RSC decides to revamp theatre home with Shakespearean stage

The Royal Shakespeare Company has rejected plans to build a new home in Stratford-upon-Avon and will instead revamp its existing theatre with a Shakespearean-style "thrust" stage , ending three years of uncertainty about the future of the Grade II-listed structure.

The Royal Shakespeare Company has rejected plans to build a new home in Stratford-upon-Avon and will instead revamp its existing theatre with a Shakespearean-style "thrust" stage , ending three years of uncertainty about the future of the Grade II-listed structure.

The decision, announced yesterday, draws a line under a saga that began in 2001 when Adrian Noble, then the company's artistic director, said he wanted to knock down the Royal Shakespeare Theatre (RST), which had poor facilities, and build a new one. The idea of demolition prompted uproar from supporters of the theatre's feted Art Deco interiors, a row that eventually proved a factor in Mr Noble's resignation.

But that left Michael Boyd, who replaced Mr Noble, and Sir Christopher Bland, who took on the chairman's job five months ago, with a building in need of major improvements for both its actors and audiences.

The demolition proposal had been a mistake and it was important to devise plans that were achievable, they said, but they insisted that the new proposal was no half-hearted compromise. "It's just brilliant," Mr Boyd said. "It's the right thing to do."

The new plans will replace the existing traditional stage and proscenium arch with a thrust stage which the audience sits around, much more like the theatres of Shakespeare's own time. Projections say it can be done within the previous £100m budget.

It will have the major benefit of bringing audiences closer to the stage with the distance to the farthest seat cut from 27 metres to a distance of between 14 and 16 metres, although the number of seats will be cut from about 1,350 to 1,000.

A temporary home will be built in Stratford during the refurbishment, which will take about five years.

The board of the RSC met yesterday with two options: to reconfigure the RST or to build a new theatre on the site of the Arden Hotel opposite, which the RSC owns, and find an alternative use for the RST. In the end, Mr Boyd said it seemed "perverse" to move out of such an iconic building so they voted to improve the existing theatre.

The scheme was tested in a full-size mock-up in the backstage area of the Royal Opera House with curtains for walls, balloons for people and a cherry-picker crane to give a sense of the highest seats in the house.

Sir Christopher said: "The current Royal Shakespeare Theatre sits on the best site in the town for the company's main theatre. There's a history of continued Shakespearean performance on that site that we're keen to preserve - theatrical ghosts and all."

Although an architect has yet to be appointed and the fine print agreed, English Heritage announced it was satisfied with the solution.

Dame Judi Dench, who had expressed concerns about the original demolition plans but has recently returned to work with the RSC, said: "It seems to me that what the company has now found is a brilliant way of retaining the original building while constructing a new theatre inside it which will work wonderfully for actors and audiences alike."

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