Secrets and stories from the world’s most famous theatre company

Welcome to The Play’s The Thing. In this exhibition, you can enter the ever-changing world of the Royal Shakespeare Company. From Titania to Tinkerbell, Rome to Wonderland, our Collection contains a huge number of objects that reveal the 100-year history of the company and our work here in Stratford-upon-Avon. This year the exhibition includes costumes worn by Ian McKellen as King Lear (King Lear 2007) and Alex Kingston as Prospero (The Tempest, 2023) and more for you to see.

Our work is rich with craft, creativity and imagination. We bring audiences joy through the plays on our stages and our work with communities and schools. The stories we tell help us understand ourselves, each other and the world we live in. 

The First Folio in front of stained glass

The First Folio

The Play's The Thing features the RSC’s copy of the First Folio, printed in 1623.

Described as one of the great wonders of the literary world, the First Folio, entitled Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies, is the preferred version of Shakespeare's text for many actors and directors.

Without this first printed edition of Shakespeare's collected plays, the world would have lost half of his dramatic work, as many of the plays had never been printed before. 

Curating with community groups

Three organisations in Stratford-upon-Avon have been working behind the scenes with us to select and respond to objects for this gallery. Groups from Warwickshire Pride, the Fred Winter Centre, and ILEAP (Inclusive Leisure Education Activity Project) – all co-curated the displays. 

As the community groups visited and worked with us, they explored different objects in the collections that related to themes of identity, journeys and power, along with the idea of ‘possibility not disability’.

Warwickshire pride

The primary LGBTQIA+ organisation in Warwickshire runs a number of services and social events for LGBTQIA+ people across the county. Their mission is to ensure that all people feel valued and included in society, regardless of sexuality or gender identity. 

The group chose four items including Ian McKellen's costume as King Lear in King Lear (2007) and Charlie Josephine's costume as Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet (2018).

Ian McKellen played King Lear as a kind father, a violent master and vulnerable old man who descends into madness – infamously shedding his clothing in the process. Warwickshire Pride chose his ornate scarlet military costume for display, and explained, ‘we were keen to highlight an older queer identifying actor in our selections’.

Warwickshire Pride

Warwickshire Pride group chose Mercutio's costume because for them: ‘Charlie Josephine’s story is one of pride, belonging, coming out, and the immense courage and energy that drives that journey.’ Josephine returned to the company in 2023 to write and direct Cowbois.

Ian McKellen as King Lear, sat in a red and gold military jacket
Photo by Manuel Harlan © RSC Browse and license our images
Warwickshire Pride group member

'All the costumes we have selected are proud and powerful.'

The Fred Winter Centre

The Fred Winter Centre is a one-stop community hub supporting local people in Stratford-upon-Avon, with a focus on providing housing plus a range of services which address homelessness and hardship. The Centre is named after a Stratford businessman whose department store once occupied the building. 

One of their choices was Alex Kingston's costume from The Tempest (2023) because it told a hundred stories of the character’s life: battling storms, sleeping rough, finding resilience and strength despite a tough journey. The group enjoyed the detail of the shells as a reminder of ‘treasures collected along the way’, and the contrast of this outfit with more showy or theatrical costumes.

Alex Kingston as Prospero (2023)
Fred Winter Centre group member

‘We are swimming not sinking; all in the same sea but in different boats’.

Fred Winter Centre


The ILEAP Charity is for children, young people and adults with additional needs and operates in South Warwickshire, although anyone is welcome to join. ILEAP delivers a user-led programme of leisure activities within the local community so vulnerable people can access leisure provision in a safe and supported way.  

Young people in the group chose four costumes including Tinkerbell from Wendy and Peter Pan (2015). They described Tink as fun, playful and relatable. Several theatre-loving people in the group had seen her in the production. The costume colours – gold, purple and pink – were among the group’s favourite, and one person even has similar boots to Tink’s tall lace-up pair.  

While the story of Peter Pan has been performed at the RSC before, this is the first Tinkerbell costume to join the collection. 

Group of people standing together
ILEAP group member

‘We were really excited to see the costumes. It was a new experience and we enjoyed it.’

Tink, a fairy in a big pink dress, pointing towards the camera
Photo by Manuel Harlan © RSC Browse and license our images

Other items on display in The Play's The Thing chosen by these community groups include: 

  • Costume worn by Juliet Stevenson as Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1981

  • Costume worn by Ryan Gage as Player Queen in Hamlet, 2008 

  • Costume worn by Ben Kingsley as Othello in Othello, 1985 

  • Headdress worn by Liza Sadovy as the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, 2001

Beyond the Borders 

Beyond the Borders is a spoken word film inspired by the play The Empress, by Tanika Gupta. Our production in 2023 was staged as a result of a campaign by our Youth Advisory Board, who hoped to diversify texts studied by school groups at GCSE. 

In Beyond the Borders, members of Positive Youth Foundation, working with the Artist John Bernard, respond to our production of The Empress. The film addresses themes of home, identity, displacement, loneliness and uncertainty through the voices and opinions of Aicha, Atara, Angel, Elisha, Esther, Fortune, Georgia, Jada, Jaycey, Masumaa, Pele, Saffi, Selasi, Suzy and Terrol.  

Positive Youth Foundation is a charity in Coventry that aims to raise the aspirations and life chances of young people who are facing challenging circumstances through their work.