Royal Shakespeare Company upstages National with plan to take Bard round Britain

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The Royal Shakespeare Company is to stage a rock'n'roll style nationwide tour in an attempt to bring the Bard to 80 per cent of the population.

The decision to visit 29 towns and cities in Britain means the RSC is visiting twice the number of locations as the National Theatre.

Indeed, it is somewhat provocatively adopting the logo Theatre For The Nation on its new brochures and publicity material, despite the obvious similarity to the name of its rival.

The English National Opera does not leave London at all, while The Royal Opera House will barely be taking the Royal Opera or Royal Ballet out of town, even during the House's two-year closure.

The RSC's nationwide tour will be its largest yet, and in some towns the company will perform in leisure centres and temporary structures, where there are no theatres.

Its artistic director, Adrian Noble, said last night: "The whole nation invests in the Royal Shakespeare Company and it is essential that as much of the nation as possible is able to share in its success. The RSC will now perform more plays, in more places, to more people, making us truly a theatre for the whole nation." The company's new season will present more of its work outside Stratford-upon-Avon and London than ever before.

The RSC announced some time ago that it would be axing its London operation at the Barbican Theatre in the summer from this year, and only play the winter months in London, with annual seasons in Plymouth and Newcastle upon Tyne as well as playing the whole year at Stratford.

But this week the company will announce a much larger than expected touring schedule, which ranges from Belfast and Glasgow to Macclesfield, Warrington, Whitley Bay and Rotherham.

The extent of the touring operation has come as a surprise, and is part of Mr Noble's growing conviction that a national company must live up to its name by getting out of London.

Even during its two year closure, the Royal Opera House will be presenting most performances by the Royal Opera and Royal Ballet at alternative London venues. All three venues chosen by the Royal Ballet will be in London.

The Royal Opera has chosen four different locations, all in London, with a visit for just one night to Birmingham, and one Benjamin Britten operetta opening in his home county of Suffolk, and another production premiering at the Edinburgh Festival.

The English National Opera does not perform outside London at all, and the National Theatre has 15 weeks of touring for selected productions, but no annual seasons at provincial venues.

The RSC, meanwhile, will open its month long season in Newcastle in September, and launches its brand new Plymouth season in October with the transfer of Stratford productions including Hamlet with Alex Jennings, Cymbeline with Joanne Pearce, and Tennessee Williams's Camino Real starring Susannah York.

But at the same time a new circuit of venues from Darlington in the North- east to Poole in the South-west will receive a new production of Cyrano De Bergerac starring Antony Sher. Also in the autumn, Henry V with Michael Sheen will play at venues including The Barbican in London, Glasgow, Canterbury and Hull. A tour of Romeo and Juliet, directed by Michael Attenborough, will tour leisure centres across the UK in the RSC's mobile auditorium.

As well as taking productions nationwide, the RSC's education department will work with 20,000 teachers and young people in 60 towns across the UK.

The creation of an annual tour to mid-scale theatre venues allied to the first RSC season in Plymouth, will make the company available to more people than ever before. Its work will be accessible to 74 per cent of Great Britain within a 45-minute drive of their homes. In England, RSC productions will be accessible to 81.5 per cent of the population.

The RSC is also following the rock'n'roll route by extending its touring abroad. It is currently playing in Delhi and in Auckland, New Zealand. The company will shortly announce plans to take productions to New York and Washington.

The first new-look London season will run from November 1997 to May 1998. The Barbican Theatre is currently being refurbished and during the RSC's summer absence it will be host to the Royal Opera.