What happened to the RSC's long ensemble?

The RSC long ensemble gala in the Swan 2011. The gala was to raise funds for James Gale and his family.

Updated 6th January 2013. Thanks to updates from RSC long ensemble audience members.

After I saw Debbie Korley and Dharmesh Patel in the RSC’s young people’s King Lear at the Theatre Royal in York recently, I started to wonder what the rest of the RSC’s long ensemble were dong now. I had seen some of long ensemble working in the theatre over the past year, and heard about other things they’d done since the long ensemble project ended after a residency New York in the Summer of 2011. The long ensemble was made up of 44 actors and started in Stratford in the Spring of 2009 with As You Like It (dir by Michael Boyd) and The Winter’s Tale (dir by David Farr). These two plays were joined in the Summer of 2011 by Lucy Bailey’s Julius Caesar. For me the success of the long ensemble came the year after with Rupert Goold’s Romeo and Juliet and David Farr’s King Lear. Both plays played with time and space and for me the plays worked well with the transition from the Courtyard theatre to the new RST (via Newcastle and the Roundhouse). It was the long ensemble that opened the new RST and brought the RSC home – so to speak. The partnership between Jonjo O’Neill and Sam Troughton, as Mercutio and Romeo, brought an energy to the project, but also demonstrated how a partnership built up over a period of time could work so well.

I am sure that it was hoped that the actors and directors would move on to other things, and that some would return to the RSC.

There’s been a few long ensemble reunions in 2012. The first was the Duchess of Malfi reuniting Adam Burton and Tunji Kasim at the Old Vic. Another reunion was down the road from the Old Vic, at the Young Vic, where Sam Troughton, Mariah Gale and Gruffudd Glyn could be seen in Three Sisters. As well as Three Sisters it seems that Sam Troughton has been very busy since he left the long ensemble. He was in A Streetcar Named Desire in Liverpool, and Love, Love, Love at the Royal Court, as well as The Town on television. Mariah Gale is currently in Gruesome Playground Injuries at the Gate Theatre.

Later in the year, at the Old Vic, after being in Children’s Children at the Almeida, Darrell D’Silva was in the very successful Hedda Gabler. Forbes Masson will be playing Banquo alongside James McAvoy’s Macbeth Westminster studios. was in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, plating Mr Tumnus, for Threesixty Theatre in Kensington Gardens. The production was directed by long ensemble director Rupert Goold. He also starred in the Belgrade Theatres Crackers. There were also glimpses of Forbes supporting Melanie Masson’s on ITV’s X Factor.

The RSC women seemed to have done well since the long ensemble project ended and I enjoyed, Noma Dumezweni, Katy Stephens and Mariah Gale’s audio performances as the three witches from Macbeth in the Staging Shakespeare exhibition at the British Museum. Noma Dumezweni was also in Bola Agbaje’s play, Belong, at the Royal Court in the Spring of 2012 and will be in The Feast at the young Vic from February. I managed to see Katy Stephens, who was excellent in Calixto Bieito’s Forests, but missed her playing Laura in The Father at the Belgrade theatre in Coventry. Katy is currently playing the fairy in the Belgrade Theatre’s Sleeping Beauty. Kirsty Woodward was fantastic in Kneehigh’s Steptoe and Son, which I saw at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, and at the start of 2012, I saw her in The Way of the World Sheffield Crucible.

Kathryn Hunter joined the long ensemble in the second year of the project, and made a quick exit in the middle of the Roundhouse season. She went on to revive her as Peter the Red Ape in Kafka’s Monkey, which I thought was a stunning piece of physical theatre and then returned to the RSC in A Tender Thing this autumn.

One thing that has been surprising is how few of the long ensemble returned to Stratford after the long ensemble project finished. Though Jonjo O’Neill returned to the RSC in a very successful Richard III in the summer of 2012, it has taken awhile for a group of actors to return to the RSC to work together. Indeed, it has taken over a year for four members of the long ensemble to work together again in the Swan in Stratford. Adam Burton, Paul Hamilton, Patrick Romer, and James Tucker are now back in Stratford performing in the long ensemble in the Swan and Ansu Kabia is playing Nim in The Merry Wives of Windsor. Greg Hicks will return to the RSC in 2013 to play Claudius in Hamlet. Oliver Ryan is another member of the long ensemble to return to Stratford for the 1013 Summer season, and long ensemble director, David Farr, will be directing Hamlet.

Sadly Peter Shorey and James Gale have passed away.

And what happened to the other long ensemble directors? After directing a very good Taming of the Shrew for the RSC Winter season 2012, Lucy Bailey returns to the RSC for the Winter 2013 to direct The Winter’s Tale. Greg Doran,who directed the long ensemble interlude, Morte D’Arthur, took over the RSC as Artistic Director in September 2012 and I am now awaiting the announcement of his first season. He is currently directing The Orphan of Zhao in the Swan.

And the Artistic director, Michael Boyd what’s he doing now? Well, he left the RSC in September 2012, but his final production as a director at the RSC, Boris Godunov is now in the Swan.

I think some people felt that the long ensemble was too large to work well, and that many of the actors didn’t really get chance to use to really shine. However, the long ensemble did give some actors a chance to play a range of parts. Sam Troughton showed he could play both the lead and bit parts with great skill. Indeed, he produced was exceptional as a Lord in The Winter’s Tale and entertaining as an energetic and angry Romeo in Rupert Goold’s Romeo and Juliet. It’s no surprise to see that Sam Troughton has gone on to play a range of parts since leaving the RSC, and his Mercutio, Jonjo O’Neill, has also shown his range and he is getting great reviews at the National Theatre in The Effect,

Other actors, who showed some promise in the long ensemble do not seem to have done other things. For example, Dyfan Dwyfor played a much more emotional Romeo than Troughton, when I saw him understudy Troughton early in the Straford run. I have not seen that Dwyfor has been in the theatre, since leaving the RSC and even the long ensemble has not changed the transient nature of most actors’ lives. I am hoping that Debbie Korley and Dharmesh Patel will go on to do more than the Young People’s Shakespeare. Both have demonstrated through this vehicle that they can do more than waiting women and bit parts and I look forward to seeing them in other things in the future.

I will have missed many long ensemble appearances, so please let me know of any others that are not here, or about anything you’ve seen with an actor from the long ensemble in it.

Update 10th March 2013

I have recently see Noma Dumezweni in Feast at the Young Vic theatre and Sam Troughton in Bull at Sheffield Crucible. Katy Stephens and David Rubin are also returning to Stratford over the Summer to work in the Swan.


My Long ensemble blogs

The Winter’s Tale and As You Like It

As You Like It, Newcastle 2009

Katy Stephens’ Hair

Julius Caesar

The RSC ensemble debate

King Lear

Romeo and Juliet

RSC, South Bank Show

The RSC Comes Home

Romeo and Juliet again

Antony and Cleopatra part 1

Antony and Cleopatra part 2

RSC Revealed

New Writing at the Hampstead Theatre

Full details about the long ensemble project can be found here.


In 2011, the sublime was a popular topic of discussion. At the National Theatre there was Frankenstein and  in the John Martin exhibition at the Tate, the sublime was on show in a spectacular way. The John Martin exhibition was my favourite exhibition of the year. The epic was presented on grand canvases, but what I loved was getting really close to the paintings to see the detail. Earthly worlds melted into fantastical worlds and where one started and the other finished it was really hard to see.  I missed out on seeing Jonny Lee Miller as the creature, but glad I got to see Benedict Cumberbatch in the role in April.

Though I was delighted by the great John Martin exhibition on a trip to Manchester, I was also impressed by the Ford Maddox Brown exhibition at the Manchester Art Gallery. It was good to see other works alongside Work.

The Royal Shakespeare Company came home to perform in the new Royal Shakespeare Theatre in February.  Some of the productions that I liked  in 2011 were at the end of the long ensemble’s run, but I also looked forward to what the new company arriving.  In Stratford, there seemed to be so many ‘opening’  nights that every time I went to Stratford was some kind of event – the first night, the press night, and the queen opening the new theatre.  I was lucky to get tickets to see Katy Stephen play Cleopatra in a much more stripped down emotional version of the long ensemble’s Antony and Cleopatra  in the Swan theatre.  When the opening nights were over, the last night of the long ensemble seemed to happen so quickly.  The last day  that the long ensemble performed in Stratford was a great occasion because I saw three plays in a day and the last time I would see Rupert Goold’s Romeo and Juliet.  The long ensembles’ last work in Britain was three new plays at Hampstead Theatre.

Kathryn Hunter’s Cleopatra got mixed reviews. It was a performance I had grown to like, and I was so pleased I got to see her in Kafka’s Monkey in July. This was a polished and extraordinary piece of physical theatre.

The new company arrived at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre with a Macbeth and a thought-provoking Merchant of Venice. The critics seemed to prefer A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but out of the three main house Shakespeare productions, I thought this was the least inventive and exciting.  This was a production with Bottom wearing his packed lunch in inventive ways as he sleeps with the fairy queen and which the real world transformed into the woods in such a way, we were meant to feel that elements of the court world were seeping into the dream world.  Michael Boyd’s Macbeth played with time and the souls of the dead haunting the stage.  Rupert Goold’s Merchant of Venice gave Portia a central role in a production set in Las Vegas.   However, the joy for me was the Homecoming at the Swan.  This was a beautifully nuanced piece of work and for me beautifully captured the tone and mood of play.

Beauty was on show in the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition at the National Galley and in Eddie Redmayne’s Richard II at the Donmar Warehouse. Unlike the John Martin exhibition it was so hard to get up clue to anything in the popular National Gallery show. It was so nice to be directed through the gallery past the other Renaissance pairings to the exhibition around the Last Supper.  I really enjoyed Redmayne’s performance as Richard falling apart in from to me.

In other Shakespearean productions, Kevin Spacey’s Richard III which was fantastic and brutal and The Tempest at the Haymarket was a little plodding with a nice performance from Nicholas Lyndhust.

I found the Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World (British Museum) fascinating, and  I felt that I should have enjoyed the Grayson Perry at the British Museum more than I did.  I was drawn to the Glamour of the Gods at the National Portrait Gallery, which is always a great place to visit before a matinée.

I saw five different production of Hamlet in 2011, starting the year with the wonderful production at the National Theatre, and finishing with Michael Sheen’s performance in the Young Vic’s production  which was set in a mental hospital.   The other Hamlets were the Northern Broadsides, the RSC Young Person’s wonderful production and the Globe’s touring production.

I saw three different Comedy of Errors.  The year with the magnificent all male Propeller  Company production in Sheffield and finished the year with the National’s lively production. Lenny Henry was spot on with the verse and the set really worked on the large Olivier stage. Though both these productions were superb, I also really liked the RSC Young Person’s version which I saw for the first time when it was last performed  in April.

Not all the cultural events have been memorable. In thinking about the past year, I’d totally forgotten about seeing Twelfth Night at the National Theatre until I heard someone on the radio saying that Charles Edwards was their choice for actor of the year. They reminded me that not only had he been a superb Benedick, but he’d also been a decent Sir Andrew in a dull production at the National Theatre.

Much Ado About Nothing scaffolded the year for me personally . It had been a long time since I’d seen a production, nd then two excellent, but very different productions came along. I loved the Globe’s detailed production and Eve Best’s wonderful performance as Beatrice. I was so surprised when she played the ‘Kill Claudio’ line for laughs. Over the river at the Wyndham’s Theatre was the commercial 1980’s concept production which I saw many times starting with the first night. It was great fun and the performances from David Tennant and  Catherine Tate were great and totally in context in this production. There was some comment that the audience only laughed because they saw David Tennant on stage, but when Alex Beckett took over from David Tennant for two nights the laughs came in the same places and it seemed the audience enjoyed the production and still gave it a standing ovation.

…..and my highlight of 2011 was Adam James’ Don Pedro in the Wyndham’s Much Ado About Nothing. It was a wonderful performance that seemed to catch the character so well.  James made everything look so easy, but actually it was his supporting performance that made it possible for Tate and Tennant to give great comic performances.

RSC Revealed (The Swan, 27th March 2011)

The vision behind the RSC Long Ensemble was for a group of actors to work together for a sustained period of time to produce work. It seemed fitting then, at the end of the Stratford run and two and half years together the long ensemble got together and put on a Gala in the newly opened Swan Theatre. The event was to support the needs of long ensemble member James Gale and it was a bringing tougher of the company in one place.  The event was organised by company members Kelly Hunter and Hannah Young.

This was a special event, but it was particularly relevant in that it shared a moment with a regular RSC audience in a way that is often spoken about in moving to the thrust stage, but only partially happens  in the Shakespearean productions. The production acknowledged an audience that has followed the work over the two and half years and so there were a lot of in jokes and even mentions of regular audience members.

The Gala started in the foyer with actors collecting money and characters taking on their character roles such as Brian Doherty as Autolycus selling souvenirs from the RSC shop and Sophie Russell as the tap dancing nun from The Comedy of Errors. As the audience entered the Swan, Peter Peverley played his guitar and sang some songs including The Jam’s Town Called Malice. Our compare  for the evening was Eunice the usher who opens Romeo and Juliet, but as the evening progressed, Eunice abandoned parts of her costume to reveal Noma Dumezweni the wonderful RSC actress. At times Noma had a little helper (her daughter), who was not phased at all by being on stage.

Katy Stephens ran the auction of promises and handing out punishments to her son if the auction did not raise enough each time. There were some references to Gloucester’s blinding, but it backfired on Katy in the end as she ended up with a foam pie in her face (and we didn’t see that coming). Promises ranged from dinner for two at the Dirty Duck, and a family pass to Warwick Castle to helping the stage management team put on a production of King Lear and a chance to row Juliet (Mariah Gale) down the river.

The evening was a mixture of comedy and song. There was Christine Entwhistle’s very funny and very rude hunting routine and Richard Katz’s failing magician routine.  We saw characters as we’d never seen them before such as the knights from Morte D’Arthur in a very funny rendition of Lily White and Adam Burton’s hilarious Klauzz with Cleopatra’s attendants Iras (Samantha Young) and Charmian (Hannah Young) performing a German electro pop routine. Jonjo O’Neill performed Mr Bo Jangles and Simone Saunders sang Destiny. There were other appearances from ensemble members including Greg Hicks, Geoffrey Freshwater, Sandy Neilson, Patrick Romer, Sophie Russell and many more.

Gruffudd Glyn’s one man band was a lovely overview of life in the ensemble with some jokes that made sense to anyone following the long ensemble. The evening finished with the long ensemble on stage together.

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Further Information




The RSC comes home

23rd February 2011. The RSC are coming home.

There is no fanfare or long speeches, but there is an energetic buzz moving across the audience for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s first night in the new Royal Shakespeare Theatre.  This was what they called a soft opening.

Nearly 7:15 pm Edgar (Charles Aitken) is already on stage. I can just glimpse Katy Stephens waiting to make her entrance …. the machinery creaking and clanging in the background cranks up, the three sisters start their slow entrances onto the stage and King Lear begins all over again.

Though we were seeing a preview and this was obviously an opportunity to make sure the lighting and the sound is right for the new space, the production itself was so well rehearsed that there was a sense that all should go well. This production started its journey in Stratford a year ago and has travelled back via  Newcastle and the Roundhouse in London.  The performances are all polished and sharp now. Samantha Young’s is a steady Cordelia, Katy Stephens and Kelly Hunter make the other two sisters so very different from each other. Greg Hicks plays Lear as a man who mocks old age, teasing and being teased by his daughters as the play begins, and his own playful  entrance through the audience as effective as it always was.  Geoffrey Freshwater is very solid as the trusting naive Gloucester, shocked that his own son, Cornwall and Regan turn on him. There are also some very strong performances from other members of the long ensemble. I always enjoy watching Philip Edgerley as the servant grabbing a quick smoke outside. Gloucester’s home. Darrell d’Silva is an energetic Kent, and James Tucker is great as the haughty and condescending  Oswald who ultimately makes the wrong choice about who to follow.

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King Lear (RSC, The Courtyard Theatre, w/c 1st March 2010)

In the episode ‘George’s Last Ride’ from the seminal television drama Boys from the Blackstuff, Chrissy (Michael Angelis) pushes George (Peter Kerrigan) in his wheelchair through the derelict landscape of the industrial dock area of Liverpool. The predominance of greys in the scene create a sense of despair and pessimism. As Chrissy helps George stand for the last time, George declares, “I can’t believe that there is no hope. I can’t”. In watching David Farr’s King Lear, I was reminded of George, a man driven to the absolute edge of despair, and a society which has crumbled around him.

As the audience enter the dark auditorium at the Courtyard Theatre for the Royal Shakespeare Company production of King Lear, they hear the clanging and banging in the background of machinery at work. The set has an industrial feel as if it had been situated inside an old deserted factory. High up are broken windows with the sun streaking through the dirt engrained on the glass. There’s a bell and a pulley prominently placed. Edgar (Charles Aitkin) sits on the stage staring outwards in stunned horror.

Like his design for last season’s The Winter’s Tale, Jon Bauber’s set for this production is another set which disintegrates around us, but unlike the The Winter’s Tale set, it is fragmented and shattered to start with. Throughout the production, the lights fizz and crackle as if an insect has flown into them. The sound is sometimes like that moment when the strip lighting flickers as it struggles to power on. Edmund (Tunjim Kasim) seems able to control the lights, as did Feste in Greg Doran’s production of Twelfth Night, but this is not for humorous effect, it is rather sinister. In the storm scene, Lear stands centre stage water streams down over (and under) him and as the winds blow the set crashes around him.

David Farr’s production merges different periods in time. Lear and Kent are presented as medieval knights, and in contrast the Gloucester family are in Edwardian dress. I wasn’t clear why this was, but it made me think about possible reasons for this creative decision. Is it to suggest that King Lear deals with a sweep of British history? Are we being asked to comment on the relationship between the two periods depicted through costume? Possibly the set has been designed to make us think about the decline of the industrial revolution and that we are hurtling towards the first world war. I wondered if we were meant to think that the Gloucester family are the intellects and Lear is the warrior. I felt these shifts in time were very in keeping to the RSC current approach in setting productions in no particular time or place such as the current RSC’s As You Like It that moves through time ending up in the contemporary dress. I really like the experiments with time and setting, because it moves beyond those attempts to make comparisons between Shakespeare’s plays and specific historical moments without being clumsy about the idea of the plays being universal.

What I found interesting about this production was that there were set pieces that looked like images captured in paintings, such as the way the court organised themselves for Lear’s entrance at the beginning of the play. There was a series of repeated images as well. One of them is the image of the three sisters on stage. In the first scene, Goneril and Regan kneel and Cordelia is still stood on her soap box as if she has been placed on a pedestal and bathed in light. Towards the end of the play the three sisters find themselves on stage at the same time reminding me of the moment Cordelia responds to Lear with her ‘nothing’.

Hicks’ plays Lear with a sense of humour in parts. In the first scene he wrong foots the court who are all lined up expecting him to enter centre stage, and he enters from the vomitorium cackling with glee. At moments he mimics age, which has some irony as this is what he is to become so soon. It must be be exhausting, playing all Lear’s moods. Hicks is able to play the transition from warrior to fragile old man brilliantly. His Lear is petulant and boisterous. He abuses his power, and it is as if as King he thinks he can do anything he likes. As I was watching Greg Hicks as Lear, I couldn’t help making connections between his portrayal of Leontes in The Winter’s Tale and his King Lear. In this production Kelly Hunter’s Goneril stares with stunned shock at Lear as if she can’t believe how far he will go. It was the kind of reaction that Hermione has when watching Leontes rage in his jealousy. Both plays have worlds which are turned upside down and daughters are banished into wilderness. I like the ways Hicks uses the physical body to reflect his emotional strain. As Hicks transforms into a crumpled old man, I was reminded of the image int he second half of The Winter’s Tale, when the scene returns to Sicilia and Leontes is sat in the dark at the back of the stage.

There are some stunning performances in this production. Katy Stephens and Kelly Hunter as Regan and Goneril were both thoughtful and powerful portrayals of the two sisters. Darrell D’Silva’s Kent was spectacular. He is an energetic Kent fighting for his friend and was a lovely contrast to Gloucester. The performance which has stuck in my mind is Kathryn Hunter’s Fool is a curious piece of work. She plays the role as a vulnerable child, and she plays the role as androgynous. This boy/woman Fool just can’t stop himself from speaking, as if lacking any control over his actions. The Fool pulls Lear’s hand from the fire, but just can’t seem to bring himself to take Lear away as if the obvious isn’t possible for him. I thought Kathryn Hunter’s expressions were wonderful and beguiling. It is an enormously poignant moment when the Fool hesitates and does not follow Lear. I felt that was a significant moment in this production in that Lear was truly alone without any followers at all.

Yes, this production is a little eclectic, but I found a lot in it to think about.

Reviews and Previews

King Lear in the Independent on Sunday
King Lear in The Evening Standard
WOS RSC King Lear
The Times review of King Lear
The Financial Times on RSC King Lear
King Lear in The Telegraph
Daily Mail on RSC King Lear
London Assurance and King Lear in IOS
Oxford Times on RSC King Lear
The Stage on RSC King Lear