ALL roads lead to Rome - or at least many will do so according to the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Their artistic programme for this year's Spring/Summer season will transport audiences to what is now the Italian capital as they lead their line-up with productions of four of Shakespeare’s most political and bloody plays, set in and around ancient Rome.

The Roman theme will take in Julius Caesar, directed by Angus Jackson – March 3 to September 9, (live to cinemas April 26), Antony & Cleopatra, directed by Iqbal Khan – March 11 to September 7 (live to cinemas May 24), Titus Andronicus, directed by Blanche McIntyre – June 23 to September 2 (live to cinemas August 9) and Coriolanus, directed by Angus Jackson – dates to be announced – booking opens February.

Angus Jackson, who recently directed the sell-out RSC productions of Oppenheimer and Don Quixote, is season director for the Rome season and will direct the opening and closing plays of the season.

Julius Caesar begins the Royal Shakespeare Theatre season, with the politics of spin and betrayal turning to violence in a race to claim the empire, after the all-conquering Caesar returns from war.

Next is Antony & Cleopatra which takes in the period after Caesar’s assassination and Mark Antony's own rise to power, in which he chooses a life of decadent seduction with Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, where his military brilliance deserts him and his passion leads the lovers to their tragic end.

The decay of Rome reaches its violent depths in Shakespeare’s bloodiest play Titus Andronicus. Titus is a ruler exhausted by war and leaves Rome in disarray, with rape, cannibalism and brutality filling the moral void at the heart of a corrupt society.

Coriolanus concludes the season, as famine stalks Rome and the citizens rise up. The rioting is halted by war and Caius Martius leads the Roman Army to victory, but the people turn against him and he is banished.

He vows revenge and returns at the head of the Volscian army to march on Rome.

Meanwhile its sister theatre, the Swan, will open its new season with the world premiere of Snow in Midsummer by Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig, based on the classical Chinese drama by Guan Hanqing.

Framed for a crime she did not commit, a young girl, Dou Yi, calls upon heaven and earth to prove her innocence and is answered by a snowstorm in midsummer and a devastating drought.

Arriving three years later in a town now struggling for survival, a family is drawn into a search for truth, as the ghost of Dou Yi demands revenge on the corrupt system, which tried to silence her.

It’s a haunting story of social injustice, originally from 13th century Yuan dynasty China, and has been translated into a literal translation by Gigi Chang and re-imagined into a contemporary play.

This will open on February 23 and run through to March 25.

Also scheduled for the Swan is a riotous new comedy, The Hypocrite, by Richard Bean and directed by Phillip Breen.

This is a co-production with the Hull Truck Theatre and Hull UK City of Culture 2017 and it was inspired by the infamous moment in Hull’s history which started the English Civil War.

It transfers to Stratford straight from Hull, where it plays at the Hull Truck Theatre as part of the UK City of Culture programme.

Both these productions play in straight runs before the Swan also turns its attention to a season touched by Rome with Vice Versa (or the Decline and Fall of General Braggadocio at the hands of his canny servant Dexter and Terence the monkey), by Phil Porter, lovingly ripped off from the plays of Plautus - May 11 to September 29, Salomé by Oscar Wilde, June 2 to September 6, the Bard’s Venus & Adonis starting in July and then later in the year Christopher Marlowe’s Dido, Queen of Carthage.

RSC Artistic Director, Gregory Doran, said: “Exactly 2000 years after the death of Roman poet Ovid, whose work has inspired artists for millennia, we stage Shakespeare’s four great political thrillers in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, in a new season touched by the influence of Rome.

“Ovid was probably Shakespeare’s greatest inspiration and his stories are sprinkled throughout his plays, most prominently the comedy of Pyramus and Thisbe in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

“But today, some of those fantastical stories are being forgotten and our appreciation of Shakespeare's plays will be lessened if that happens.  Who was Proserpina, and why did she ‘let her flowers fall?’ What happened when glistering Phaeton lost the manage of his father's chariot? And why was Niobe ‘all tears’?

"We will uncover all this and more as we celebrate 2000 years of Ovid’s influence”.

Casting for Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra has been announced with Andrew Woodall playing Caesar alongside Alex Waldmann, who returns to the company to play Brutus.

Alex last appeared with the RSC in King John in 2012 and As You Like It in 2013 season. Andrew Woodall will also play Enobarbus in Antony and Cleopatra.

Antony Byrne returns to the company to play Mark Antony opposite Josette Simon’s Cleopatra, while Titus Andronicus, which joins the repertoire in June, will be cross-cast with Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra and the title role in Titus will be taken by RSC associate artist David Troughton.

He is currently appearing as Gloucester in King Lear, and has previously played several leading roles at the RSC including Richard III, Bolingbroke, as well as numerous roles for film, TV and radio (including his current role as Tony Archer in the iconic radio 4 series The Archers.)