Arts: Alan Rickman says RSC is wasting young actors' talent

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The Independent Online
The Royal Shakespeare Company has a history of seeing young actors through to stardom. But one who rose to fame now says it's little more than a production line. David Lister, Arts News Editor, hears Alan Rickman's accusations.

The Royal Shakespeare Company has been condemned by its former star Alan Rickman for neglecting young talent. Its young actors are "dropping like flies," he claims.

The company has a history of nurturing numerous future stars - from Diana Rigg, Judi Dench and Helen Mirren to Ken Branagh and Ralph Fiennes. Rickman himself rose to fame with the company's production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses before pursuing a film career - he has just directed a film, The Winter Guest, starring Emma Thompson.

In the current issue of The Stage magazine, Rickman says it is a miracle that young talent comes through the RSC system. He also criticised the company in a talk he gave at the National Film Theatre. "It's a factory. It has to be. It's all about product endlessly churned out - not sufficiently about process," he said. "They don't look after the young actors ... People are dropping like flies, doing too many shows at once. There ought to be someone who helps them develop." He went on to express unsought sympathy for the RSC's artistic director Adrian Noble: "I remember when Noble was a young, fresh talent. Now he's weighed down by running buildings and financial concerns."

In fact, Noble has two productions, Shakespeare's Cymbeline and Ibsen's Little Eyolf, at the Barbican Centre, both of which have been acclaimed by the critics. And no actors work in more than three productions. It can be argued, though, that the RSC has not had a blockbuster production for some time, and has not been as successful with ticket sales recently as the National Theatre.

An RSC spokesman said Rickman was "out of touch" with the company's activities. It specialised in developing young talent, he said, with experts giving actors classical skills, voice and movement classes. "Alan Rickman's premise is entirely false," he said. "Over the years, the RSC had had a marvellous record in moving on talent. Nearly all of the great artists on stage and sometimes in film - I'd include Alan Rickman in that - have been through that `factory' that is the RSC. It's not an accusation that holds well. It's fashionable to take that line, but it's patently untrue."

company of stars

DAME JUDI DENCH is one of many, many actors who learnt their craft at the RSC before moving to the National Theatre and into television and films. She was a memorable Lady Macbeth, but she also excelled at comedy, notably in Trevor Nunn's 1976 musical of The Comedy of Errors.

KENNETH BRANAGH gained his national reputation at the RSC, recording in his biography how he was "trevved", hugged by the then artistic director Trevor Nunn after playing Henry the Fifth. The film of Henry the Fifth that he later directed and starred in owed much to his time with the RSC.

HELEN MIRREN was a young, sexy Hermia in the company's seminal 1970 A Midsummer Night's Dream, directed by Peter Brook. The set was a white box, the fairy king entered on a trapeze and the RSC not for the first or last time broke the mould. Mirren's film career was just about to take off.