Memorandum submitted by Valerie Newey
I feel that it is time that I joined in the
debate about the future of the RSC in Stratford I'm sure
that you have received many similar letters but, as any MP will
know, any one letter represents at least 300 others.
I have been supporting the theatre in Stratford
since my first visit with my English teacher in 1949 to see "Julius
Caesar" a new and wonderful world opened up to me
and through it I have been nourished and sustained until today.
Even now I have embarked upon a course in Shakespeare Studies
organised by Birmingham University taking place at the Shakespeare
Institute. Not only has theatre been a fulfilling part of my life
but also my children have taken great pleasure from their visits
and their lives have been similarly enriched.
Following that you will guess that I am one
of the grey-haired theatre-goers so disliked by the people who
want to see vast changes to the main theatre and The Other Place
but do they ever look at the whole audience? I have been sitting
amongst children and young people many times and have seen them
as enthralled and I was so many years agoand still remain.
It is often we elderlies who introduce the young audienceand
pay for the seats.
FirstlyThe Other Place. A totally new
theatre-going experience was presented to me when this opened.
Theatre right at my feet, demanding to be heard and, often demanding
to be felt. You don't want a list of my stunningly best, but the
most recent, "Richard II", called for a restorative
cup of tea in the café before I dared drive home. So often
I have felt involved and, indeed I once was, and it is the saddest
thing that it is to be closed.
I don't understand the need for an acting academy
in Stratford surely that's what we have. A look at my
old programmes shows that a very large number of the "greats"
have started off as spear-carriers and assorted bit players in
Stratford. I'm sure that a survey would reveal that even the low
salaries and two-year contracts have not put many actors off.
Some, admittedly, have not enjoyed being part of the company but
many have learned their trade there. As part of the audience I
feel that we do not need "stars" to make a good play;
witness the success of "The Merchant of Venice" at The
Swan. I have watched at least one "star" who seemed
to have little thought for his colleagues become an ensemble player
and enjoy it. Sinead Cusack has antagonised many people with her
comments and several have resolved to boycott her performances
this summer. Thank goodness for Michael Pennington.
I will admit to not being enamoured of the main
theatre although it was there that I had my early experience and
continued pleasure. I used to see most of the plays from the balconylater,
as a "member" I was able to get front row balcony seats
but before then I often sat at the back. Never was my viewing
disadvantaged there and, in fact, the only time I was unable to
see well was for a projection of "A Midsummer Night's Dream"
in 1999 when I sat in the very front row of the stalls. The stage
had been raised so the fairies and the flowers appeared without
my noticing. I did write commenting on this, as I write when I
have been especially pleased with a performance, and received
a very pleasant letter in reply. I have experienced poor sight-lines
in The Swan and I have queued for the loos there too and this
after proper thought was given to the planning. Women always lose
out on loo provision. I think that if I, and all the thousands
who regularly attend the theatre, keep coming there can't be all
that much wrong. I do now afford a stalls seat from time to time,
though not rich, and I guess that I must be more easily seen by
Sinead Cusack. Michael Simkins claims that the front five rows
are easily viewed from the stage and they may be filled by the
rich and elderly. Nor have I had any problems with hearingactors
are trained to project and do it well normally.
You might also be interested to know that the
course that I am attending normally involves three visits to see
plays by Shakespeare during early July and we were sad to find
that it would not be possible in Stratford this yearinstead
we will go Will seeking further afield.
Finally, why are there not more "real"
theatregoers on the RSC Board and should there be some open meetings
to hear what we have to say? A couple of MPs who are ill-informed
and have only visited once or twice should not be allowed such
an influential voice at a Commons Select Committee meeting. I
am more than happy that Newcastle should be the home for more
RSC work but not, please, at a loss to Stratford. I talked with
people recently who had driven up from Bath and Stroud to see
"Hamlet" and another who had travelled by train from
Wales. It's not just a local theatre but also a worldwide magnet.
Why not open the Theatre on Sunday and build more lavatoriesthe
facilities of a "theme park" already exist?
4 February 2002