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The Play's the Thing


  • Royal Shakespeare Company’s (RSC) new family-friendly visitor attraction The Play’s The Thing opens in Stratford-upon-Avon on Saturday 22 October 2016
  • World-famous Chandos Portrait of Shakespeare on display to mark the opening of the exhibition
  • Discover the secrets and stories behind the making of the RSC’s world famous productions, including beautifully crafted costumes and props, try on virtual costumes, learn how magical and gory stage and sound effects are made, and experience how productions are staged through interactive hands-on activities

The RSC will open its first ever permanent exhibition devoted to the staging of Shakespeare’s plays on 22 October 2016, in time for the autumn half-term holiday. This new family-friendly visitor attraction, The Play’s The Thing, will be in the Swan Wing, at the Company’s home in Stratford-upon-Avon. The project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

The Play’s The Thing allows visitors to explore the imaginative ways that Shakespeare’s stories, settings and characters have been brought to life on stage. This immersive exhibition highlights some of the RSC’s most iconic theatre productions and features treasures from the archive, including rarely-seen props, exquisite costumes and original set designs.

It also reveals some of the RSC’s more gory theatrical secrets, including how a snapping carrot can replicate the noise of bone breaking, how crispy cereals and glue are mixed to make scabs and how actors keep soup in their mouths so they can ‘vomit’ on stage.

Hands-on digital experiences include a magic costume mirror for visitors to try on virtual costumes, the Quick Change Challenge, changing a costume against the clock with Velcro, buttons and magnets, or the chance to stand on the RSC stage through state of the art technology.  Visitors will also be able to explore how set design, lighting, sound and music all help to create the world on stage.

Many famous faces have performed at the RSC and the exhibition includes costumes worn by David Tennant, Dame Judi Dench, Sir Ian McKellen, Dame Helen Mirren, Sir Laurence Olivier, Paul Robeson and Vivien Leigh.

To mark the opening, the Chandos portrait, a unique portrait of Shakespeare painted during his lifetime, will be on display for a limited time only. The portrait has lived at the National Portrait Gallery since it was founded in 1856, only leaving the building on a few occasions since that time. It will be loaned to the RSC for a limited time and will sit alongside a rare first folio of Shakespeare’s plays, dating from 1623.

Geraldine Collinge, Director of Events and Exhibitions commented,

“People love to find out how we make our productions and discover the many brilliant skills that go into bringing Shakespeare’s work alive. Our new exhibition opens the door to some of those secrets and stories and will give visitors access to our rarely seen collection of costumes and props. They will be able to experience theatre making for themselves with interactive digital experiences, hear from the actors who have performed on our world-famous stages, and find out more about how we create our productions today.”

The Play’s The Thing is the culmination of a major project to restore the oldest part of the RSC's theatres in Stratford-upon-Avon, the 1879 ‘Swan Wing’. The Swan Wing partially re-opened in April 2016, with refreshed public spaces and the new site-specific artwork, For all time, by artist Steven Follen. To mark this second stage opening of the Swan Wing, the ‘Rialto Bridge’ that links the public spaces to the theatre auditorium will be transformed with a newly commissioned illustration by artist Vic Lee, visually telling the story of the RSC in Shakespeare’s home town.

Exhibition details:

Opens on Saturday 22 October 2016, daily from 10am

The Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon


Adults £8.50, Groups of 20+ adults £8

UK Schools and College Group of 10+ students £5 (Monday to Friday) plus one free teacher ticket for every 10 student

Under 5s go free

Families - up to 4 under 18s are half price with every full price paying adult

To book:


Royal Shakespeare Theatre , Waterside , Stratford-upon-Avon , Warwickshire , CV37 6BB

18.64 miles  
  01789 403493  

22nd October 2016
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