Nations at War

1 February 2012

World Shakespeare Festival Update
Nations at War
22 March – 15 September 2012
Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

The Royal Shakespeare Company casts King John, Richard III and A Soldier in Every Son – The Rise of the Aztecs, part of the World Shakespeare Festival

Rehearsals are now underway for the Royal Shakespeare Company's new productions of King John, Richard III and A Soldier in Every Son – The Rise of the Aztecs - a season of three plays under the umbrella title - Nations at War which explore the struggle for absolute power and the right to lead a nation.

The plays will run in repertoire in the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon from 22 March to 15 September 2012, as part of the World Shakespeare Festival (whilst What Country Friends is This; A Shipwreck Trilogy is being performed in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.) Nations at War is led by RSC Associate Director Roxana Silbert.

Previews for Richard III begin on 22 March and for King John on 6 April. 

Underlining Shakespeare's ability to speak to the world at large, A Soldier in Every Son – The Rise of the Aztecs, by Mexican writer Luis Mario Moncada is directly inspired by Shakespeare's History plays and charts the story and foundation of The Aztec Nation. It joins the Nations at War repertoire on 29 June and is a co-production with Compaňía Nacional de Teatro de México.

Roxana Silbert says of Nations at War: 'It's a season which explores ambition, power, leadership and family loyalties and betrayals - themes which unite all three plays. They all have a dynamic political and personal landscape with a really strong emotional centre. At the heart of Richard III is his relationship with his family. A Soldier in Every Son is about the beginning of the Mexican Empire, and about family and intermarriage.'

Roxana's first production for the RSC as an Associate was David Greig's Dunsinane at the Hampstead Theatre in London. In 2011 she directed Rona Munro's Little Eagles at the Hampstead Theatre, and most recently Measure for Measure in The Swan Theatre. Roxana was Artistic Director of Paines Plough Theatre Company (2005-2009); Literary Director at the Traverse Theatre (2001-2004) and Associate Director, Royal Court (1998-2000). Last year she was appointed Artistic Director of Birmingham Rep.

Royal Shakespeare Company
Richard III
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Roxana Silbert
Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
22 March – 15 September 2012
Press Night: 17 April at 7pm

• Jonjo O'Neill to play Richard III

Roxana Silbert directs power hungry Richard, Duke of Gloucester, as he plots, manipulates and murders his way to the throne in Shakespeare's brilliant expose of this infamous monarch.

Jonjo O'Neill takes the title role in Richard III. Roxana said of casting Jonjo in this role:
'I was looking for a young Richard. Jonjo is exactly the same age as the historical Richard when he died. Jonjo has showmanship: Richard's character has a great sense of playfulness, but there is also a profound, damaged darkness in him. I believe Jonjo is a brilliant actor who can combine that sense of child-like playfulness with a very dark core, someone able to play status but who also feels comfortable engaging openly with the audience. I think Jonjo brings all of those qualities to the part.'

Jonjo was a member of the RSC's 44 strong long ensemble from 2009-11 which performed in Stratford-upon-Avon, London, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and New York. His roles included Orlando in As You Like It, Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, Launcelot in Mike Poulton's new adaption of Morte d'Arthur, Dromio of Syracuse in the Young People's Shakespeare production of The Comedy of Errors and Ilya in The Drunks by Michael and Vyacheslav Durnenko.

Roxana added: 'The women are central to Richard III and we have an incredibly strong female cast.'

Pippa Nixon returns to the company to play Lady Anne, with Paola Dionisotti and Siobhan Redmond returning to play Margaret and Elizabeth.

Pippa Nixon played Hippolyta and Titania in Nancy Meckler's recent A Midsummer Night's Dream in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and Dorotea in Greg Doran's Cardenio (2011). In 2007 she played Trish in Roy Williams' RSC production of Days of Significance directed by Maria Aberg. Her TV work includes Law and Order UK and Dream Team and she appeared in the Disney/Pixar film, John Carter of Mars.

Paola Dionisotti last performed with the company in 2005 as The Prioress in Mike Poulton's adaptation of The Canterbury Tales. Her previous RSC roles have included Katherina in Michael Bogdanov's The Taming of the Shrew, Isabella in Measure for Measure (1978-9) and Camino Royal (1998). She recently played Edith in New Sisters for the New Vic Festival and Apologia at the Bush Theatre.

Siobhan Redmond's RSC credits include Gruach in David Greig's new play, Dunsinane, directed by Roxana Silbert and revived as a co-production with The National Theatre of Scotland (2011), The Comedy of Errors (2007) and Beatrice in Much Ado about Nothing and The Spanish Tragedy (both directed by Michael Boyd (1996-8). Her TV work includes The Smoking Room, Sea of Souls, Between the Lines and The High Life.

Brian Ferguson (Buckingham) played alongside Sioibhan in Dunsinane as Malcolm. Other theatre work includes: Robert in Rupert Goold's Earthquakes in London for the National Theatre and Cammy in Black Watch for the National Theatre of Scotland. His TV appearances include: Doctors and Taggart.

Completing the cast are: Neil Barry (Murderer), Iain Batchelor (Richmond), Simon Coombs (Blount), Sandra Duncan (Duchess of York), David Fielder (Derby), Mark Holgate (Brackenbury), Mark Jax (Edward IV and Ely), Joshua Jenkins (Murderer), Edmund Kingsley (Clarence), Jim Kitson (Rivers, Citizen and Scrivenor), Natalie Klamar, Oscar Pearce (Tyrrel), John Stahl (Hastings) Susie Trayling and Alex Waldmann (Catesby).

Joining Roxana on the creative team are: Ti Green (Designer), Rick Fisher (Lighting), Nick Powell (Music and Sound) and Ayse Tashkiran (Movement).

Royal Shakespeare Company
King John
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Maria Aberg
Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
6 April – 15 September 2012
Press Night: Thursday 19 April at 7pm

Gender change for two central characters – Bastard and Pandulph  to be played by women

Alex Waldmann makes RSC debut to play King John

Swedish born Maria Aberg directs her first Shakespeare play with this fresh and contemporary version of one of his rarely performed History plays, King John. Maria's previous work for the RSC includes directing Roy Williams' The Days of Significance.

Maria has made some substantial edits to this version of the play, and has changed the gender of two of the characters: the Bastard and Pandulph are played by women. Pippa Nixon plays The Bastard and Paola Dionisotti plays Pandulph.

Maria said of this decision: 'It was an idea I first discussed with RSC Dramaturg Jeanie O'Hare. We did a draft and found that it changed the dynamic between a lot of the characters in an interesting way.'

'And there is something quite glorious about seeing a woman play the sort of heroic warrior that you don't otherwise see played by women in Shakespeare. It was partly because it served the story well and partly it was my own personal curiosity to see a woman play that kind of part.'

Making his RSC debut in the title role is Alex Waldmann. Maria said:

'Alex is new to the RSC and I think he's absolutely phenomenal. It's very exciting to watch someone approach the part and feel that you've made the right decision in casting someone. I think he's absolutely perfect. Alex is a lot younger than your average King John.'

The set and costume designs are by Naomi Dawson. Maria said of the world they were hoping to create for King John:

'I think it's going to be quite a hedonistic world where political backstabbing, greed and political ideological insecurity is very present. And it will be a world where family will be very important.'

The cast also includes: Neal Barry (Pembroke), Iain Batchelor (Robert Faulconbridge), Simon Coombs (Executioner), Sandra Duncan (Lady Faulconbridge), David Fielder (Salisbury), Mark Holgate (Melun), Mark Jax (Austria), Joshua Jenkins (Essex), Edmund Kingsley (Chatillon), Jim Kitson (Executioner), Natalie Klamar (Blanche), Oscar Pearce (Lewis), Siobhan Redmond (Elinor), John Stahl (Philip of France) and Susie Trayling (Constance).

Joining Maria and Naomi on the creative team are: David Holmes (lighting), Carolyn Downing (sound) and Ayse Tashkiran (movement).

Compaňía Nacional de Teatro de México / Royal Shakespeare Company
A Soldier in Every Son –The Rise of the Aztecs
By Luis Mario Moncada
Translated by Gary Owen
Directed by Roxana Silbert
Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
29 June – 28 July 2012
Press Night: Thursday 5 July at 7pm

Six Mexican actors to join UK cast

Roxana Silbert directs a specially commissioned new play by Mexican writer Luis Mario Moncada with members of the Richard III and King John company and six actors from the Compaňía Nacional de Teatro de México (National Theatre of Mexico).

Roxana Silbert said: 'A Soldier in Every Son – The Rise of the Aztecs was inspired by the Wars of the Roses which amalgamated all the Histories together in three acts. The play covers the three decades, from the Aztecs arriving in the valley of Mexico (what is now Mexico City) as fierce war-like nomadic mercenaries when they get sent to the lake by the other tribes, to establishing the Aztec Empire, which ruled for 100 years until the Spaniards arrived. The making of this first great empire is told through the perspective of three different Kings.'

This RSC commission for the World Shakespeare Festival has been written in Spanish by Luis Mario Moncada. The English translation is by Gary Owen from a literal translation by Simon Scardifield.

On her reasons for choosing to work with a Mexican writer, Roxana added: 'The brief for the World Shakespeare Festival was international responses to Shakespeare. One thing that Shakespeare has done for us as a nation is to give us a sense of our historical and political background, even though some of the stories are historically inaccurate.'

Roxana continues: 'South American countries, because of the nature of their politics, don't have the same sense of their own political and historical background, so I was interested in going to South America and finding someone who was willing to take Shakespeare as inspiration.'

'Because of my interest in new plays, I was interested in working with a playwright, and I had worked with Luis Mario Moncada when I was at the Royal Court. He loves Shakespeare and had already written a play inspired by King John. It was an extraordinary coincidence that we were both looking for responses to Shakespeare. These plays are set in their time – in the 15th century – but they say much about contemporary Mexico. Moncada has done what Shakespeare did; Richard III was a medieval king, but Shakespeare's writing was relevant to his contemporaries – with Moncada's work, he is writing about Mexico now.'

When they leave Stratford the plays will go into the National Theatre of Mexico repertory season.

Roxana added: 'One of my concerns was that they are stories that we know very little about – we are taught very little about Aztec lives. But the same is true in Mexico. In Mexican schools, history is taught from the point when the Spanish arrived, and pre-history is almost a taboo subject. The play is based on historical truth. There are some invented characters, but basically they are a pretty accurate telling of the stories.'

The Mexican actors joining the UK company are: Diego Jauregui, Mariana Giménez, Hector Holten, Israel Islas, Marco Antonio Garcia and Andres Weiss.

Joining Roxana on the creative team are Set Designer Jorge Ballina and Costume Designer Eloise Kazan (both from Mexico) and lighting designer Chahine Yavroyan (from the UK).

For further information, interviews and photographs, please contact Nada Zakula in the RSC press office on 01789 412622 or nada.zakula@rsc.org.uk.

For regional enquiries and press tickets please contact Dean Asker on 01789 412660 or dean.asker@rsc.org.uk.

Notes to Editors:
• The
World Shakespeare Festival (WSF) is a celebration of Shakespeare as the world's playwright, produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company, in an unprecedented collaboration with leading UK and international arts organizations, and with Globe to Globe, a major international programme produced by Shakespeare's Globe. It runs from 12 April to November and forms part of London 2012 Festival which is the culmination of the Cultural Olympiad, bringing leading artists from all over the world together in a UK-wide festival in the summer of 2012.

The World Shakespeare Festival is supported by BP, as founding Presenting Partner, and by the National Lottery through the Olympic Lottery Distributor and Arts Council England.

Social media links at Facebook and Twitter.

  • Q and A's with Roxana Silbert, Maria Aberg and Jorge Ballina available on request. 
  • Rehearsal photographs will be available from the press office in due course. 
  • Production photographs will be available from www.epo-online.com a few days after the first preview performance of each play. 
  •  Tickets range from £8 to £42. Box Office: www.rsc.org.uk or 0844 800 1111

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