Theatre school head in drama over sackings

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The Independent Online
The principal of one of Britain's best-known theatre schools was facing calls for his resignation last night after protests from students.

More than 100 students are staging a sit-in at Rose Bruford College, which trained stars like Steve Huison, from the hit The Full Monty, Dracula star Gary Oldman, and Lynda Steadman, who starred in Mike Leigh's drama Career Girls.

Staff and students at the college in south London are demanding that Professor Robert Ely quit over the sacking of two senior staff.

Members of Equity, the actors' union, and the lecturers' union NATFHE have been asked to refuse to work at the college after the sacking of Sue Colgrave, head of theatre, and Jonathan Martin, head of directing. Both are appealing against their dismissal.

A petition signed by nearly 60 senior figures from the world of stage and broadcasting, including Huison, director Jude Kelly and playwright Edward Bond, claims academic standards at the college are being seriously undermined, and calls for a "truly impartial and independent investigation into the current crisis".

The college rejected the criticisms, and said most students supported Professor Ely.

Students occupying the college gym and offices were staging rehearsals and performances yesterday as they prepared for a weekend confrontation with the college management. A student union statement said they had been "lied to, misquoted, misled and kept in the dark about matters that affect our education".

One of the protesters, Eleanor Brunsdon, said: "We feel now that the only way we can restore the college's reputation and artistic integrity is if the principal resigns."

The college, whose alumni also include former Dr Who actor Tom Baker and actress Nerys Hughes, was founded by in 1950. It offers degrees in acting, direction and technical stage skills to more than 800 students at Sidcup, Kent, and Deptford, south-east London.

Relations between staff and Professor Ely have deteriorated. Actor and director Lawrence Evans, who is among those boycotting work at the college, said: "There's an atmosphere of fear and intimidation which has pervaded the college ... Morale is incredibly low. The reputation of the college and its public profile have been severely damaged."

The college, however, rejected the criticisms. A statement said: "There are students who were concerned about the behaviour of these two members of staff and whose education was affected, otherwise disciplinary action would not have been taken.

"Furthermore, there are many current students who have voiced support for the college and for Professor Ely. They are not taking such extreme action and therefore do not get noticed. The majority of the students continue to support the college and Professor Ely."

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