Daniel Evans and Tamara Harvey are an inspired duo to lead the RSC

It is all change at the top of British life. We have a new monarch, a new prime minister and, from June 2023, we will have two new artistic directors at the Royal Shakespeare Company, Daniel Evans and Tamara Harvey. It looks like an inspired appointment, and it is not without precedent. Trevor Nunn and Terry Hands were joint artistic directors of the RSC from 1978 to 1986. Going back further in time, Anthony Quayle and Glen Byam Shaw ran the Shakespeare Memorial theatre, as it then was, from 1952 to 1956. Given the size of the present company, it makes sense to have two people at the top.

An immense task awaits them. Hit badly by Covid, the metropolitan bias of British culture and the marginalisation of Shakespeare, the RSC has lately lacked something of its former prestige: a company that was radical and necessary in the 1960s has begun to seem, despite the best efforts of Gregory Doran, an institution in need of redefinition. So what are the immediate tasks facing Evans and Harvey?

First and foremost is restoring a sense of excitement to the Shakespeare repertory. This means attracting the best actors, directors and designers to Stratford: easily said, but it would be wonderful to see, say, Benedict Cumberbatch or Tom Hiddleston, Saoirse Ronan or Florence Pugh gracing the Stratford stage, not to mention young directors such as Rebecca Frecknall or Josh Seymour rising to the challenge of Shakespeare. I would also urge the new directors to avoid the deadly repetition – which Doran, to his credit, achieved – of the same box-office bankers (Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream) season after season. Above all, I would hope to see a return to the swift, witty and intelligent speaking of the verse that was a cardinal principle of Peter Hall when he founded the RSC in 1960.

But there is more to the RSC than Shakespeare, and two things need to happen immediately. One is the reopening of the Swan so that we can be exposed to the riches of the classic repertory. The other is the realisation that the RSC’s renown sprang originally from the interaction between Shakespearean and contemporary drama: one of the highlights of the 60s was seeing a group of actors steeped in Shakespeare applying their skills to Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming.

My final point would be that, while education and community projects are important, they are subordinate to the main task, which is giving work on the main stages richness and texture. Evans at both the Sheffield Crucible and Chichester and Harvey at Theatr Clwyd have shown they have a sense of adventure: they now need to bring the same sense of calculated risk to the Avon.