Angry Barbican chief attacks RSC and Arts Council

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The Independent Culture

The artistic director of the Barbican Centre attacked the Royal Shakespeare Company yesterday for deserting its theatres even though they were originally designed to the RSC's own specifications.

Graham Sheffield also criticised the Arts Council, which funded the RSC, for failing to exercise "either responsibility or common sense" over the RSC's decision to quit its long-time home in the capital.

He announced an expanded programme of theatre, music and dance from around the world to replace the six months a year formerly occupied by the RSC, and said he regretted its departure. Backed by John Tusa, the Barbican's managing director, Mr Sheffield made clear his anger that the Arts Council had not consulted them over the move. The two stages the RSC used at the Barbican were built for it to its specifications and the company received £1.8m a year in Arts Council subsidy to perform on them.

Mr Sheffield said the subsidy did not transfer over to his budgets, which meant the Barbican was left considerably the poorer by the departure. The RSC is paying total compensation of about £1.3m over three years for breaking its lease five years early.

Adrian Noble, the RSC's artistic director who instigated the company's move to alternative venues across London, has resigned and will not see the changes through. In an apparent swipe at Mr Noble, Mr Sheffield said: "My principal regret is that those who should have been able to see, could not see the potential of a genuine partnership between a great world arts centre and the world's leading repertory Shakespeare company."

But he welcomed the opportunity to control all of the building. "We can now look forward to working with companies and artists who want to work with us."

Among the work being brought in to replace the RSC this year is Georgian puppetry from Tbilisi, a world première from the acclaimed Merce Cunningham Dance Company and the UK première of a production of Georg Buchner's story of Woyzeck with music and lyrics by Tom Waits.

The programme is an expansion of BITE, the Barbican International Theatre Season created five years ago to provide a wider range of foreign performances to Britain.

The expanded programme will include a partnership with the English National Opera to produce concert and theatre performances of its new Ring Cycle and an aerial ballet in a giant marquee in the East End. Mr Sheffield said he believed Shakespeare was an important part of the mix at the Barbican and it would be looking for productions to replace those of the RSC. There is still a chance the RSC will do some plays at its former home.

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