The Royal Shakespeare Theatre is the main theatre in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s theatre complex in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Shakespeare productions have been staged in Stratford-upon-Avon since Shakespeare’s day and there has been a resurgence in interest in hosting Shakespeare productions in Stratford since the 18th century. In 1769, David Garrick built Stratford’s first permanent theatre to focus on Shakespeare’s works and there have been at least 16 other Shakespeare-focused theatres in Stratford since then.
The Shakespeare Memorial Theatre originally opened in 1879, although it was rebuilt after being destroyed by fire in 1926. The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) was formally established in 1961 and at this time the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre was rebranded as the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.
There are now three permanent theatres in the theatre complex, which are all operated by the RSC. These include the 1,060-seat Royal Shakespeare Theatre, the 461-seat Swan Theatre and The Other Place, a 200-seat studio theatre.
With three theatres, a permanent staff of around 1,000 and a cast that has included several big names including Sir Ian McKellen and Dame Judi Dench, the RSC is a major theatre company, which is particularly impressive for a small-town theatre.
What to see at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre
There are several ways to visit the Royal Shakespeare Theatre: you can take a lift to the observation deck at the top of the tower, you can watch a play, take a tour of the theatre or visit The Play’s The Thing exhibition.
Although not particularly tall, the tower at the main theatre is high enough to provide panoramic views of Stratford-upon-Avon and the surrounding countryside. You can take a lift to the top and take the stairs back down where you can see a small exhibition installed on the walls and in the alcoves.
Tours of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre complex
There are a number of guided tours of the theatre complex, which are a very popular option, particularly for those who are not able to score tickets for a show.
The Behind the Scenes and the Front of House tours are the two main tours, which both take you through the public and private areas of the theatre.
The Family Fun tour is a shorter tour that geared towards children. This tour is a great accompaniment to The Play’s The Thing exhibition in the theatre’s Swan Wing.
There are also a couple of specialist tours that take place at the smaller Other Place theatre, which are geared more towards people interested in the theatre industry. These include the Audition tour, which focuses on the production cycle of a play with an emphasis on the audition process, and the Page to Stage tour, which focuses on the production process and includes access to the RSC’s costume hire store.
The Play’s The Thing exhibition
The theatre complex also includes the Swan Wing, which includes the historic Swan Theatre and The Play’s The Thing exhibition. You can read more about this exhibition, which is geared towards families with children, here.
Watching a play at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre
The theatre hosts a programme of plays with an emphasis on works by William Shakespeare, although there are also shows by other playwrights. Ticket prices start at £16, although there is also a First Time Fridays deal where you can buy up to two £10 tickets for a show on a Friday as long as you have never attended an RSC production before.
Visiting the Royal Shakespeare Theatre
The theatre is located on the western bank of the River Avon south of Bancroft Gardens, just a short walk from the town centre. Most points of interest in the town centre are no more than a 10-minute walk from the theatre, except for the railway station (a 15-minute walk) and Anne Hathaway’s Cottage (a 25-minute walk).
The cost of visiting the Royal Shakespeare Theatre depends on what you’re coming here for. It costs £3 to go up the tower, tickets for a show range from £16 to almost £100 and tours cost £3–9 depending on the tour. The Front of House tour costs £7. The Audition, Behind the Scenes and Page to Stage tours cost £9 and the Family Fun tour costs £3.
Admission to the tower is £3 and the tower is closed during performances at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Although most people walk down the stairs after taking the lift to the top of the tower, it is possible to take the lift both ways if you have trouble climbing stairs.
If you enjoyed your visit to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, you should also visit Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London as well as the various Shakespeare-related sights in Stratford-upon-Avon. These include Shakespeare’s Birthplace, his New Place, his wife’s cottage, his mum’s farm, his daughter’s house, his church and his school.