RSC announces 2019 Winter Season

Artistic Director, Gregory Doran, today announced the Royal Shakespeare Company’s (RSC) Winter 2019 season which includes the world stage premiere of a new musical adaptation of The Boy in the Dress, based on the best-selling novel by David Walliams with songs by Robbie Williams and Guy Chambers. The new musical, directed by Gregory Doran, plays for eighteen weeks in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre from November 2019 to March 2020.

David Walliams said: “I’m delighted to be working with the Royal Shakespeare Company to bring this, my first children’s novel, to the stage. It’s now 10 years since The Boy in the Dresswas first published and we’ve come a long way in that time. Ultimately, I wanted to write a story that encouraged people to recognise that difference can be celebrated, that it’s ok to be yourself. I’ve always loved musicals and, somehow, I’d always imagined this book to be made into a musical so to be working with the RSC, Mark Ravenhill and song-writing partners Robbie Williams and Guy Chambers on this new production feels like a dream collaboration.”

Mark Ravenhill said: “I first came across The Boy in the Dress when I was Playwright in Residence at the Royal Shakespeare Company back in 2012. I remember thinking that it was such a gripping, entertaining and life-affirming story with all the ingredients of a great stage show. The Royal Shakespeare Company has a fantastic track record of producing family shows so when David suggested making his novel into a musical, I thought, let’s go for it! Creating and commissioning new work is very much at the heart of the RSC’s mission, and a musical collaboration of this kind is the perfect celebration of all of that energy, talent and generosity coming together to create, what will hopefully be a really fantastic theatre experience for audiences of all ages.”

 Robbie Williams and Guy Chambers added; “We’re beyond excited to be working with the RSC on our first musical theatre collaboration. We are both big fans of David’s books, so when he approached us about writing the soundtrack to a new musical version of The Boy in the Dressfor the RSC, we were genuinely delighted. There’s a real freshness, cheekiness and heart to David’s writing which we’ve worked really hard to capture in the music. It’s been a really exciting and rewarding journey and we can’t wait to share the show with audiences when it premieres in Stratford-upon-Avon this winter”.

In the Swan Theatre

Deputy Artistic Director, Erica Whyman, will curate a new season of work in the Swan Theatre including King John, directed by Eleanor Rhode; A Museum in Baghdad by Hannah Khalil, directed by Erica Whyman in a co-commission with Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre; andThe Whip by Juliet Gilkes Romero which will be directed by Kimberley Sykes.

Gregory Doran said “Continuing our commitment to producing theatre that is relevant to everyone, this season brings together perhaps Shakespeare’s most contemporary of history plays and three new works, each of which – in their own way – channel Shakespeare’s spirit through beautifully crafted storytelling, richness of character and looking in the eye the biggest questions of our time.

 “Building on a successful tradition of new work created by the RSC for Christmas, we open our season with our new musical production of The Boy in the Dress, adapted by Mark Ravenhill, which I will direct. Based on the much-loved children’s novel, this funny and life-affirming storyhas been over six years in the making and features the coming-together of some of the UK’s best-loved creative talent: comic writer and performer, David Walliams, and chart-topping songwriters Robbie Williams and Guy Chambers. It’s a beautifully crafted story about football and fashion, and a passionate celebration of individuality.

 “We are now two thirds of the way through our project to stage every Shakespeare play in the First Folio. For our 25th Shakespeare production in the canon, we welcome emerging talent Eleanor Rhode in her RSC debut directing King John in the Swan Theatre. When I directed this fascinating play in 2001, it was only the fourth time the play had been produced by the RSC in its entire history. Since then, it has been explored much more frequently which surely attests to a growing interest in how the play speaks to our world today.

 “The cross-fertilisation of the classics and new writing has always been part of the RSC and Deputy Artistic Director Erica Whyman will curate a new season of plays to accompany King John in the Swan Theatre. Together, these plays shine a spotlight on two fascinating – if overlooked – moments in British imperial history: the founding of the nation-state of Iraq and the government bail-out of British slave-owners to secure the Abolition of Slavery Act in 1833. As with all great history plays, Hannah Khalil’s A Museum in Baghdad directed by Erica Whyman and Juliet Gilkes Romero’s The Whip directed by Kimberley Sykes demonstrate a deep respect for telling untold stories, exploring issues of power, responsibility and identity through the lens of a group of remarkable human beings, navigating their own place within a changing world.”

 Deputy Artistic Director Erica Whyman added;

“As we approach 2019, there’s no way of escaping the fact that we, as a nation, are looking long and hard at our position within the wider world, which is why it feels like an appropriate moment to reflect, not only upon the state of our own nation, but also upon what nationhood means to us today. Like Shakespeare’s King JohnA Museum in Baghdad and The Whip are plays which aren’t afraid to confront big issues and ideas. What does it mean to be a post-imperial nation? Black-British? Middle Eastern British? Fundamentally, this is a season about what it means to be ‘British’ and what responsibility must we take for our past as we embark on an uncertain future.

 “It’s particularly thrilling to have two ambitious, historical works by women performed alongside the epic yet intimate King John in the Swan Theatre. In doing so we are helping to ensure that new writing remains central to what we do and that we continue to channel the inquiring spirit of Shakespeare’s own age through the interrogation of our own history and place in the wider world, in all of its complexity and contradiction”.

 First Encounters with Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice

 Building on the success of the 2018 production of The Comedy of Errors, the RSC First Encounters with Shakespeare series continues with a new production of The Merchant of Venice directed and edited by Robin Belfield. The production will open at local schools followed by a week of performances in the Swan Theatre. The production will then embark upon a seven-week tour of schools and regional theatres across England. Adobe will co-present the 2019 tour which, for the first time, will include a digital learning experience through Adobe Spark and Creative Cloud.

For over a decade the RSC has been taking First Encounters productions – edited versions of the plays performed using Shakespeare’s original language – on the road into the heart of communities and they have been enjoyed by over 100,000 people to date.

In collaboration with our Regional Theatre Partners and Associate Schools, this production also sees 24 young actors from the RSC’s Next Generation Company take on the parts of Jessica and Lorenzo, the two young people caught up in a clash between family, money and culture. Next Generation ACT is made up of young people under the age of 18 who show a talent for performance but otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to develop it. Next Generation ACT is a national company with young people drawn from each of the English regions meaning that wherever the production plays, the roles of Jessica and Lorenzo will be taken by young people from that area.

 Live at The RSC: Stand up Comedy

The RSC, in association with Underbelly, brings together some of the biggest names in UK stand-up comedy this Autumn as part of a fortnight of live performance on the Royal Shakespeare Theatre stage.

Underbelly last visited the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) in 2015 with Comedy Hullabaloo, a five-day festival which saw over 5,000 visitors watch 25 of the UK’s best comedians in iconic and intimate settings across Stratford-upon-Avon.

The programme, which runs from Thurs 12 to Sat 21 September, forms part of Live at the RSC, which offers audiences the best in new music and comedy.

Past events have seen Al Murray, David Baddiel, Jenny Eclair and Russell Kane all taking to the RSC stages.

Further details of acts will be announced in February 2019.



The Boy in the Dress

From the Novel by David Walliams

Book by Mark Ravenhill

Music & Lyrics by Robbie Williams & Guy Chambers

Director Gregory Doran

Designer Robert Jones

Choreographer Aletta Collins

Lighting Mark Henderson

Sound Paul Groothuis

Fri 8 November 2019 – Sun 8 March 2020*

Press night: Wed 27 November 2019, 7pm**


‘I think I might be different. I might not be the same’.

Dennis is twelve years old and his school football team’s star striker.  But when Mum leaves home, life is tough. The only reminder Dennis has of Mum is a photo of her in a beautiful yellow dress.  A dress rather like the one on the cover of Vogue on sale at Raj’s newsagents.  And also a bit like the one that Lisa James, the coolest girl in the school, is sketching in her note book. What do you do if you like both football and dresses?  And what will Mr Hawtrey the headteacher do when he discovers that his strict uniform code has been broken by a boy in a dress?

David Walliams’ heart-warming comedy is brought to the stage for the first time in a musical with all new songs from Robbie Williams and Guy Chambers, book by former RSC playwright in residence Mark Ravenhill and in a production for all the family directed by RSC Artistic Director Gregory Doran, who will also direct Measure for Measure in Summer 2019.

The Boy in the Dress is supported by RSC Production Circle members Elizabeth Boissevain and Andrew Jeffreys, Charles Holloway and Kathleen J. Yoh.

The Boy in the Dress by David Walliams with illustrations by Quentin Blake is published by HarperCollins Children’s Books.

A relaxed performance of The Boy in the Dress will take place on Thurs 13 February when the ambience of the auditorium and theatre ‘rules’ are relaxed. These performances are ideal for people with learning disabilities or autism, or anyone who would benefit from a more relaxed environment. A semi-Integrated BSL Interpreted performance of The Boy in the Dress will take place on Fri 24 January

**Reviews for The Boy in the Dress embargoed until 11.30pm on Thurs 28 November 2019

Live at The RSC: Stand Up Comedy

Royal Shakespeare Company in association with Underbelly

Thurs 12 – Sat 21 September

The RSC, in association with Underbelly, bring together some of the biggest names in UK stand-up comedy in a festival of live performance on the Royal Shakespeare Theatre stage.

Underbelly is a UK based, live entertainment company. Their events and festivals division operates one of the largest operations at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe selling over 291,000 tickets for over 150 shows over 25 days in 2017. This year marks the tenth year of Underbelly on the Southbank with Udderbelly and London Wonderground festivals – already two of the biggest multi-arts offerings in London – joining forces for Underbelly Festival Southbank.

Full programme details to be announced in Spring 2019.


King John by William Shakespeare

Director Eleanor Rhode

Designer Max Johns

Thurs 19 September 2019 – Sat 21 March 2020

Press night: Thurs 26 Sept 2019, 7pm


‘Mad world! mad kings! mad composition!’

Richard the Lionheart is dead. His brother John is King of England. Threatened from all sides by Europe, the English noblemen and even his own family, King John will stop at nothing to keep hold of his crown.

Shakespeare’s rarely performed tale of a nation in turmoil vibrates with modern resonance in this vivid new production by director Eleanor Rhode in her debut at the RSC.

King John will be filmed for later broadcast to cinemas as part of our Live From Stratford-upon-Avon series.

A Museum in Baghdad by Hannah Khalil

Director Erica Whyman

Designer Tom Piper

Lighting Charles Balfour

Music Oguz Kaplangi

Fri 11 October 2019 – Sat 25 January 2020

Press night: Tues 22 October, 7pm


A story of treasured history, desperate choices and the remarkable Gertrude Bell.

In 1926, the nation of Iraq is in its infancy, and British archaeologist Gertrude Bell is founding a museum in Baghdad. In 2006, Ghalia Hussein is attempting to reopen the museum despite the looting during the war.

Collapsing the decades that separate them, these two women seek the same prize: to create a fresh sense of unity and nationhood, to make the world anew through the museum and its treasures. But in such unstable times, questions remain. Who is the museum for? What rights do we have to try and shape someone else’s history? And why does that matter when people are dying? Deputy Artistic Director Erica Whyman (Romeo and Juliet and Miss Littlewood, 2018) directs this imaginative new play.

A Museum in Bagdad was co-commissioned by the RSC and the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh.

 The Whip by Juliet Gilkes Romero

 Director Kimberley Sykes

Sat 1 February – Sat 21 March 2020

Press night: Tues 11 February 2020, 7pm


As the 19th Century dawns in London, politicians of all parties come together to abolish the slave trade once and for all. But the price of freedom turns out to be a multi-billion pound bailout for slave owners rather than those enslaved.

As morality and cunning compete amongst men thirsty for power, two women navigate their way to the true seat of political influence, challenging members of parliament who dare deny them their say.

In this provocative new play, directed by Kimberley Sykes (Dido, Queen of Carthage, 2017; As You Like It, 2019) the personal collides with the political to ask what is the right thing to do and how much must it cost?
The work of Juliet Gilkes Romero was supported through our collaboration with the University of Birmingham

 First Encounters with Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice

 Directed and Edited by Robin Belfield

Mon 30 September – Sat 5 October 2019

Press performance: Thurs 26 September. Time tbc*

The RSC’s First Encounters with Shakespeare production of The Merchant of Venicecontinues the company’s commitment to creating live theatre for young people right in the heart of local communities.

The production, directed and edited by Robin Belfield, will visit the Swan Theatre from Monday 30 September to Saturday 5 October, before touring to schools, regional theatres and local communities with full details to be announced shortly.

*The Merchant of Venice will have its press performance during the afternoon of Thursday 26 September in a Midlands school, giving critics the chance to see it before the evening press performance of King John in the Swan Theatre.