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Sunday, 12 May, 2002, 08:24 GMT 09:24 UK
RSC ends Barbican era
The Barbican
The Barbican has played host to the RSC for 20 years
As the curtain fell on Saturday night's Royal Shakespeare Company production of A Midsummer Night's Dream at London's Barbican, it marked the end of an era not just the show.

After 20 years in residence at the arts centre, the RSC's branch in the capital city is moving on to pastures new.

The RSC's permanent home remains at the Shakespeare theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, with a smaller base in Newcastle.

But for the RSC in London, the foreseeable future is set to be an itinerant one, as the company moves from venue to venue throughout year.

Adrian Noble
Artistic director Adrian Noble: Stepping down

Recent months have seen a try-out of this strategy, with a production of A Winter's Tale at the Roundhouse in Camden, north west London.

The RSC's decision to vacate the Barbican was made under the outgoing, often controversial, artistic director Adrian Noble, who announced his resignation last month.

With Noble's departure in March next year, the ultimate fate of the RSC in London could well be set for another rethink.

His plans to develop the main theatre site are being reviewed in the light of his resignation.

'Opportunity'

For the time being, the official line from the RSC in London is upbeat.

Speaking on Friday, a spokeswoman for the company said the move was decided when the RSC's lease on its theatres at the Barbican came up for renewal.

But the change was sealed primarily on artistic grounds, not financial.
The RSC's home  in Stratford-upon-Avon
The RSC's home in Stratford-upon-Avon

"The move provides us with a new, exciting opportunity to move on artistically," the spokeswoman told BBC News Online.

"The theatres at the Barbican were often too small for the productions that had come down from the RSC in Stratford.

"They had to be squashed in or we had to move out to another London theatre - so in many respects there won't be that much of a change."

She added that vacating the Barbican would allow the RSC the flexibility to choose a venue to suit the play rather than the other way around.

Unrest

However, the move has not come without its dissenters, and most particularly among the staff.

About 100 RSC staff have been made redundant with the move while others have been put onto temporary contracts.


The RSC's staff have been used as pawns in Adrian Noble's game - Let's hope the company can be rebuilt from the ashes

Willi Donaghy, Bectu

The RSC says the aim is to make the company more flexible and attractive to big name actors by offering shorter contracts and better conditions.

Strike action by RSC staff was averted at the end of last year, following negotiations with the theatrical union Bectu.

Yet, Willi Donaghy, supervisory official with Bectu, remains strongly opposed to the moves.

"It's an ill-conceived, shoddy way to treat staff, many of whom have worked for the company for 20 or 30 years," said Mr Donaghy.

"What's most galling is that Adrian Noble has himself lost faith in his own artistic vision and jumped ship to more commercial projects.

"The RSC's staff have been used as pawns in Adrian Noble's game. Let's hope the company can be rebuilt from the ashes - and whoever his successor is will be most welcome."

Stars

Doubt has also been expressed by those who believe the theatre-going public will find the changing venues confusing and too much effort.

And the RSC's chairman Lord Alexander conceded last week that audiences at the Roundhouse had been disappointing.

The RSC spokeswoman, however, said they had been doing all they could do ensure the audience knew exactly where to find the RSC in London from Saturday.

Details are available in the company brochure and through the RSC's ticket hotline.

From Saturday, the RSC will continue with The Winter's Tale and The Tempest at the Roundhouse.

It will be followed by Pericles in June. And, also in June, the RSC will open at the Haymarket theatre in central London with Much Ado About Nothing, followed by Anthony and Cleopatra.

Both productions boast star names such as Sinead Cussack and Harriet Walter.

Hopes are therefore likely to be high that they will draw full houses - and mark a successful start to what many believe will be a bumpy few years ahead.

See also:

28 Mar 01 | Arts
RSC: Shakespeare and beyond
02 Feb 01 | Entertainment
Barbican may get listed status
24 Apr 02 | Arts
RSC chief to quit
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