History

The full company on stage circa 1960 with Artistic Director Peter Hall and Chairman Fordham Flower

In 2011 we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the RSC, but our history began long before 1961.

The idea of a theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon was not new in 1875 when Charles Flower donated the building site. His radical suggestion was that it should have a permanent subsidised ensemble company of actors.

Yearly performances
From April 1879 when the Shakespeare Memorial opened it held annual festivals. 

Between 1888 and 1917 Frank Benson's touring company appeared every spring.

In 1911 a consortium led by Archibald Flower, the Memorial's Chairman, took over Benson's management. For the first time the theatre almost had its own company.

New directors and companies come to Stratford
1919 marked a turning point as new directors and companies were invited to perform. That autumn a resident company opened, directed by William Bridges-Adams who stayed in post until 1934.

After the Second World War a new way of work began. Barry Jackson employed a completely fresh company opening eight plays across the summer, each with a full month's rehearsal.

'Star casting'
The theatre was modernised and in 1948 two new directors, Anthony Quayle and Michael Benthall, attracted bigger names to Stratford.

This 'star' system peaked in 1959 as famous actors returned to perform with the new artistic director, Peter Hall. 

He then introduced long-term contracts for actors and created Stratford's first ensemble company (pictured above on stage) as imagined by Charles Flower.

A new name
In 1961 the company was renamed the RSC and the basis of the theatre as we know it today was established. 

Work began on raising a subsidy, while regional and foreign touring were increased along with regular London performances and a commitment to working with new writing alongside Shakespeare.

Also in History

Key dates

1932 Theatre Foyer Clock

Collections

Detail from Titania costume, Juliet Stevenson

Performance database

Actors listed in First Folio of Shakespeare's work, 1623

Archives

King Lear prompt copy detail

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Teaching Shakespeare