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RSC staff fight switch from capital to regions

The Royal Shakespeare Company is in conflict with its own staff over its decision to leave London for six months of the year and tour the regions.

The decision was revealed in the Independent in June and proclaimed by the RSC's artistic director, Adrian Noble, as a way of being a truly national company and taking Shakespeare to the people.

Mr Noble is adamant that the change will take place, and the Barbican Centre in London is urgently seeking new tenants for the RSC's theatre for the summer months.

However, Bectu, the theatre union, which represents the backstage staff at the RSC, has written to all the company's governors, who include the Prince of Wales, condemning the plan, saying that it endangers the staff and the stage and wardrobe skills that have developed over 30 years.

It also said that not a single regional theatre had yet agreed to host an RSC residency, a fact confirmed by the company yesterday.

Judith Blakeman, Bectu's national officer, said: "This means that the RSC, having burned its boats with the City of London Corporation, which runs the Barbican Centre and gives it a generous annual grant, now has nowhere to go. The RSC promised us further information about their proposals back in July. The fact that we have heard nothing suggests that the RSC is now seriously embarrassed, and that the whole future of the London operation is in jeopardy.

"In the meantime, our members face the loss of their livelihood. We don't understand how any responsible public employer can wantonly throw long- serving and loyal workers on to the dole like this without a second thought."

The union is seeking a meeting with the new managing director of the Barbican Centre, John Tusa. They will tell him, says Ms Blakeman, that "the RSC in its arrogance has made a fundamental error of judgement in committing itself to a touring programme that is just not wanted in the regions".

An RSC spokeswoman said yesterday that the new arrangements were not due to start until 1997 and a venue for a new residency should be known by Spring 1996. The RSC would also be touring nationally and 12 theatres had expressed an interest in receiving the RSC for short tours. She added: "We regret that the implications of these plans means a reduced season of work in London."