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Wednesday, 24 April, 2002, 16:26 GMT 17:26 UK
Drama on and off stage at RSC
Adrian Noble
Adrian Noble is seeking new challenges
BBC News Online looks at the background behind Adrian Noble's decision to step down as head of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) after his contract runs out in March 2003.

Adrian Noble has just taken a sabbatical from Shakespeare to direct the West End musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang - a huge departure from staging a Shakespearean tragedy.

These should be good times for Noble - the show has had very good reviews and he is embarking on plans to radically overhaul arguably the most important Shakespearean company in the world.

But in recent months it has not been plain sailing for the artistic director, coming in for fierce criticism from staff, actors and unions over the changes to the RSC.

Noble started his RSC career as an assistant director in 1980, before moving up the ranks to associate director.

He did leave briefly in 1989 to pursue an independent career, directing in New York, Dublin and London.

Royal Shakespeare Theatre
The Royal Shakespeare Theatre could be pulled down
The RSC is steeped in history and the proposed changes have been met with vociferous opposition.

What has especially bothered critics are plans to vacate London's Barbican, the regeneration of its Stratford-upon-Avon home and changes in contracts for staff.

Flexibility

Noble took the decision to give the company a major restructuring with one aim being to attract star name actors such as Kenneth Branagh and Ralph Fiennes, with the flexibility of working around their other commitments.

Noble described this as "breaking the mould" but critics have seen it as a way of reducing costs by offering less job security for actors and backstage staff.

Strike action against job losses were averted at the last minute.

Dame Judi Dench recently added her voice to the opposition, saying she was deeply worried about the company's future.

Herself an honorary associate artist, she expressed her sense of foreboding at the impact the new proposals could have on the acting profession.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Noble is directing West End musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Industry union Bectu has said it is concerned with the RSC's plans to shut down its London operation and take more plays on the road.

Tourism threat

Bectu's argument is that job cuts will be inevitable because staff will no longer be needed in London or Stratford if the majority of productions are just toured.

It has also argued that if the RSC deserts London it will have an impact on tourism for the capital because no big Shakespeare plays will be on offer.

There is also stern criticism of plans to demolish the RSC at Stratford to make way for a new 100m theatre complex.

Plans include a new 1,050 seat Royal Shakespeare Theatre and construction of educational facility for the new RSC Academy.

The proposals were cautiously approved by politicians but it has enraged traditionalists who believe the Royal Shakespeare Theatre should be left alone.

Noble has nearly a year left until he parts company with the RSC and in that time he is set to ignore his critics and continue with the massive restructure.

It is likely whoever is announced as the next artistic director will be taking over a very different company to the one Noble joined 22 years ago.

See also:

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