Strike Action Hits RSC's Barbican ChristmasDate: 12 November 2001
The schedule of the Royal Shakespeare Company's final winter residency at the Barbican Centre has been called into question, following a decision by London backstage staff to strike in protest over planned redundancies. The Barbican Theatre, where performances of Hamlet and Twelfth Night (pictured) are due to begin next month, may now close over the busy Christmas period.
On Friday night, about 90 Barbican members of BECTU, the trade union for backstage staff, held a meeting at which 93 percent voted to strike. The move follows a narrowly averted strike in Stratford last month, in which an 11th-hour agreement was reached with RSC management. There is now concern that strike fever may spread once again to Stratford.
The industrial dispute arose when the RSC unveiled plans last May to focus on its main base in Stratford-Upon-Avon, at the expense of its Barbican operations. Around 60 positions were expected to become redundant as a result. As part of its far-reaching schedule, the RSC will abandon its London home at the Barbican Centre where it has been based for nearly two decades.
The move completes a partial withdrawal that began in 1997 when the RSC reduced its London residency there to only the six winter months of the year. Noble said at the time that the changes would allow the company to mount "bold and original theatre" for one-off runs, kicked off by glittering openings, in the "heart of the West End".
RSC management has also come under further fire with its plans, announced earlier this month, to demolish the listed Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford in order to build a modern "theatrical village". Many RSC stalwarts, including former artistic director Terry Hands, have deemed the project to be neither "financially or artistically viable" while heritage groups have also been up in arms.
In both London and Stratford, staff morale is said to be at an all-time low. And the technicians and other backstage crew who voted for strike action say they are no longer prepared to work longer hours for less pay, under threat of redundancy.
- by Terri Paddock