THEATRE / This sweet parting

The RSC is to leave London for six months each year. Sir Peter Hall, the man who first brought the company south, says it's the right decision
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The Independent Culture
YOU LEARN in the theatre that the only thing that matters is obsession. Adrian Noble, the artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, has an obsession about developing a national theatre - in the sense of wanting to be all over the country - and he must be supported in that.

More than 35 years ago I, too, had an obsession. At the RSC then, I knew that we had to be in London as well as Stratford; if we hadn't gone to the capital there wouldn't be an RSC now. We would continue to be a Chichester- style summer festival. But when I created the RSC and brought it to London I received a trouncing from many quarters at the very idea that a festival in Stratford could become year-round in London.

Going to London led to the eventual creation of the Barbican stage in the City. It also led to the Warehouse and Pit theatres, and eventually to our Newcastle season and the Swan and Other Place theatres in Stratford. Our creative energy has come from taking a risk on the obsession of a director.

If we had listened to our opponents, London would never have benefited from the RSC. So there is a certain ambiguity in my reflections. That is inevitable. But my overriding feeling is that Adrian's decision will give a new lease of life to the company. What he is doing is right for him and right for the moment.

We should all argue about the wisdom of it. But those who are against the changes are acting as if the RSC is leaving London entirely. That is wrong. But the RSC will still be at the Barbican for half the year.

The bigger worry, my worry about both the national companies, the RSC and the National Theatre, is that neither now has anything like a company. The RSC actors are contracted for only 20 months. The National casts its plays one by one. The thing that Peggy Ashcroft and I dreamt about in the Sixties, and achieved, an ensemble of actors who knew each other and stuck with each other for up to five or six years, has gone completely. Now actors don't want to commit that amount of time. They want to be in London for TV work.

The key question now is will the RSC being out of London be more or less attractive to actors?

It has always been difficult to get leading actors to sign for long periods. And for some years now the RSC has been much more concerned with developing its own actors. But Adrian's scheme won't work if the RSC on the road becomes a second- string touring company. The very reason we came to London in the first place was to be the other national theatre which, we were actually, before the National Theatre itself had a presence in London.

It seems to me that if you can say you're doing Plymouth and Tokyo, that should be just as attractive to actors as doing Plymouth and the Barbican. And the National Theatre will be much strengthened by attracting top-strength actors who want to live in London.

The extra international touring will be very important and will certainly enhance the reputation of the RSC. But I feel sad for the City of London. I'm terribly worried about what will happen to the Barbican Theatre for the six months that the RSC is not there. It won't be attractive to big commercial shows or their producers because it isn't in theWest End and the RSC will always be coming back after six months.

Already myths are surfacing about the RSC's change of direction. First, they are not leaving London entirely. They will be in London six months a year. Then there is the myth raised last week that this would be a blow to tourists. The tourist attendance at the Barbican is nine per cent. It's a tiny percentage of their audience. It is Stratford that most tourists come to.

And it certainly isn't true that the RSC is leaving because of antagonism towards the Barbican. The Barbican has been a very difficult place for the RSC, but not for the actors standing on the stage nor for the audience. That part of life there has been fine. The company didn't enjoy being underground, it's true. But Adrian is leaving for reasons that are positive and idealistic.

I'm trying to support a man I have a great admiration for. I'm shedding a tear for the City. I don't shed a tear for London. It will still get enough RSC. And if the company's Newcastle residency - each year they set up in Newcastle for six weeks - is repeated in, for example, the south west, it will be marvellous. The argument that this will encourage councils to close local repertory theatres can't be taken seriously. The RSC will only be setting up two new six- week residencies while away from London.

In another five years, the RSC might decide to leave London entirely or go back to London full-time. It will never leave Stratford. That is where the energy is.

! Sir Peter Hall was talking to David Lister. He is directing Julius Caesar in Stratford.

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