Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 March 2007
The last instalment of this chronicle of Shakespeare’s fortunes on the contemporary English stage closed with the pious hope that the RSC’s projected 2005 main-house season of four comedies, the sequel to 2004’s uneven batch of tragedies, might restore the company’s sometime reputation as an organization committed above all to exploring the canon’s continuing relevance to and engagement with contemporary society. This hope, alas, was doomed to disappointment: apart from a very flamboyant and inventive A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Gregory Doran as if to provide a reckless and affectionate farewell party for the cavernous interior of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, ‘The Comedies’ produced little that might not have appeared there just as readily at any time over the last two or even three decades, and the company’s collective mind in any case seemed already to have moved on to a larger project before the 2005 season had even opened. Between April 2006 and April 2007 the RSC, at first taking advantage of the simultaneous existence of both the RST as it is and the temporary Courtyard Theatre erected in the Other Place car park to replace it while its interior is completely rebuilt, and throughout deploying the Swan and a range of newly co-opted venues around Stratford (including Holy Trinity Church), will either stage or host productions of every single one of the Complete Works. The artistic reasons behind this massive undertaking have yet to be explained – the strenuous publicity so far (‘The Greatest Dramatist – The Essential Year’) suggests something between the spirit of the Guinness Book of World Records and whatever it is that motivates those cloying continuous marathon chronological play-throughs of the entire Bach canon mounted by North American campus radio stations – and the economics remain puzzling too.