sat 25/05/2019

theartsdesk in Stratford-upon-Avon: A New Stage for Shakespeare | reviews, news & interviews

theartsdesk in Stratford-upon-Avon: A New Stage for Shakespeare

theartsdesk in Stratford-upon-Avon: A New Stage for Shakespeare

How ready is the Royal Shakespeare Company to be a national institution?

Michael Boyd: 'The new building should allow our main-stage productions of Shakespeare to be as bold as they need to be'

When the Royal Shakespeare Company seemed to be falling apart in the late 1990s, there was genuine cause for concern. The troupe had no automatic monopoly over performances of Shakespeare, nor could it claim a very particular style in its stagings. But since the 1960s it had held a special place at the higher end of British theatre culture as the natural, and national, promoter and evolver of the world’s greatest body of plays. By 2001, under artistic director Adrian Noble, the RSC was out of London, in retreat in Stratford-upon-Avon, and looking punctured. It was an unhappy sight.

It’s an epic space – fully able to represent angels and devils, heaven and hell. But it’s also a human space

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Mr.Woodall is being very generous to the RSC. I visited Stratford on a day when I was able to hear Mr. Boyd lecture on the wisdom of the architecture, as well as see Macbeth. While I applaud Mr. Boyd's vision for the RSC, but I fear he has painted himself into a corner. The stage is very restrictive as no set pieces can be moved out onto the main area without blocking audience view. Mr. Boyd has cleverly used ladders to overcome this issue, but having used them repeatedly, he is in danger of looking like he has a ladder fetish. The same with having characters speak from the audience. Every Boyd production will start to look very much the same because there are only about five stage tricks in his arsenal. I also want to put the audience distance from the stage in perspective. Yes, if you are seated in the front row, and the actor walks to the front edge of the stage, you are only 15 meters away, but in any other configuration it is a longer distance. Although closer than the previous space, I found the actors to still be far from those of us who can't afford the premium seats (especially if they do a scene upstage). Acoustics might be better, but when the actors turned upstage I still had to struggle to hear. This did not happen often, and Mr. Boyd is an enlightened director who will find other stage tricks, but I will say that Macbeth looked a lot like previous Boyd productions. If there is a signature look to a Boyd show, that might be okay if he had the whole cannon to explore, but having produced the entire Histories in one spectacular event he already has covered much of the literature. Sets are an important tool for placing a production in place and time, and although the designer can use the backwall to their heart's content, our eyes will be on the bare stage where the actors will always be in a timeless netherworld. So I see no Shaw, Odets, Williams or O'Neil in the RSC's future. I do see exciting possibilities for Genet, Beckett and Ionesco and hope the RSC will explore those authors. The idea of the tower is fine, but the reality of it is a disappointment. It is only four stories tall, and charging £2.50 for something that you could not possible spend more than 10 minutes doing is a wild miscalculation of marketing. I decided to go up, but many more patrons were miffed. I advise Mr. Boyd to consult his box office personnel to see what the reactions have been, and I think he'll find it was negative. Being forced to walk through a gift shop is something I've become used to, but still might have hoped the RSC would not need to stoop that low. Mr. Boyd is a leader, and must be given time and space to complete his vision. His vision for ensemble and three year contracts is still in its infancy. Will good young actors put their earning potential on hold and ( gasp ) understudy while working their way up at the RSC? David Tennet is not walking through that door anytime soon, nor will other stars ( save Patrick Stuart ) lock up their careers in the name of art. So will UK and foreign audiences get excited to see Jonathan Slinger? Is the RSC brand that strong? Will audiences still consider it a must see, when the Globe and the National are doing better productions with big name stars? Is the RSC is danger of becoming more tourist novelty than arts mecca? If the National can screen productions for millions of people world wide, shouldn't the RSC be figuring out how to that too? Time will tell, but it feels like the RSC has missed the boat and others have already stolen what thunder it had.

Macbeth from row D last week and my first visit to the new RST I was underwhelmed by the interior, the exterior looked good in the dark all lit up. I am not enamoured by the exposed interior of the old theatre why? it is not beautiful. The auditorium has an austere feel with the dark floor boards and exposed metal pillars. I love the Swan the warmth of the timber if feels comfy I feel a sense of excitement as I enter while the new RST feels chill in comparison and lacks anticipatory thrill of the Swan. The shop/ box office area is vastly improved and the actors have the comforts they deserve at last. Interesting Macbeth, M and Lady M unsatisfactory Banquo was brilliant. I go with the Guardian comment 'wildly capricious'. Trip up the tower should be £1 at most.

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