A LITTLE comic relief is on the cards for RSC audiences this year.

After last year's season of Shakespeare's tragedies, the 2005 season is focusing on The Comedies, with actors preparing now for four of the Bard's favourite classics - A Midsummer Night's Dream, Twelfth Night, The Comedy of Errors and As You Like It.

Meanwhile, The Swan Theatre will host an interesting season called Gunpowder, marking the 400th anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot, and new plays will make their debuts in The Other Place.

There are also plenty of special events to look out for, all packed in to the new programme to give regulars, tourists and first-timers some treats through the summer.

The current ensemble is rehearsing for an extra-long period before embarking on their new season as part of the company's aim to 'create an environment for the actors to test ideas and rigorously investigate the complexities of Shakespeare's work and the areas focusing on the comedies in particular'.

Spokesman Dean Asker added: "This year, artist development will be more varied and include sessions focusing on text, gender, acrobatics and singing as well as other theory and practical sessions on the history of comedy in the theatre."

RSC Artistic Director Michael Boyd spelt out the company line for the coming season. He said: "Our ambitions as an organisation remain the same - to continue to be the country's leading ensemble theatre company, dedicated to deepening our understanding of Shakespeare, celebrating the work of his contemporaries and ours. We hope to present exceptional performances and experiences for our audiences, and above all, to entertain you."

Other events during the season include talks by directors and cast members, concerts, including free lunchtime concerts by RSC musicians, family and school events and a couple of short festivals.