The Royal Shakespeare Company is to leave its London home at the Barbican Centre for six months of the year to tour the country and set up residencies in cities round Britain, the Independent learnt yesterday.
The decision by the RSC's artistic director, Adrian Noble, will come into force next year, and will be the biggest change in British theatre for years.
In an interview with the Independent, Mr Noble said he could no longer justify in his own mind the fact that much of the country, particularly Scotland and Wales, was deprived of seeing Shakespeare performed at the highest level. Describing it as a "personal crusade", he said: "The idea of a touring Shakespeare ensemble that goes out and goes to where people live is, and should always be, a very important plank of arts policy."
From next year, the RSC will present only a winter festival in London. It will still play all year at Stratford-upon-Avon and keep its month- long residency in Newcastle upon Tyne. But it will add two other new residencies in regional cities and dramatically increase its touring.
"At any time there will always be an RSC play on the road ... in terms of access we will be the truly national theatre," he said.
But the RSC's decision has stunned officials at the Barbican Centre, on the edge of the City, and the City of London Corporation - which gives the company pounds 3.6m a year, a figure that it recently doubled from pounds 1.8m.
Bernard Hary, acting managing director of the Barbican, negotiated the money for the RSC. He pointed out last night that both the Barbican Theatre and the smaller Pit theatre had been designed by the RSC for their exclusive use. He would now have to find other productions for half the year.
He said: "Adrian's decision has come as a surprise. It has a consequence for the Barbican that we'd rather not have had. I've spent a lot of time negotiating the current deal. We're sorry they feel they can't continue their all-the-year-round operation
But he said Mr Noble was "doing it for artistic, not financial, reasons", and added, "the upside for us is that we can now have opera, recitals and music at the Barbican Theatre."
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