RSC Transfers Tragedies to Albery, 22 Weeks OnlyDate: 15 July 2004
As previously tipped (See The Goss, 5 Jul 2004), the Royal Shakespeare Company will transfer the current Stratford season of Tragedies (Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, King Lear and Hamlet), as well as next year’s production of Hecuba starring Vanessa Redgrave, to the West End’s Albery Theatre.
However, contrary to earlier announcements that the RSC would establish a semi-permanent three-to-five year residence at a London theatre, the Albery will house only those five productions and only for a total of 22 weeks, running from 18 November 2004 to 7 May 2005.
Stratford vs London
Speaking at a press conference held today at London’s Brown’s restaurant, RSC artistic director Michael Boyd said: “The creative tension between Stratford and London has always been one of the defining features of the RSC… It’s part of what makes us a proper ‘national’ theatre.” The Albery season, he said, is the start of “a major new chapter in the RSC’s negotiation of a relationship with London.”
As to why the RSC is still unable to announce a more permanent base in the capital, Boyd said: “We are never going to be able to get to that until we figure out what we’re going to do in Stratford.”
The RSC has not had its own base in London since mid-2002 when former artistic director Adrian Noble withdrew the company from the Barbican Centre. That controversial decision as well as even more controversial plans to demolish Stratford’s Grade II-listed Royal Shakespeare Theatre (RST) in favour of a 21st-century “theatrical village” caused an uproar which eventually led to Noble’s resignation in April 2002 (See News, 24 Apr 2002). Since succeeding him in April 2003 (See News, 31 Mar 2003), Boyd has been dealing with the consequences of Noble’s shake-up, most of which has now been overturned.
In addition to the reversal on London thinking – back to the need for a permanent home rather than one-off West End openings – Boyd and new RSC chairman Sir Christopher Bland today confirmed “categorically” that there will be no demolition of the RST and promised that a clear programme for Stratford refurbishment would at last be announced this autumn.
Boyd said that the “speeding up” of plans for Stratford, as well as a focus on a major Shakespeare festival there in 2006, was one of the key factors in not now announcing a semi-permanent London residency. Lack of appropriate West End theatre availability also played a big part. The RSC is currently unable to secure the Albery beyond this upcoming season as the theatre changes ownership, from the Ambassadors Theatre Group to Cameron Mackintosh, next summer.
Programming & pricing
Although the RSC has had numerous forays of late into the West End – such as Brand with Ralph Fiennes at the Haymarket, The Taming of the Shrew and The Tamer Tamed at the Queen’s, All's Well That Ends Well with Judi Dench at the Gielgud, and the current Othello at Trafalgar Studios – those were all under the auspices of commercial co-producers such as Bill Kenwright, Thelma Holt and ATG. The Albery season will mark the first time the company has been able to mount London productions under its own flag since its summer 2002 stint at Camden’s Roundhouse.
“I’m so pleased that we have got a season that smells like us and that feels like us,” Boyd said today. A crucial part of that RSC feel relates to pricing. Most seats will be priced at £10 to £34, lower than the West End norm, while 50 seats for every performance will be held back and sold to under-25’s for just £5. On Monday evenings and matinees, reduced price £15 tickets will also be made available to teachers, nurses and other "key public sector workers".
Unlike at Stratford, the RSC will bow to West End conventions in terms of programming for the transfers. Instead of running in repertory, in London, the productions will play in sequence for an average of just three weeks each: Hamlet, with Toby Stephens in the title role, from 23 November to 11 December 2004 (previews from 18 November); Romeo and Juliet from 21 December 2004 to 8 January 2005 (previews from 16 December); Corin Redgrave’s King Lear from 18 January to 5 February 2004 (previews from 13 January); Macbeth from 16 February to 5 March 2005 (previews from 10 February); and Hecuba from 7 April to 7 May 2005 (previews from 1 April).
New Work Festival
Also announced today, the RSC will transfer three productions from its upcoming New Work Festival, which takes place from 29 September to 17 October 2004 in Stratford, to London’s Soho Theatre in March 2005 (See News, 20 Apr 2004). Although exact dates are yet to be confirmed, the three-week Soho festival is due to feature: Joanna Laurens’ Poor Beck; Tynan, a one-man show about the late drama critic Kenneth Tynan, performed by Corin Redgrave; and Pilate, a devised piece by directed by Boyd and featuring Toby Stephens as Jesus.
- by Terri Paddock