Boyd Bows: Who Next for RSC?Date: 17 October 2011
He always gave the impression that ten years would be enough, but still the news that Michael Boyd would step down as artistic director of the RSC towards the end of 2012 came as a surprise, yolked to the resignation of his executive director, Vikki Heywood.
If the figures and company reports are to be believed, he has balanced the books and returned the company to an even keel after the convulsions of the final Adrian Noble period; and he has opened the terrific new theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon on budget and on time.
More important than all that, perhaps, he has restored morale in a company that had lost its way in industrial relations, inter-departmental communications, public profile and overall ensemble objectives.
And as the fiftieth birthday season gathers to a head in Stratford, it seems perhaps fitting that the fifth artistic director -- in succession to Peter Hall, Trevor Nunn, Terry Hands and Adrian Noble -- should modestly, and uncontroversially, withdraw.
Who next? There is no doubt that if Kenneth Branagh made a pledge to devote himself to the RSC for his next ten years, the board would embrace him wholeheartedly. But it seems far more likely that Boyd's successor will be the man he has worked most closely with over the past decade, his chief associate director, Gregory Doran.
Doran was the favourite ten years ago, when a rumoured last minute outside putsch by the great and the good in the arts came down heavily against him -- fearing, perhaps, a Doran and Antony Sher (his civil partner) stanglehold on the company -- and settled on Boyd as a sort of compromise, with Doran locked in as part of the package.
Boyd has proved himself a big man by allowing Doran his head on such key projects as the Complete Works edited for the RSC by Jonathan Bate (Doran was on the editorial advisory board), Shakespeare's "lost" play Cardenio, a television series with historian Michael Wood, the David Tennant Hamlet and Antony and Cleopatra with Patrick Stewart and Harriet Walter.
But he's probably been at the RSC long enough. Meanwhile, Boyd has quietly gone about his work on the history plays, and the new work programme, with a wholly admirable zeal and dedication, bringing many more Scottish, Irish and Afro-Caribbean actors into the company as well as leading two huge logistical operations: the Complete Works on stage festival and the mobilisation of the company into the Courtyard and then the new RST on the river bank.
Boyd's three-year ensemble company is now dispersed, and the public remains confused, I think, about the actual "season" at Stratford and where does it start and end; and of course the London question is only partly resolved by the new five-year deal at the Roundhouse which kicks in next year and should have a further stabilising effect on the fortunes of the company.
And Boyd is no doubt hoping, too, that Matilda proves a commercial success in London and beyond, despite the slightly incompetent hiccup over the cancellation of London previews and delayed opening night. If the RSC is to maintain its rather ludicrous extended range of activities in the coming years -- a legacy of the expansionist Nunn era -- not to mention its vast payroll, they are going to have to replace the Les Miserables income at some stage from somewhere else; and Matilda, however good, won't be as "global" as Les Mis.
I still think a period of retrenchment and reappraisal is appropriate now we have the new Stratford theatres and the London base. A more rigid timetable would be a good idea, a shorter Stratford season (who wants to go there in November?) as well as a clearer way of identifying the company so that, for instance, the David Tennant Hamlet or the Ian McKellen King Lear don't look like satellite operations around the main ensemble.
Or maybe the ensemble ideal is about to take another knock? If Branagh and Doran aren't in the frame, it's hard to see who might be. The great challenge to the next artistic director is to maintain the "brand" (horrid word, horrid thought) while making the RSC absolutely your own mission, if not -- and this would be preferable -- vision.
The RSC marked a different way of working for the British theatre and it's not too far-fetched, perhaps, to see Rupert Goold's current activity as offering a plausible, more up-do-date alternative. Goold has the great gift of aiming high in uncharted territory and the even greater one of taking all sorts of talented people (and actors) with him...yes, if Ken and Greg are otherwise engaged, Rupert would fit the bill perfectly well. And he might even initiate a much-needed shake-up, too. And if not Goold, Edward Hall would be willing. The great shame is that two leading female contenders, Marianne Elliott and Rachel Kavanaugh, are hors de combat. Or are they?
The basic problem is that everyone is too old these days. Hall and Nunn were in their twenties when they invented and took on the job. What's really needed is an absolutely fresh start with someone kicking down the door with their own special not-the-RSC project. And, in a sense, Goold and Hall junior have already done that...