Hard times ahead as Royal Court sheds staff

The Royal Court Theatre has made one of its senior executives redundant in a further sign of how the harsh economic climate is hurting London's theatreland.

Barbara Matthews, the Court's executive director since 2001, will leave next week in a move that has left staff shocked.

No official explanation for the departure was forthcoming yesterday, although the theatre council's chairwoman, the Bloomsbury books publisher Liz Calder, expressed her "great thanks" for Ms Matthews' work and wished her well. Financial considerations are understood to have contributed to the council's decision that Ms Matthews had to go.

She was employed at a time when the Royal Court was in receipt of substantial lottery funding towards its refurbishment, which involved a complicated move to a temporary home in the West End until the renovation of its Sloane Square theatres was complete. That process - and the funding - is now at an end.

Ms Matthews was also responsible for the commercial exploitation of the Royal Court's work, through West End transfers and other sources. Two hit plays, The York Realist and more recently Hitchcock Blonde, moved to the West End, but the parlous financial state of London's theatreland has made such moves increasingly difficult.

A small number of other Royal Court staff have been also made redundant as part of the theatre's belt-tightening exercise.

The Court, which champions the work of new writers, has an annual budget of about £3m, funded equally by subsidies, box office receipts and sponsorship and other fund-raising.

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