The Royal Shakespeare Company is the world's most prestigious English-language drama company and the summit of Shakespearean production. Its main theater, the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Shakespeare's home town of Stratford-Upon-Avon was given its Royal Charter in 1876 and given as its mission "To conserve, advance, and disseminate the dramatic heritage of Shakespeare and to advance and improve drama throughout the world."
The famed stage director Peter Hall organized the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1960. It represented an expansion of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre to London itself. Acquiring the Aldwych Theatre in the capital meant that Londoners would see the same actors as in the Stratford productions.
From the beginning, music figured into Shakespeare's plays. The Royal Shakespeare Company had for most of its existence since 1960 the services of Guy Woolfenden, a noted stage and screen composer who wrote over 150 scores for the Company. Excerpts of several of these were recorded on small LP labels in England, often credited to "Guy Woolfenden of the Royal Shakespeare Company", with the musicians being identified by titles such as The Royal Shakespeare Wind Band."
It is evident that the musicians who play in RSC productions vary from play to play and production to production as the requirements of the producer varies.
The RSC continued to expand its operations since Trevor Nunn became artistic director in 1968. In 1974, he opened The Other Place, a smaller auditorium in Stratford. Three years later, its counterpart in London, The Warehouse, opened. In 1978, Terry Hands joined Nunn, both becoming Joint Artistic Directors of the Company. Under their leadership, the London branches of the RCS moved to the new Barbican Centre in the historic City of London, where the larger productions from the Royal Shakespeare Theatre are performed in the 1,160-seat Barbican Theatre, and plays from The Other Place are played at The Pit, Barbican's studio space.
In 1986 the RSC opened yet a third Stratford theater, The Swan, devoted to plays of Shakespeare's contemporaries, and, soon, The Mermaid in London, to be The Swan's counterpart located near the Barbican.
In 1987, Terry Hands became the sole Artistic Director and Chief Executive. In 1998, Stephen Warbeck became Music Director of the RSC. He had already written scores for the RSC productions of The Tempest (1998), Cymbeline (1997), and Romeo and Juliet (1997). His credits included the movie scores for Mrs. Brown (1997) and the television series Prime Suspect. In 1999, Warbeck won the U.S. Academy Award for the score to Shakespeare in Love for Best Original or Comedy Musical Score, a film that had considerable involvement by the RSC.
Warbeck is a staunch advocate of the use of live music in stage productions. Some of his Shakespeare in Love music is played by the Musicians of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre on their compact disc released in April 2000, by the Chandos label. The disc also contains music for ten of Shakespeare's own major plays, composed especially for this recording; it also includes readings by two RSC actors, Malcolm Storry and Harriet Walter.
Since Shakespeare in Love, Warbeck has written scores to the films Mystery Men, Fanny & Elvis, Heart (all 1999) and My Son the Fanatic (1998), as well as the score to a US television production of A Christmas Carol starring Patrick Stewart (1999).