The RSC's Rome Season: Thrilling, corrupt and more relevant than ever

  • RSC Rome season
  • RSC Rome season
  • RSC Rome season: Julius Caesar rehearsal photo
  • RSC Rome season: Julius Caesar rehearsal photo
  • RSC Rome season: Julius Caesar rehearsal photo

The RSC puts all four of Shakespeare’s Roman plays to the stage - an epic undertaking that brings the excess of empire to Stratford-upon-Avon.

In Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, the titular general rages against the very idea of giving of power to the people. ‘…Bring in the crows to peck at the eagles, he seethes, pouring scorn on the common man. Violence ensues.

Shakespeare’s words are echoing back on us here in Brexit Britain - not to mention an America that recently elected Donald Trump. As a discontented public and our erratic rulers sow socio-political earthquakes, what better way for the RSC to highlight the tensions of 2017 than to resurrect the Roman Empire?

Spearheading Rome MMXVII, Season Director Angus Jackson (Oppenheimer 2014, Don Quixote 2016) is well aware of the parallels.

‘It’s really going to be a season of thrillers,’ he explains. Jackson will be opening the Rome season with his direction of Julius Caesar - the original and most definitive story of brutal betrayal - and closing it with Coriolanus, Shakespeare’s tragedy concerning the uprising and bloody downfall of a brilliant general.

Inbetween the two, Iqbal Khan’s Antony and Cleopatra will retell the immortal story of seduction, doomed love and imperial ruin, while Blanche McIntyre’s Titus Andronicus re-stages a rip-roaring tale of extreme revenge, notorious for its grotesque climax.

Designer Robert Innes Hopkins is working on all four plays, ensuring that what we see on stage represents the journey of one empire through some very turbulent times.

‘I think what’s amazing about this is being able to join these four plays together and seeing the evolution of this society,’ Jackson teases. ‘Set up as a republic, becoming an empire…and when we get to Titus Andronicus, the one set furthest in the future, it’s a fictional play about the society tearing itself to pieces...a very bloody play.’

‘We’re really going to create a world, to travel with this sophisticated society, through its birth to its decay. It has resonances of the activity in British, European and worldwide politics, in terms of people fighting for their political lives…and literally fighting for their lives.

‘It couldn’t be more appropriate to be digging into these very rich - and very high-stakes - plays.’

Angus Jackson, Season Director of Shakespeare's Rome Season:

Shakespeare's four Roman plays are a wonderful concoction of stories about power: physical power, sexual power and intellectual power.

Julius Caesar is still the story that defines all political backstabbing. Brutus loves Caesar, but kills him for the greater good, and like all conspirators loses control of the consequences.

The story of Antony and Cleopatra epitomises a passionate love between two of the most important leaders of the free world. They are so caught up in each other that they lose control; both of themselves and their empires.

Titus Andronicus is the bloodiest of all plays, and feels more like a Tarantino movie than a historic play.

And Coriolanus is more a famed Olympic athlete than soldier in our modern terms. He is thrust into government with no ability to play politics, and no sense of compromise.

The stories historically span a thousand years. We've placed all four in one imagined evolving world, the story of an Empire from birth to implosion.

We begin in 500BC with Coriolanus slugging it out in the mud with his broadsword. Then we travel forward in time when Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra are living just before Christ. We've set them together in a Roman setting, complete with towering pillars and corners to hide round. Our Rome is then thrust together with a lavish Egyptian ancient world led by the most famous of all Queens. And Titus Andronicus is recognisably the same Empire which arrives in our modern day, carrying the tragic consequences of corruption decay and dictatorship right up to now.

These plays are so relevant to today's political and personality led world they don't need to make a claim for currency. The cameras get as close to the actors as the front row of the audience. So we will take you on a journey back to Ancient Rome and chart the evolution of an empire up to the present day, painting every betrayal, every battle, every passion. I hope you enjoy the ride.

JULIUS CAESAR

Caesar returns from war, all-conquering, but mutiny is rumbling through the corridors of power. The RSC’s Rome season in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre opens with the politics of spin and betrayal turning to violence. Season Director Angus Jackson steers the thrilling action as the race to claim the empire spirals out of control.

ROYAL SHAKESPEARE THEATRE, STRATFORD-UPON-AVON, 3 MARCH - 9 SEPTEMBER 2017

ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA

Following Caesar’s assassination, Mark Antony has reached the heights of power. Now he has neglected his empire for a life of decadent seduction with his mistress, Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt. Iqbal Khan (Much Ado About Nothing, Othello) returns to the RSC to direct Shakespeare’s tragedy of love and power.

ROYAL SHAKESPEARE THEATRE, STRATFORD-UPON-AVON, 11 MARCH - 7 SEPTEMBER 2017

TITUS ANDRONICUS

The decay of Rome reaches violent depths in Shakespeare’s most bloody play.

Titus is a ruler exhausted by war and loss, who relinquishes power but leaves Rome in disorder. Rape, cannibalism and severed body parts fill the moral void at the heart of this corrupt society.

Shakespeare’s gory revenge tragedy presents us with murder as entertainment, and, as the body count piles up, poses questions about the nature of sexuality, family, class and society.

Blanche McIntyre returns to the RSC after her debut directing The Two Noble Kinsmen (2016).

ROYAL SHAKESPEARE THEATRE, STRATFORD-UPON-AVON, 23 JUNE - 2 SEPTEMBER 2017

CORIOLANUS

A full throttle war play that revels in the sweat of the battlefield, Coriolanus transports us back to the emergence of the republic of Rome. Season Director Angus Jackson completes our collection of Shakespeare’s epic Roman plays with Sope Dirisu (One Night in Miami, Donmar Warehouse) in the title role.

ROYAL SHAKESPEARE THEATRE, STRATFORD-UPON-AVON, 15 SEPTEMBER - 14 OCTOBER 2017

Book your tickets here: www.rsc.org.uk/rome