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Friday, 25 May, 2001, 15:20 GMT 16:20 UK
Union 'horrified' at RSC shake-up
Ralph Fiennes playing Proust
Bectu slams RSC attempt to attract stars like Fiennes
Theatre union Bectu has reacted "with horror" to the announcement that the Royal Shakespeare Company is scaling down operations at the Barbican Centre in London.

As part of a major overhaul of the RSC's operations, the plan is to mount a variety of smaller productions in a wider range of theatres both in London and around the country.

RSC production of A Russian in the Woods
A scene from the RSC production of A Russian in the Woods
The aim is to make the RSC more flexible and attractive to big name actors by offering shorter contracts and better conditions.

One of the consequences of the plan could be job losses in both London and the RSC's base at Stratford-upon-Avon.


"This is both cultural and commercial madness," said Bectu assistant general secretary Gerry Morrissey.

Mr Morrissey said that the proposals would weaken London's "artistic credibility" and threaten the tourism industry.

RSC artistic director Adrian Noble has argued that the only way to keep the RSC "fresh and relevant" is to "break the mould".

Mr Noble is particularly keen to institute a regime of shorter contracts so that star actors could join the company for individual productions.

Barbican, London
Talks have begun with staff at the Barbican
Ralph Fiennes and Kenneth Branagh, both former alumni of the RSC, have already agreed to perform under the new arrangement.

Fiennes has committed to a production of Ibsen's Brand at an undisclosed venue.

The Barbican Centre has broadly welcomed the plan, saying that it will free up its stages to hold its own productions like the successful Bite International theatre festival.

Barbican director John Tusa told the BBC that by diverting funds formerly given over to the RSC into their own productions they hope to prevent job losses.

'Shoddy plan'

It is the weakening of the relationship with Stratford, where up to 60 jobs are under threat, that particularly worries Bectu.

"The company's managers seem to have missed the point that both the domestic audience and overseas visitors, particularly from the US, come particularly to Stratford."

kenneth Branagh
Kenneth Branagh, one of the actors signed up by the RSC
RSC productions of Shakespearean classics attract large numbers of tourists and schoolchildren as well as theatre-lovers.

Bectu has appealed to "Londoners and to the Mayor" to join them in a campaign to reverse "this shoddy plan".

The RSC also plans to launch an academy at Stratford, stewarded by acclaimed director Declan Donnellan, in order to recruit actors at the start of their careers and bring them on.

Though a host of stars including Dame Judi Dench, Juliet Stevenson, Ian McKellan, Emily Watson have worked at the RSC, this plan will formalise training and development of actors.

Ironically the RSC established its long contracts in order to give actors much-needed stability, but now it needs to offer short contracts in order to attract star names like Branagh or Fiennes.

The RSC's Adrian Noble and critic Michael Billington
discuss the planned shake-up of the Royal Shakespeare Company
See also:

22 Mar 01 | Arts
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15 Mar 01 | Entertainment
Radical shake-up at Arts Council
28 Mar 01 | Arts
RSC: Shakespeare and beyond
13 Mar 01 | UK Politics
'Give arts back to the people' - Tories
08 Mar 01 | Entertainment
Theatres share in 25m windfall
08 Mar 01 | Entertainment
Theatres: The agony and the ecstasy
28 Jun 99 | Entertainment
No more 'fossils' at the Arts Council
24 May 01 | Arts
RSC announces shake-up
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