Erica Whyman announces final programme with the Royal Shakespeare Company

This season includes two magical new productions in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, whilst the Swan Theatre sees the return of an Elizabethan classic and the stage premiere of a new play, plus a new Shakespeare touring production adapted for ages 8-13 years.

Ben and Imo

  • Justin Audibert directs The Box of Delights in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre; based on the much-loved children’s novel by John Masefield, adapted by award-winning children’s author Piers Torday
  • Olivier award-winning playwright Isobel McArthur (Pride and Prejudice*) (*sort of)) makes her RSC debut with a rollicking new adaptation of Thomas Heywood’sThe Fair Maid of the West in the Swan Theatre
  • Eleanor Rhode returns to direct William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.
  • World stage premiere production of Mark Ravenhill’s Ben and Imo directed by Erica Whyman to open in the Swan Theatre in Spring 2024; a witty and revealing play examining the creative relationship between Benjamin Britten and Imogen Holst
  • The Merchant of Venice 1936 returns to the Swan Theatre for a limited run following its autumn sell out season; Watford Palace Theatre’s ground-breaking production of Shakespeare’s classic relocated to London’s East End. Directed by Brigid Larmour and featuring Tracy-Ann Oberman as Shylock
  • First Encounters with Shakespeare 90-minute re-imagining of Romeo and Juliet, directed by Philip J Morris for 8–13-year-olds and their families, touring to schools and communities across the UK

Today (Thursday 1 June), Erica Whyman announced details of her final season of work as Acting Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) ahead of her stepping down this month.

Erica Whyman, Acting Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, said:

 “I am properly proud to be announcing this, my last season as Acting Artistic Director. To lead this organisation out of the pandemic has been a privilege and I am enormously proud of the strong foundations I leave for its next chapter.

All these productions will celebrate the power of imagination, from Shakespeare’s delicious fantasy of fairies and lovers to Imogen Holst and Benjamin Britten wrestling with the rigours of a Royal Commission, to the faith a child has that Christmas is worth fighting for. Not to mention the glorious Bess, our Fair Maid, whose adventures in a man’s world will be exuberantly re-imagined, and a new Romeo and Juliet which will insist we properly imagine what it is to be young in a dangerous world.

 This season and the artists who lead it -Isobel, Mark, Eleanor, Justin, Piers, Philip, Tracy-Ann and Brigid – embody the qualities I hope have defined my tenure; courage, honesty and ingenuity. I am grateful to them and all the artists and staff who have walked these last wild and rewarding years with me.”

 “Joy gentle friends! Joy, and fresh days of love accompany your hearts”

William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.


Opening in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre this winter, Justin Audibert (The Taming of the Shrew, 2019, Snow in Midsummer, 2017, The Jew of Malta, 2015) returns to the RSC to direct The Box of Delights from Tuesday 31 October 2023 – Sunday 7 January 2024.

Originally produced for Wilton’s Music Hall in 2017, Piers Torday’s magical reimagining of John Masefield’s much-loved festive children’s classic tells the story of orphaned schoolboy Kay Harker who finds himself the guardian of a small wooden box with powers beyond his wildest dreams. Caught up in a battle between two powerful magicians, Kay fights to save not just the people he loves but also the future of Christmas itself…

The production will see Justin re-unite with RSC Associate and Olivier award-winning Designer Tom Piper, who most recently designed the sets for the RSC’s productions of Hamnet in the Swan Theatre and The Tempest in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Spring 2023.

The Headline Sponsor of The Box of Delights is Pragnell, a longstanding supporter of the RSC.

 Justin Audibert is the current Artistic Director of the Unicorn Theatre and the Artistic Director Designate at Chichester Festival Theatre.

Directing for The Unicorn includes: The Three Billy Goats Gruff, Pinocchio by Eve Leigh, Anansi the Spider (also at Open Air Theatre Regents Park); The Canterville Ghost by Anthony Weigh after Oscar Wilde; Beowulf by Chris Thorpe and My Mother Medea by Holger Schober.

In 2012 he was the recipient of the Leverhulme award for Emerging Directors from the National Theatre studio and was one of the Guardian’s 12 theatre stars for 2020.

In the Swan Theatre, Olivier award-winning playwright Isobel McArthur makes her RSC debut directing and adapting Thomas Heywood’s Elizabethan comedy-romp The Fair Maid of the West, which runs from Saturday 2 December 2023 – Sunday 14 January 2024.

The production was last performed in the Swan Theatre in 1986 as part of the official opening programme, directed by Trevor Nunn. It played alongside Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with Pete Postlethwaite as Roughman, Sean Bean as Spencer and Imelda Staunton as Bess Bridges.

Isobel McArthur is an Olivier award winning actor, director and playwright. Isobel’s five-star West End adaptation of the classic novel Pride & Prejudice* (*sort of) in which she also starred was awarded Best Entertainment or Comedy Play in the 2022 Oliviers and is now touring the UK, as well as being performed internationally in several languages.

2023 also sees the debut of her original lyrical satire The Grand Old Opera House Hotel for the Traverse Theatre with Dundee Rep, as well as a new adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped for The National Theatre of Scotland.

The production is designed by Ana Inés Jabares-Pita (As You Like It, 2023) with further creative team to be announced.


Looking ahead to Spring 2024, Eleanor Rhode returns to the RSC with a new production of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Eleanor made her directorial debut for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2019 with a striking and popular re-telling of King John, which has since been filmed for cinematic release.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream will run in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre from Tuesday 30 January to Saturday 30 March 2024 with further creative team to be confirmed.

Making its stage premiere in the Swan Theatre from Wednesday 21 February – Saturday 6 April 2024, Mark Ravenhill’s new play, Ben and Imo tells the story of the creative relationship between composer Benjamin Britten and Imogen Holst, daughter of Gustav and an accomplished musician in her own right.

Set in 1953 in the lead up to Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, Britten has just nine months to write a new opera about her predecessor Elizabeth I.

Into the world of the disheartened composer enters the exuberant and passionate Imogen Holst. Her candid and can-do attitude proves to be the perfect foil for the weary Britten, and what begins as an arrangement of practical support turns into a bond that not only sees Gloriana to its premiere but endures throughout the rest of their lives.

Following the success of last year’s sell out production of Twelfth Night, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s First Encounters series returns with a new reimagining of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, adapted for ages 8 to 13.

The production will tour to schools and theatres around the country during the Spring of 2024 and will visit the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon from Thursday 21 – Saturday 30 March 2024. Further details and tour dates to be confirmed.

The production will be directed by Philip J Morris. Philip is the Artistic Director of Trybe House Theatre, a company who work primarily with young black men, which aims to share their diverse range of stories within the wider community. Philip was formerly a Trainee Director at the Royal Court Theatre and was Senior Youth Theatre Director at the Birmingham REP.

Meanwhile, in the Swan Theatre, Tracy-Ann Oberman and Brigid Larmour’s gripping adaptation of The Merchant of Venice 1936 returns from Wednesday 24 January – Saturday 10 February 2024 following a sold-out season in Autumn 2023.

Fascism is sweeping across Europe, and Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists threatens a paramilitary march through the Jewish East End. Shylock (Tracy-Ann Oberman), a widowed survivor of anti-Semitic pogroms in Russia, hopes to give her daughter Jessica a better life. She runs a pawnbroking business from her house in Cable Street where Mosley will march. Charismatic heroine Portia and the Merchant himself, Antonio, are aristocratic Mosleyites, their playground is piano bars at the Ritz, bias cut silk gowns, white tie and tails.

As these worlds collide, a struggle for morals, power and prejudice ensues with devastating consequences, in this rare and vivid insight into a dark chapter in our history, all too relevant to Britain today.

Trafalgar Theatre Productions and Eilene Davidson Productions, in association with the Royal Shakespeare Company, presents the Watford Palace Theatre & Home Manchester production of The Merchant of Venice 1936. The production is directed and adapted by Brigid Larmour from an idea by Tracy Ann-Oberman and co-created by them both. Costume and Set Design is by Liz Cooke with Lighting Design by Rory Beaton and Sound Design by Sarah Weltman. The Composer is Erran Baron Cohen. Movement is by Richard Katz and Video Design is by Greta Zabulyte.

To find out more about the Royal Shakespeare Company’s programme, visit here…

Written by Theatrefullstop