Unwin Succeeds Hall as Kingston's Rose OpensDate: 21 January 2008
UPDATED, Mon 21 Jan 2008 @ 4.20pm: Further comments from today’s press conference have now been added to this story. Updates are denoted in bold below.
First conceived by local councillors and residents in 1986, the Rose Theatre, Kingston has been in active development for the past six years, with Hall in place as artistic director and vocal champion for five years. Fundraising hiccoughs have caused numerous delays in the opening of the theatre, which receives no Arts Council or Lottery grants. Additional money is still needed to secure programming and operational costs beyond June 2008 and this spring’s “exploratory” inaugural season and to implement Hall’s long-term vision of the theatre as an active producing house with its own ensemble company – which, both men admitted today, is now in doubt.
The 77-year-old Hall – who, despite a recent health scare, is still prolifically active, with two West End-bound directions, a Felicity Kendal-led revival of The Vortex and Shaw’s Pygmalion, over the coming months in addition to the Uncle Vanya, which is produced by ETT – will become director emeritus at the Rose, working with Unwin to develop the theatre’s ongoing artistic policy.
In a statement, Hall said: “Stephen Unwin's appointment as artistic director is a wonderful development in the Rose's story and I am delighted he has accepted the post. The enormous success of English Touring Theatre over the last 15 years is a tribute to his artistic integrity and dynamic approach to running a highly respected arts organisation. He brings an exceptional range of experience to the Rose which will benefit the whole project enormously.
”For the last five years my single aim has been to see the Rose Theatre completed and open. This is finally a reality and is therefore an appropriate moment for me to pass the director's baton. I am very proud of this wonderful theatre and delighted that, as director emeritus, I will remain closely involved with it, working in collaboration with Stephen Unwin."
Unwin added: “It’s a huge honour to become the artistic director of the most astonishing new theatre in Britain. I am looking forward to working with Peter Hall and the Rose’s brilliant team on realising its great potential.”
Despite the stated optimism, the road ahead could be rocky for the newly opened theatre, which has always had a precarious position due to its lack of subsidy. “It’s dotty, it’s British, it shouldn’t have happened and it’s here” nonetheless, Hall said at today’s press event. The director recalled that it was a very different experience when he founded the RSC in the 1960s. “The philosophy of opening the RSC was that we did the work and they (the Government) would have to support us. We dare not say that in the current climate so we are in very dangerous water.”
Unwin agreed, saying: “It’s a lunatic situation opening this building without public funding. We can make it work, but it needs a lot of support and we need to sell a lot of tickets.”
Tickets for the opening productions rage from just £7 to £27, rising to £29.50 at weekends. Because of the financial restrictions, plans for in-house productions have been put on hold. The Rose is hoping to lure more touring companies like ETT to open nationwide schedules at the venue and attract more collaborations with other theatres.
The main Kingston auditorium is housed within a modern building but follows the same horseshoe-shaped ground plan of Elizabethan London’s Rose, which was built in 1587 and premiered many of Shakespeare’s early plays. Like the original, Kingston’s 900-capacity Rose comprises a promontory stage surrounded by three tiers of seating and a pit for audience ‘groundlings’.
With an emphasis on bringing the spoken word to the fore, productions at the Rose will use minimal scenery, props and costumes to convey period and location. In addition to the main space – which opened to the public for the first time last week with previews of Uncle Vanya from 16 January – the Rose complex houses a 220-seat studio and a 60-capacity gallery, which will open with a series of talks and workshops later this year.
Peter Hall was the first director of both the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre’s South Bank complex. In 1977, he was knighted for services to theatre and, in 1999, was presented with an Olivier for Lifetime Achievement.
Since founding ETT in 1993, Stephen Unwin has directed more than 30 of the company’s productions, which have visited more than 75 theatres throughout the UK and overseas, with several also transferring to the West End and winning some 17 major national awards, including, for Unwin himself, the Shakespeare’s Globe Sam Wanamaker Award in 2003. Prior to ETT, the Cambridge-educated Unwin worked as a freelance director, with productions at the National, the Royal Court, Garsington Opera, English National Opera and the Royal Opera House. He also served as associate director of Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre for three years and has written books including Faber’s Pocket Guide to Shakespeare and So You Want to Be a Theatre Director. Rachel Tackley now takes over ETT, performing the roles of both artistic director as well as chief executive (See News, 29 Jun 2007).
Hall’s ETT production of Uncle Vanya, starring Nicholas Le Prevost and Neil Pearson, runs in Kingston until 9 February 2008 ahead of a national tour. The Rose season then continues with visiting productions including the Warren Mitchell-led play Visiting Mr Green, Blonde Bombshells of 1943, Michael Pennington’s solo Shakespeare tribute Sweet William, Roald Dahl’s George’s Marvellous Medicine and Northern Broadsides’ staging of Romeo and Juliet.
- by Terri Paddock