculation, the theater would not be demolished. That option, he said, remains “a categoric no.”

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