Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Supplementary Memorandum submitted by Hands Off Our Theatre "HOOT"


  We at HOOT understand that you will reach a decision shortly and publish a report on 26 March. The decision will have a material effect not only as far at the RST is concerned but also on the immediate conservation area and the town of Stratford on Avon as well. The outlook for us all, if the Arts Council funding is confirmed and the Royal Shakespeare Company ["RSC"] proceeds with its plans, is too awful to contemplate.

  The problem with the RSC plans, as with so many other pivotal issues, is that the public was the last to learn about them. In this particular instance there was no general awareness until October 2001 and, despite RSC's claims to the contrary, public consultation has been minuscule. Even so, HOOT already has the signatures of 800 objectors and the number is increasing by the week.

  We made our first written submission to you, by letter in January and we would like to draw your attention, please, to the memorandum prepared by HOOT member Donald James, a retired architect, setting out, in brief, as to how the extant 1932 Grade II* listed building could be saved by remodelling the interior and at significantly lower cost than is implicit in demolition and reconstruction. This document was forwarded in mid February.

  It is a matter of record that some of the Committee seem to favour demolition. Can we point out that an emotional response, namely whether one likes or dislikes the Elizabeth Scott design, should not overshadow your decision. It is one of the few remaining public buildings of the inter war years have a Grade II* listing and it calls into question, if demolition went ahead, as to the value of affording protection at all.

  However, the main purpose of this letter is to draw your attention to the lack of credibility of the RSC, its leadership and, it follows, the RSC plans.

  What we say is this:

  1.  That the shortcomings of the 1932 Theatre have been overstated.

  In this context we submit a photocopy of an article by Michael Pennington that appeared in a December 2001 issue of the Guardian (not printed). Michael Pennington's acting reputation dwarfs that of Sinead Cusack who gave evidence to you in January. A synopsis of what he has to say is that ALL theatres have limitations, what really counts is the quality of the production and acting skills. The corollary of this is that sooner, or later, problems would emerge in any new theatre.

  In late February, Dame Judi Dench, who spent many successful years at the RST, came out against the RSC plans [see extract from the Stratford Herald (not printed)]. Clearly, there is a marked difference of opinion between thespians who need to ingratiate themselves with RSC management and those who do not.

  2.  That the RSC is a failing organisation

  Theatre critics, notably John Peter of the Sunday Times have long been circumspect as to the RSC management style and the recently constituted Fleet Project [Sunday Times articles by John Peter (not printed)]. The extent of the failure is in the public domain.

  3.  That key directors have quite the RSC

  Terry Hands, once a leading artistic director at the RST and Adrian Noble's predecessor, resigned from the Board of Governors at the RSC because he did not agree with Noble's plans. Even more recently Michael Attenborough departed, only to be followed last week by Edward Hall, son of Sir Peter Hall, founder of the RSC. A new director has to be found now for the scheduled production of "Edward III". These and other resignations were reported in the Evening Standard issue of 5 March 2002 (not printed). What does this say about the stability of the RSC?

  In the meantime, RSC's artistic director at the RST, Adrian Noble has leave of absence to stage "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" a non RSC production in which he has a pecuniary interest. This is a matter record and non speculation, the Sunday Times has already published the details and it must surely beg the question as to Adrian Noble's commitment to the RSC's plans.

  4.  That the RSC's reputation for theatre value is crashing

  Recent notices about the current quality of productions is illustrated by the failure of, in particular, "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (articles not printed). Very few theatregoers will be unaware of this criticism which strikes at the core ability of the RSC to fulfil what must be fundamental to its purposes, to stage quality productions. If the RSC fails in this regard what confidence can there be in the capability to deliver the far reaching plans before you?

  In summary, all this evidence must call into question the underlying validity of the RSC plans and the RSC's inherent ability to deliver what is promised, within the cost parameters and on time.

  As recently as yesterday, 8 March, at a specially convened meeting, Jonathan Pope RSC Redevelopment Director alleged that the RSC plans have still to be finalised. Yet he went on to say that the RST, given current and anticipated legislation, cannot continue, as it is, beyond 2004. How can such a postulation stand alongside the facts that the plans, on his own admission, are not in final form and the legal consents to development have yet to be addressed? What if there were a public inquiry? All of this spells the same sort of disaster as the Dome and Wembley Stadium to name only two. Will the RST be the next catastrophe?

  Finally, and perhaps this best illustrates the overwhelming arrogance exhibited by the RSC, Jonathan Pope, in response to a question, asked at the Stratford Forum, said that the £50 million of Arts Council funding is "OURS" and the CMS report on 26 is purely a rubber stamp!

9 March 2002

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Prepared 26 March 2002