Letter: Theatre in peril

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The Independent Culture
Sir: What an extraordinary admission of defeat for the Royal Shakespeare Company to want to demolish the very theatre that made it great (report, 27 August). I have just returned from Stratford, where I saw two plays in one day - one at The Swan and the other at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and my experience was exactly the opposite to the claims made by the RSC.

During my three and a quarter hours in The Swan I was made profoundly uncomfortable and restless by my narrow, armless seat and by the deafening noise of the production, which was far too intrusive for such a limited space. Nor, however loudly they were shouting, could I hear the actors' words since, playing in the round, they were obliged to turn their backs on me half the time. The main house, in the evening, was by contrast elegant and comfortable and I could see and hear without strain.

What makes actors imagine that audiences want to be intimate with them? We get close-ups on film and television. What the theatre can so excitingly give us is a sense of spectacle and formality. There was no problem with audibility in the days of Olivier and Ashcroft. Rather than pull down a beautiful and historic building, let the actors and directors raise their game.


London SW15