Analysis : Why show business is no job for a theatre's artistic director

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The Independent Culture
"There are no good, brave causes left," wailed John Osborne's Jimmy Porter from the Royal Court stage in 1956. Bectu believes it has found one - the alleged under-paying of staff by the same Royal Court.

It is an irony Osborne would have enjoyed. But if the Royal Court is in schism as it moves from being a small radical stage company to managing a multi-million-pound rebuilding and development project, then it is far from being alone.

The Royal Shakespeare Company has also been in dispute with Bectu, which has accused it of failing to inform staff of its plans for moving out of London for half the year. The National Theatre is also about to undergo a dramatic change, albeit of a non-contentious kind, when Trevor Nunn takes over from Richard Eyre.

It is a good moment for the Arts Council to produce its state-of-the- nation report, which it will next month. It will be the first national drama policy for a decade.

What is apparent in the present shake-up in Britain's national theatre companies is the dichotomy between artistic and administrative success.

Adrian Noble, artistic director of the RSC, must be applauded for wanting to ensure that his company is truly national by sharing its productions with more of the country. But the arrangements have not been well handled and have alienated his employees.

There is a lesson to be learned from the National Theatre, where Eyre as the creative head is partnered by Genista Mackintosh (soon to take over at the Royal Opera House) as executive director. The partnership has had a daunting run of success, both on the stage and with personnel.

It is asking too much for theatre directors not only to produce works of artistic excellence, but to run buildings and budgets as well. The Arts Council drama panel could consider recommending that artistic directors work alongside administrative directors.

A national drama policy also has to wrestle with the Royal Court's genuine complaint that a theatre can be a lottery millionaire, yet have no money to mount productions and pay staff. Fine buildings with glitzy restaurants cannot overshadow what is on the stage. Everyone who has seen Look Back In Anger remembers the play. Who remembers what they ate afterwards?

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