Cameron Mackintosh to give RSC new home in the West End

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The Independent Culture

Cameron Mackintosh, the theatre impresario, wants to leave a legacy of lovingly refurbished theatres, he said, after clinching a five-year deal to offer the Royal Shakespeare Company a home in the West End.

Cameron Mackintosh, the theatre impresario, wants to leave a legacy of lovingly refurbished theatres, he said, after clinching a five-year deal to offer the Royal Shakespeare Company a home in the West End.

Sir Cameron, who owns seven London theatres, is spending more than £3m on renovating the Novello Theatre, previously known as the Strand, for the RSC to move in this December.

It brings to £20m the amount he has spent on revamping his venues, at a time when the Government has been asked by the Theatres Trust for £250m of public funding to make London's stock of Victorian and Edwardian theatres fit for 21st-century audiences.

Asked why he was committing his own cash, he said: "I've made a great deal of money out of the West End and, quite frankly, I can't take it with me. I decided this was what I wanted to do. I want to leave them in a state where I can put my hand on my heart and say they will last for another 100 years.

"Most, with a number of exceptions, have not had any real money spent on them since they were built. They're amazing buildings. They don't need to be knocked down. They need to be lovingly refurbished."

Under the deal announced yesterday, Sir Cameron is guaranteeing the Royal Shakespeare Company a home in one of three of his theatres - the Novello, the Albery (shortly to be renamed the Noël Coward Theatre) or the Gielgud - for 70 weeks over the next five years.

Following the RSC's much-criticised departure from the Barbican, the arrangement gets rid of the need for annual negotiations to find a venue for the transfer of work from its base in Stratford-upon-Avon.

The deal is for five years because by 2010, the company should have finalised its plans for the redevelopment of its theatres in Stratford and will then be in a position to decide upon a long-term base in the capital.

Four comedies from this summer's Stratford season will come to the Novello Theatre for 16 weeks from December, following a hugely successful season of RSC tragedies at the Albery in 2004-2005.

Productions such asHamlet, which starred Toby Stephens, played to more than 75,000 people, or 87 per cent of the capacity of the 830-seat venue. The company took more than £1.6m at the box office, exceeding its target by more than 30 per cent.

Sir Cameron said the new deal was a mixture of business and sentiment. He had long wanted to have an ongoing relationship with an internationally acclaimed subsidised company as part of his programming.

He first worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company on Les Miserables 20 years ago, which has continued to make considerable sums of money for the RSC and will next year become the longest-running musical in the West End.

Sir Cameron said: "When you're running a theatre in the West End, there's a limited amount of high-standard plays or musicals of any sort, therefore to have a company makes tremendous sense.

"We're all hoping it will be a very successful season, but we're not doing it because it's the highest grossing show we could put in here."

Michael Boyd, the RSC's artistic director, added: "On the other hand, if we had not done as well as we had at the Albery, I'm sure our conversations with Cameron might have been slightly different. He's not hiring a basket case. As a theatre director, it's really good news that Cameron is taking such an interest in playhouses in the West End."

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