Shakespeare company saved by pounds 100,000 deal: Businessman to become executive producer as part of rescue

THE immediate future of the threatened English Shakespeare Company has been secured with pounds 100,000-plus from a businessman wishing to make his mark as a theatrical producer.

Following the disclosure in the Independent that Britain's premier touring company was in danger after changes in Arts Council grants, Michael Edwards, the co-owner of Travelsphere, the country's largest independent tour operator, has agreed to give the ESC the money.

The deal hinges on him acting as executive producer, overseeing the budgets and overseas bookings and the contracting of actors.

Mr Edwards, 47, is already on the board of the company and will now become executive producer of the company's next project, Faust, to be directed by Michael Bogdanov. The production, seen over two evenings, will tour to 11 theatres in the United Kingdom this autumn and then travel to festivals around the world.

Following the decision of the Arts Council to fund the company project by project rather than on a basis of pounds 600,000 a year for three years, Michael Pennington, the actor and joint artistic director of the ESC, resigned from the board. Mr Edwards's gift, in addition to the Arts Council's present grant of pounds 290,000, and other sponsorship, means the company can continue its touring and education work.

Mr Edwards said yesterday: 'I have always felt that there should be a happy and profitable marriage of my travel and theatre interests, and the opportunity to bring the ESC's Faust to the stage is an immense, exciting and potentially rewarding project.'

Mr Bogdanov said yesterday that Mr Edwards's financial commitment had 'rescued the company'.

The arrangement received a cautious welcome from Simon Mundy, the director of the National Campaign for the Arts. He said: 'In the present climate arts companies must get money from wherever they can. On the other hand, I do think there has to be a dividing line between the piper and the purse. Arts companies are often dependent on people with money and vision, but it does change the nature of the company.'

The Edinburgh Festival programme announced yesterday will feature productions from the international theatre directors, Peter Stein, Peter Sellars, Robert Lepage and Robert Wilson. Stein will present his German-language version of Julius Caesar; Wilson will direct Gertrude Stein's Dr Faustus Lights the Lights; Sellars will direct Aeschylus's The Persians, and Lepage will direct Canadian Opera's UK debut presenting Schoenberg's Erwartung and Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle. Other highlights will be 13 Schubert and Janacek concerts, the Mark Morris Dance Group, and recitals by Anne Sofie von Otter and Andras Schiff.

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