The RSC opens the doors of the new Royal Shakespeare Theatre. A seat plays a recording of Dame Judi Dench when you sit on it at ground level, in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre foyer. At the highest level a new 36m (118ft) tower offers people views of four counties and key Shakespearean landmarks. These are some of the changes to the Royal Shakespeare and Swan theatres.
About 18,000 people from 60 countries have contributed financially and the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) said it would raise the remaining £3.5m by its 50th birthday celebrations in April 2011.
But the site, complete with restored 1930s features, has now been unveiled, with members of the public testing the new facilities ahead of the current RSC ensemble performing King Lear and Romeo and Juliet next February and March.
‘What theatre can provide – in a way that no other artistic medium can – is a full sense of human presence,” says Michael Boyd, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s artistic director. “If it is going to succeed in the future it really needs to celebrate the fact that audience and performers share an experience in the same space at the same time.”
The biggest change to the auditorium itself is the introduction of a thrust stage – one that extends, almost like a catwalk – and the removal of some of the most distant seats to create a more intimate relationship between actors and audience. “You feel in touch with absolutely every person,” said Boyd.
Not everyone is so enthusiastic. Sir Peter Hall, who was the company’s artistic director at its founding in 1961, told Radio 4’s Front Row on Monday that he did not favour a deep thrust stage, which he likened to “a diving board”. Directors, he said, are obliged to keep the actors moving simply in order to deal with the sightlines – “not because what the characters are feeling but because what the lady in row A is feeling about not seeing them”.
Peter Aspden in the FT comments:
Although the new RST will be smaller than the old version, by some 400 seats, that could prove to be a blessing. Sir Christopher Bland, RSC chairman, said the seats that have been removed were the cheap ones, “from which you could neither see nor hear properly”. “They were the seats taken by schoolchildren for their first, and in many cases their last, experience of Shakespeare,” he said. The new theatre is also good news for the company’s actors, who will all use dressing rooms with balconies overlooking the river. They were the subject of much debate, said Simon Harper, deputy project director. “The RSC dressing room quango has now been wrapped up,” he said, not without relief.