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ACE Denies London Assembly's RSC Funding Threat

By • West End
The London Assembly accuses the Royal Shakespeare Company of "losing the plot" in London and urges Arts Council England to withhold further funding until the RSC secures a permanent home in the capital. In a report released today, the Assembly's Culture Committee says the RSC is failing to meet a condition of its annual grant by being unable to transfer its traditional run of plays from Stratford to London.

The Assembly's Culture Committee, whose stated aim is to scrutinise public arts organisations in London, asks the Arts Council to consider withholding funding from the RSC if it is unable to stage a comprehensive run of Shakespeare in the capital by next autumn. As previously reported on Whatsonstage.com, due to its withdrawal last year from the Barbican Centre and a shortage of commercial backing, the RSC failed to transfer the majority of this year's Festival season offerings (See News, 14 Oct 2003).

"We expect the Arts Council to ensure that conditions for public funding, including a London base, are actually met," says Meg Hillier, the Committee's Chair. "As the RSC's principle sponsor, the Arts Council must ensure that it doesn't write a cheque to the RSC for 2004/05 unless it is satisfied that its funding conditions will be met. There are many other organisations clamouring for arts funding. The Arts Council must be seen to deal a fair hand."

The report follows a meeting last month to which RSC artistic director Michael Boyd as well as directors from ACE and the chief executive of the Society of London Theatre (SOLT) were called before the Committee to justify the situation (See News, 12 Nov 2003). According to the London Assembly, it was here that ACE judged the RSC to be failing in its duty.

However, an ACE spokesperson told Whatsonstage.com last night that the Council categorically refuted this position. "The meeting was extremely calm and well measured. We are not threatening a withdrawal of funding - at no point was this said. There is no way we think it will ever get to that." She also emphasised that public funding is not "ring-fenced" and does not "prescribe that the RSC spend a certain amount of time in London", although it was hoped that the no-show of the 2003 festival season was only temporary.

Roger Mortlock, head of public affairs at the RSC, also expressed disappointment at the report's findings and restated the company's plan to announce a temporary London home early in the new year. He emphasised that the RSC "cares deeply" about the capital and presenting the full range of its repertoire there. "We want to be in London - it's crucially important for our audiences and our artists. It's absolutely a problem we want to address," he said.

Earlier this year (See News, 26 Mar 2003), the RSC received a relatively meagre 5.5% annual increase from ACE, so that in 2005/2006, its funding will sit at £14 million - well below the National Theatre which, at the same time, got a 16.4% increase taking it to £17.3 million in 2005/2006. For this year, the RSC will have just a 4% increase followed by annual "standard uplifts as it develops new ways of working and partnerships".

- by Terri Paddock


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