Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Supplementary memorandum submitted by the Royal Shakespeare Company



  The plans for redevelopment of the Royal Shakespeare Company's14-acre waterfront estate in Stratford-upon-Avon propose major physical renewal of the RSC's theatres, workshops and other properties. Radical change is required to meet artistic, operational and financial challenges, and provide the optimum conditions for audiences and artists.

  The guiding principles of the Redevelopment Plan have been determined after evaluating all possible options. Its central idea is to create a theatre village on the waterfront as the heartland of the RSC's creative operations making Stratford a magnet for artists and audiences. Renewal is now essential to sustaining its contribution to classical theatre across the world, as well as to the economic future of Stratford-upon-Avon.

  The principal proposed projects are :

    —  Construction of a completely new 1,050-seat theatre, as the RSC's principal playhouse for Shakespeare and the classical repertoire, on the site of the existing Royal Shakespeare Theatre. This landmark building will feature an adaptable auditorium allowing large-scale thrust stage, proscenium stage and other configurations of performance. The stage and auditorium will be supported by modern backstage, rehearsal and administration accommodation, and by attractive, improved audience facilities

    —  Creation of new backstage facilities and technical delivery access for the Swan Theatre, together with refurbishment and improvement of its audience spaces, including the Library and Gallery.

    —  Construction of a new and highly adaptable auditorium as an extension to the existing Other Place theatre on its current car park. This space will provide the RSC's permanent new third auditorium, capable of accommodating variable forms of theatre staging and open space for film, recording, and work with new technologies. The existing TOP buildings will be converted to provide audience, backstage and rehearsal facilities for this new auditorium. This project will be completed first and, while the principal playhouse is under construction on the RST site, it will become the RSC's primary Stratford theatre with a capacity of at least 650 seats. Options to further increase seating capacity during the transition are still being considered.

    —  Creation of teaching and support facilities for the new RSC Academy, using the present building on the Union Club site. The RSC Academy will also use the rehearsal and performance spaces of the RSC theatres as appropriate.

  These principal elements of the Redevelopment Plan are supported by a number of other complementary changes, some incorporated into these buildings, some elsewhere, which together complete the full scope of the theatre village.

  These comprise:

    —  Provision of high quality indoor and outdoor public spaces within the theatre village area

    —  Improved catering, bars, cloakroom, and toilet provision

    —  Additional space to allow for ancillary activity outside of performance times

    —  Improved Box Office and information points

    —  Easier routes for backstage tours and visitor circulation

    —  Exhibition and learning space

    —  Larger and better retail spaces

    —  Hospitality and meeting spaces for public and private use

    —  Improved recreational and social facilities for RSC artists and staff

    —  Improved RSC workshop accommodation at Waterside and Timothy's Bridge Road (the latter being a revenue funded project)

    —  Accommodation for the RSC Nursery

    —  Better display for the RSC Collection and Archives

    —  Additional RSC residential accommodation on and off site.

    —  Enhancement of the Arden Hotel in due course.


  The current theatres in Stratford are but the latest manifestations of a dynamic tradition of performance in Stratford dating back to Shakespeare's day. In the period since Garrick's rain-sodden Jubilee of 1769, at least 17 buildings have either been built or converted into theatres to house performances of Shakespeare. Several of these have made radical architectural interventions into the largely domestic townscape of Stratford-upon-Avon, not least the extraordinarily progressive designs of the 1879 and 1932 theatres in their own day.

  Notwithstanding their listed status, the buildings that we are so familiar with today are just the latest transient manifestations in a long tradition of theatres coming and going in Stratford. The interests of conserving listed buildings and maintaining the vitality and viability of theatrical performance cannot be fully reconciled in the case of the Stratford theatres. Some hard choices therefore arise.

  The RSC owes a deep debt to the vision and generosity of Charles Flower, Archie Flower, Fordham Flower, John D. Rockefeller, Buzz Goodbody, Trevor Nunn, Frederick Koch and Michael Reardon who between them contributed most to creating the Stratford theatres as we know them. The Stratford Redevelopment thus builds on honourable traditions and we must have the courage and vision in our own time to create new buildings to sustain their success.

  The Swan Theatre was created inside the shell of the original Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, destroyed by fire in 1926. This intimate thrust theatre, a modern re-interpretation of the staging principles of Elizabethan and Jacobean theatres, instantly became one of the finest theatrical instruments in the world, and has been closely copied in theatre developments elsewhere. This theatre will be retained after the Redevelopment and its qualities enhanced by a number of practical improvements.

  The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, currently housing a much-altered 1,284-seat proscenium stage and auditorium, was widely recognised from the first to be fundamentally flawed as a theatre. Its architecture immediately divided opinion between praise for its progressive design, and popular criticism of its appearance, variously described as "a jam factory", "a crematorium" and "the new Soviet barracks alongside the Avon". Whatever its merits as a building, its inadequacies and defects as a theatre have been widely debated down the years.

  The Theatres Trust has assessed the situation as follows : "The 1932 Royal Shakespeare Theatre is listed, and has a good facade and interesting front-of-house spaces, but the auditorium has been widely recognised as a disaster ever since it opened. The best way of getting a proper theatre on that site now would probably be to demolish the whole of the old one." [Peter Longman, Director of the Theatres' Trust writing in its Newsletter June 2001]

  Leading theatre historian John Earl has evaluated it as : "to all appearances, a cinema, but less visually exciting, less alive, than any contemporary picture house by almost any contemporary hack designer. Almost everything about the design, not least the design of the stage itself, tended to distance the audience from the players."

  As a result of exhaustive exploration during the Feasibility Study, the RSC is convinced that demolition of the 1932 elements of the RST/Swan Theatre complex is an unavoidable prerequisite to creating the new principal playhouse urgently needed to sustain its work in Stratford. This position, however, is currently at odds with the view of the Government's principal statutory advisor, English Heritage, which understandably considers retention of the 1932 RST foyers, fountain staircase, and front facade to be important. Other advisory bodies such as the Twentieth Century Society, the Theatres Trust, and the Stratford Society have also been consulted and involved during the Feasibility Study. This very constructive and close consultation initiated through the Feasibility Study will continue during scheme development and design in order to find a mutual satisfactory solution.

  The Other Place, built in 1989 with the maximum available funds from RSC property transactions, has served the RSC extremely well, but it is no longer easy to sustain the level of subsidy required for such a small seating capacity, and its artistic and technical constraints must be resolved. Despite initial speculation to the contrary, the proposed plans greatly reinforce the RSC's commitment to this theatre and to the innovative performances it houses. The Other Place will play a central role, both during the transitional period of the Redevelopment, and in the long-term.


  The physical focus of the RSC Redevelopment is Waterside, Southern Lane and the Bancroft Gardens area, but its positive effects have the potential to reach across the whole District and far beyond. A number of opportunities have been jointly identified with the local authorities and other landowners to renew their own assets. The waterfront area on both sides of the River Avon has immense potential for sensitive and imaginative improvement, to retain and further enhance the value of what is good, and to re-design what is not. Partnership between public and private organisations is the key to unlocking this potential. Consequently, the proposed plans include the creation of a new strategic task force, comprising senior local authority representatives and other contributing partners, to define and implement a coherent development plan for the waterfront area.

  The Redevelopment also signals the opportunity for Stratford to address, at long last, its critical problems of traffic congestion. Irrespective of the Redevelopment, Stratford needs to take radical steps to ameliorate conditions for over 3 million motorists and pedestrians, whose travel is in conflict within the medieval street system established in 1196. The problems are highly complex and any solutions are unavoidably contentious.

Town Transport Strategy

  The close collaboration between the RSC, local authorities and Advantage West Midlands developed during the Feasibility Study and Theatres Area Study should continue and the following proposals should be considered :

    —  Waterside, Southern Lane, Bancroft Gardens, and the central streets of the historic core, should be designated a pedestrian and cyclist priority zone.

    —  a landmark design for a new pedestrian and cyclist bridge, downstream of the Tramway Bridge, should be commissioned jointly by the three local authorities and British Waterways.

    —  the 943 existing surface car parking bays on the Recreation Ground should be retained for public and theatre parking, with its landscaping and lighting re-designed to provide a more attractive and safe environment, especially at night. The existing public and theatre use of the 197 bays at the Church Street car park should be retained for public and theatre use long-term. The existing 716 bays at the Bridgefoot and Unicorn Meadow car parks should be retained for public and theatre use.

    —  New measures, including new orbital road capacity, Park and Ride, and Park and Boat, should be deployed to substantially reduce volumes of traffic through this highly populated area.

    —  An integrated system for intermediate travel, including the proposed Mini-Tram, use of river taxis, and rent-and-return cycles, should be considered.

Improvements to River use and access

  Detailed consideration should be given to improving river use and access during scheme development and detailed design. Key themes that should inform the discussion are:

    —  the opportunities for better viewing areas and public circulation on the riverside elevation of the theatres

    —  improvement and expansion of serviced mooring areas along both river banks

    —  the scope to reinstate a level and fully accessible river terrace alongside the theatres

    —  the scope for a new footbridge to create easier access between both river banks and to the Recreation Ground car parking, and to provide an easier circular route

    —  how best to preserve the popular amenity of the chain link ferry

    —  the scope to improve the river edges, protecting them from erosion while meeting the needs of people and wildlife

    —  the potential for introducing the proposed floating walkway between the theatres, Bancroft Gardens and the Clopton Bridge boat-yard

    —  the scope for design improvements to retain the quality of environment and the sanctuary for river birds, while mitigating the nuisance of fouling of the gardens and moorings.


  The Feasibility Study has been undertaken by the RSC in consultation with a Design Team of leading international experts in numerous disciplines, led by Project Architects Erick van Egeraat and Michael Rushe. Consultation with a wide constituency of interested organisations and individuals, including many Stratford residents, has also been an important part of the process and the recommendations in this Report have been partly shaped by these contributions.

  The sole purpose of the Feasibility Study has been to identify a feasible and achievable solution. It has not been to produce scheme or detailed designs for buildings. These will be created later. However preliminary consideration has had to be given to the form of the theatre auditoria and stage arrangements, in order to determine the appropriate volume and location of buildings.

  The central thrust of the Feasibility Study has been to answer five primary questions:

    —  What forms and scales of theatres does the RSC require now and long-term?

    —  Where should they be located?

    —  What complementary changes would benefit the public realm?

    —  How can they be afforded in both capital and revenue terms?

    —  How much continuity of RSC performance can be maintained throughout the Redevelopment?

  In answering these questions, detailed study on a wide range of topics has been undertaken by the RSC and its consultants. These have included:

Auditorium and Acoustics Studies Masterplan Options Development
Architectural AppraisalConservation Assessment
Accommodation Schedule ReviewsMassing and Volumetric Analyses
Archaeological AppraisalHistoric Theatres Appraisal
Initial Disability AuditStructural Engineering Report
Geo-technical SurveyFloodplain consultation
Urban Planning AnalysisSite Location Appraisal
Initial Environmental Impact Assessment Planning and Listed Building Process Audit
Construction Cost AnalysesCost in Use Analyses
Business Plan and Staffing ReviewEconomic Impact Assessment
Traffic and Parking StudyMarket Research
Consultation Plan and Public TalksVisitor Attraction Appraisal
Submission to Local Plan ReviewLegal Audit of RSC and other Properties
Comparative theatre studiesComparative Studies of other Attractions
Historic Landscaping StudyAnalysis of Procurement Routes

Public Consultation

  The Feasibility Study has been pursued in as open and transparent a manner as possible. Numerous briefings and public talks have been given in Stratford and beyond, and many individuals and organisations have been consulted.

  The principal organisations involved include: DCMS; the Government Office West Midlands; Advantage West Midlands; Life (the Regional Cultural Consortium); Stratford District Council; Warwickshire County Council; Stratford Town Council; Birmingham City Council; the Stratford Society; the Stratford Business Partnership; English Heritage; the Twentieth Century Society; the Theatres Trust; West Midlands Arts Board; the Environment Agency; the CBI West Midlands; the Heart of England Tourist Board; South Warwickshire Tourism; the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust; the Stratford Hoteliers and Caterers Association; the RSC Disability Access User Group; British Waterways; Stratford Canal Society; the Upper Avon Navigation; and the Inland Waterways Association. The RSC greatly appreciates the widespread interest and contribution made by all these groups and individuals. The final recommendations of the Feasibility Study reflect, as far as possible, the advice and feedback received.

  Alongside consultation with key organisations, the RSC commissioned a programme of public consultation with residents and visitors. In summary the public consultation process revealed that :

    —  there is widespread and virtually unanimous goodwill for the RSC and recognition of the need for the Redevelopment. The current site is perceived to have a number of problems which need to be addressed urgently

    —  the clear priorities for action which have emerged are shared by all key interest groups. These reinforce the need for:

      —  artistic excellence to be the principal driver

      —  improved accessibility

      —  mixed use of the new RSC premises

      —  diversity of performance spaces

      —  state of the art facilities for artists and audiences

      —  integration with the town, especially in respect of traffic and pedestrian issues

Financial Viability

  On the basis of the financial appraisal carried out during the Feasibility Study, the principal elements of the Redevelopment are feasible within the proposed budget of £100 million, subject to further clarification of precise areas, materials and construction techniques during scheme development and detailed design.

  Of the £100 million, half the total amount has been earmarked by the Arts Lottery Fund (Capital) of the Arts Council for England. The matching £50 million will need to be raised by the RSC.

January 2002

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Prepared 26 March 2002