See inside one of the most important Shakespeare and theatre collections in the world and immerse yourself in the history of performance.

The RSC Collection was started by Charles Edward Flower in 1879. It contains costumes, props and many other items of theatre history, from 1600 to the present day. The Play's The Thing reopens in April 2023 after three years of closure.

The First Folio in front of stained glass

The First Folio

To mark the 400th anniversary of the publication of the First Folio of Shakespeare's plays in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare's death, The Play's The Thing features the RSC’s copy of the First Folio.

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

We worked with three Stratford-based community organisations to choose items from the RSC Collection to be displayed in the exhibition, which tell the story of performance in Stratford-upon-Avon through the eyes of its residents. They were students from Stratford-upon-Avon, refugees who are new to the UK and knitters and crocheters supporting vulnerable people in marginalised communities.

Their selections of costumes, fine art, props and sculpture show how interpretations of Shakespeare’s plays have changed, and how theatrical and costume design have developed over time. 


GAGA Yarn Bombers

Goodwill and Growth for Africa (GAGA) provides marginalised people in South Africa and Tanzania with educational opportunities and quality healthcare. They selected six items for the exhibition, including a West African robe worn by Sello Maake Ka-ncube as Othello in 2004.The robe is made of a cotton fabric typically handmade in Mali, and known as mudcloth.

The group were particularly drawn to this costume due to the explicit African connection through design of fabric. The colours connected them to the earthy tones of Africa which was reflected in the overall design and setting of the production.


Welcome Here

Laila, Safenez, Entisar, Selma, Huda, Rasha, Rola, Monteha and Samaher were forced to leave their homes in Syria, Kurdistan, Sudan and Palestine, and are now settled in Stratford-upon-Avon. Working with Welcome Here and our collections team, they selected five costumes, including the Elizabethan dress worn by Judi Dench as The Countess in All’s Well that Ends Well in 2003.

The Syrian refugees in the group found a personal connection to the costume, seeing similarities to their own traditional dress in the high neckline, long sleeves and skirt, as well as the muted colours and fabrics.


Stratford-upon-Avon College students

The group of fashion and make-up students worked with our collection team to select five costumes which appear in the exhibition.

They include the dress worn by Helen Mirren as Queen Margaret in Henry VI Part 3 in 1977. It was designed by Abd’Elkader Farrah, an immigrant to the UK from Algeria. He was self-taught and worked extensively with the RSC across his career, heavily influencing theatre design in the UK.


Other items on display in The Play's The Thing include: 

  • Armour worn by Laurence Olivier as Coriolanus in Coriolanus (1959)
  • Costume worn by John Gielgud as Prospero in The Tempest (1957)
  • Cap worn by Deborah Findlay as Olivia in Twelfth Night (1987)
  • Headdress worn by Mark Rylance as Ariel in The Tempest (1981)
  • Chain worn by Kenneth Branagh as Henry V in Henry V (1984)

ثلاثة خيوط ذهبية Three Gold Threads

As part of The Play's The Thing there will be a video presentation of  ثلاثة خيوط ذهبية Three Gold Threads a new artistic commission which captures the comedies, tragedies, and histories of nine women who are part of the refugee community in Stratford-upon-Avon.  

Recordings capture people talking about their life before moving to the UK, the hardship of that, the love for their families and friends, but also their sense of hope and optimism moving to the UK and feeling safe here.

ثلاثة خيوط ذهبية Three Gold Threads brought the group, who are supported by Welcome Here, together with artist and composer Liz Gre, to explore Shakespeare's First Folio and the types of stories it contains. They used these to create a series of questions about their own lives and the elements of comedy, tragedy and history of their own stories.  

Three Gold Threads is part of Meeting Point, a programme led by contemporary arts agency Arts&Heritage (

Funded by Arts Council England through Arts&Heritage’s National Portfolio Organisation funding. Meeting Point presents artworks in unexpected places and has gained a reputation for its innovative approach to forging relationships between artists and museums and heritage spaces.

Meeting Point

Arts & Heritage