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.

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




Romeo and Juliet (The Courtyard Theatre, w/c 17th May 2010)

In the final episode of  the television series ‘Life on Mars/Ashes to Ashes’, we learnt that everyone was dead after all.  Sam Tyler and Alex Drake had been catapulted back in time into a kind of purgatory which resembled an old-fashioned cop drama.  Gene Hunt had been shot dead as a young policeman on the beat on coronation day.  He couldn’t accept his death, so he set up a fictional world for other dead police officers who had issues that needed to be resolved before they entered The Railway Arms, which was a kind of gateway to heaven.  I felt that there was something of this Ashes to Ashes style lingering in the world of the dead in the current Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) production of Romeo and Juliet.  Romeo is a tourist that finds himself caught up in his own story, and it is a story that plays out over and over again, always ending with Romeo’s suicide.   

When I was in Stratford not so long ago, I was lucky to see two versions of this production.  One with the understudy, Dyfan Dwyfor, playing Romeo and then again with Sam Troughton playing Romeo.  In the first version, I saw a cautious Romeo, who was a little self conscious of himself as he found himself caught up in the violent renaissance world.  In the second version, I saw a very different Romeo that easily slotted into this world.

As the auditorium is opened up to the audience to enter, in the foyer we can hear monks chanting.  When the play is about to start, the audience are sat in a gloomy auditorium.  The set is black  with a rose window reflected onto the stage.  It feels like we are in a cathedral and the inner stage is a chapel lit by candles.  These black and amber contrasts work throughout the production and are stunning.  They are achieved through flowers, masks, and flames that flicker on the back of the stage at particular moments in the production.  The play begins with the entrance of a Museum Guide (Noma Dumezweni), who whilst looking rather stern-faced asks us to switch off our mobile phones. This framing device presents the theatre as a museum space and suggests that what we will see might be an exhibit in a museum. As the guide leaves the stage, Romeo enters with his camera and audio guide.  As he works through the difference language options,  he finally selects the English language facility and the prologue is played over the speakers.  As this is happening, the Capulets and Montagues emerge from the back of the stage  in slow motion and doused in smoke.  This filmic device is very effective and suddenly the play explodes onto the stage.  


The two central characters are really well played.  Juliet (Mariah Gale) is rebellious, and  when we meet her she is a bit of a moody teenager,  swinging her glow stick with vigour as if this action is an act of defiance against her elders.  In the first half of the play, I felt that Romeo plays at being in love.  Troughton brings out this aspect so well, particularly in the balcony scene where is crouches in the centre vomitorium saying his lines as if acting as if he was still outside this play.  On the night that I went, Troughton moved from the vomitorium to sit on the vacant seat next to me to speak his lines, and for me that emphasised the feeling that he was also an observer of the play, as well as a character in it.   

Jonjo O’Neill’s Mercutio is a showman and the acting is totally over the top, which makes it a fantastic performance and for me one of the delights of the production.  The dyed blonde hair is a nice touch.  The audience really loved this performance and gasped when they realised that Mercutio was hurt and was about to die.    Mercutio sometimes straddles the contemporary space that Romeo has come from enters Romeo’s dream/death world riding  Romeo’s bicycle onto the stage.

It feels like death really does walk into this play. The ghost of Tybalt  walks up to Juliet’s tomb.  Lady Capulet (Christine Entwisle)  is distraught by Tybalt’s death, but can pull herself together for the wedding.   At the end Juliet screams when she is stabs herself. 

There are very strong performances from Noma  Dumezweni as the nurse and Forbes Masson as the priest as the adults who should protect the young people but let them down badly. Richard Katz is excellent as Juliet’s violent father.  His performance is a lovely contrast to his great comic portrayal of Touchstone in As You Like It.

I felt that the  current RSC production is exciting, energetic, and gripping.  I think that this is probably the best production coming out of the current RSC ensemble, and that was a surprise for me, because I normally find the play a little tedious and though companies work hard at bringing out the tragedy it doesn’t always work for me.  I felt that this was the ensemble working well together and is a real success.

Further Information


Reviews and Previews
RSC Romeo and Juliet in The Guardian
RSC Romeo and Juliet in The Telegraph
The Evening Standard on the RSC Romeo and Juliet
The Stage on the RSC Romeo and Juliet
RSC Romeo and Juliet in The Independent
WOS RSC Romeo and Juliet