Former RSC director resigns over Noble's plan to demolish theatre

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Adrian Noble's radical plans to reform the Royal Shakespeare Company have been hit by the sudden resignation of one of his key advisers, the man who groomed him for his position as the theatre group's artistic director.

Terry Hands, a former artistic director of the company, has stepped down in protest at Noble's intention to demolish the RSC's main theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon and quit its home at London's Barbican Centre.

The RSC's plan to replace its 1932 listed building in Stratford, which was revealed in The Independent last month, forms part of a grand strategy by Mr Noble to reshape the company. He wants to run a smaller company, which would use a number of London theatres and build a "theatre village" in Stratford. This would include a new theatre replacing the Royal Shakespeare Theatre (RST).

But the plan has alienated Mr Hands, who ran the RSC in the Eighties. His opposition is a delicate and awkward one on a personal level. Mr Noble was the favoured son under the Hands regime and was his chosen successor.

While Mr Noble has had the private support of his other RSC predecessors, Trevor Nunn and Sir Peter Hall, for his plans, Mr Hands is understood to want the RST to remain. He is also known to be upset by other changes Mr Noble has made in his restructuring of the company. These include having smaller companies on short-term contracts playing shorter seasons in Stratford instead of a company of actors being together over two years.

Early reaction from inside the company has been far from favourable. The withdrawal from the Barbican and the plan for a smaller company has led to redundancies; threatened strike action by backstage staff has been narrowly averted.

No alternative venues to the Barbican in London have been announced and the RST plan has fallen foul of the 20th Century Society, which has said it could oppose the scheme when planning permission is sought next year.

Mr Hands, who spent 25 years at the RSC and now runs Clwyd Theatr Cymru in Mold, said: "I could not see how these plans could be financially or artistically viable. There needs to be a much more thorough debate on the present plans."

An RSC spokesman said: "Adrian is not naïve enough to think everybody in the artistic world is going to agree with every facet of the choices he is making."

The RSC board of governors will meet to discuss the matter later this month. The meeting will be chaired by the Prince of Wales, the RSC president, who has called Mr Noble to a meeting at Highgrove because of the number of letters he has received over the restructuring of the company.