Revealed: why Adrian Noble really walked out of the RSC

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The Independent Culture

The Royal Shakespeare Company has seen many dramas played out on its stage in its 44-year history. But when its artistic director Adrian Noble suddenly quit his post in April 2002 after his plans for a radical shake-up of the way it did business foundered, the art world was astonished.

The Royal Shakespeare Company has seen many dramas played out on its stage in its 44-year history. But when its artistic director Adrian Noble suddenly quit his post in April 2002 after his plans for a radical shake-up of the way it did business foundered, the art world was astonished.

Now papers released to The Independent under the Freedom of Information Act cast a new light on his abrupt departure, revealing that the Arts Council had refused to back his plans just a month earlier.

Until now it had been thought that the Arts Council, the company's principal source of funding, had favoured the scheme code-named Project Fleet.

When he quit, Noble made no mention of the council but spoke out bitterly about the strength of opposition to his scheme.

He had faced a barrage of attacks after announcing plans to knock down the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, leave the London Barbican baseand adopt a more star-driven casting policy.

The papers show that in March 2002, members of the Stabilisation Advisory Panel recommended that the Council should not endorse Mr Noble's strategy.

The papers say: "Council agreed to the panel's recommendation that the RSC should re-evaluate and make changes to its current Fleet Project proposal, as it was the Arts Council's view the risks associated with the change process needed to be reduced".

Even as far back as November 2001, the panel expressed concerns about the artistic and audience benefit of the plans, how they would be financed and whether the company had the organisational capacity to handle the change which involved large job losses.

Terry Hands, who preceded Noble as artistic director, quit the RSC's advisory committee as he felt Noble's strategy was artistic and financial suicide.

"We could not understand why [the Arts Council] appeared to be publicly supporting these plans," he said yesterday. "I wonder whether if they had made their position clearer at the time whether some of the horrors of the period might have been avoided.

"Everybody thought the resignation was down to the success of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang [Noble's new show], but to have had ... a warning that the whole Fleet project was to be reviewed surely sped the decision."

Noble was yesterday unavailable for comment.

But one RSC insider did not believe that the Arts Council rejection led to the resignation, as the plans could have been revised. "I can't believe it wasn't a decision he was considering some months beforehand."

Michael Boyd, who succeeded Noble, said yesterday that he was aware of the Arts Council's concerns when he took over in 2002, but that was not why he initially put decisions about the Royal Shakespeare Theatre on the back burner.

"I wanted to work out what the destiny of the company ought to be and then out of that I could make sense of what the shape of the buildings should be. When I came in, there was an opportunity for a deep structural rethink."

Now, however, the RSC's prospects were much more rosy. "We're absolutely balancing our books which I've said is the prerequisite of artistic freedom and the precondition for all real ambition."

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