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Thursday, August 27, 1998 Published at 12:23 GMT 13:23 UK


Shakespeare theatre faces demolition

Parts of the listed 1930s Art Deco building may be saved

One of the world's most famous theatres may soon be knocked down. The Royal Shakespeare Company says its theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon is not suitable for modern productions.

The RSC is considering demolishing the building, which is nearly 70 years old, and replacing it with a new theatre.

[ image: Shakespeare: drawing in the tourists]
Shakespeare: drawing in the tourists
Managers are bidding for £2m in Lottery money to carry out research into whether the venue can be re-built. It plans to spend up to £80m on a new theatre.

RSC director Adrian Noble is reported to be in talks with Dutch architect Erick Van Egeraat.

Describing the building as "one of the least liked in the cultural world", the company's spokesman Ian Rowley said it was time for a change.

"There are numerous problems with the building. It's austere and very unwelcoming," Mr Rowley told The Independent newspaper.

"The most exciting and most pragmatic thing for us to do would be to create a new theatre, a more egalitarian space where every seat in the house has good acoustics and good sightlines."

Steeped in history

In spite of its drawbacks, the theatre, nevertheless, saw some of Britain's greatest actors - such as Laurence Olivier, Sir John Gielgud and Dame Judy Dench - tread its boards in the Sixties and Seventies. Sir Peter Hall's groundbreaking Wars of the Roses was first performed there.

[ image:  ]
Architect Elisabeth Scott became the first woman to design a theatre in 1932 when she planned the Art Deco building to resemble an ocean liner.

It has a prime spot on the banks of the River Avon in Warwickshire - William Shakespeare's birthplace. The frontage is listed Grade 2 and may be preserved in the redevelopment plan.

But in spite of the glorious view from its riverside café and terrace, the 1,500-seat theatre has attracted much criticism from thespians and audiences alike who prefer the smaller Swan Theatre next door.

"You try and get the voice up to the back of the gods here. It's very difficult. The relationship between the stage and the auditorium is poor," actor David Calder, currently playing Prospero in The Tempest, told The Independent.

The theatre can appear forbidding to the hundreds of thousands of tourists who travel to Stratford to see Shakespeare's birthplace, and its foyer has few facilities.

New plans could also include an information centre, improved access to the riverside and a Shakespearean cyber café. Reconstruction is unlikely to begin before the new millennium.

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