The Royal Shakespeare Company has decided not to transfer any plays from Stratford-upon-Avon to London for the first time in its history.
The decision not to bring a single play to the capital follows the company's departure in May this year from its permanent home at the Barbican.
Since the formation of the modern RSC under Peter Hall in 1960 Stratford plays have regularly been showcased in London.
The casts, including Henry Goodman, Emma Fielding and Daniel Evans, have been told that, short of a miracle, their contracts will not be extended because the RSC cannot afford to take them to the West End as it is £2.8m in deficit. Last year, commercial producers backed the transfer of a season of lesser-known Jacobean and Elizabethan plays, but tough trading conditions in West End theatres mean none have been able to step into the breach again.
The problem emerged when an RSC member told the whatsonstage.com website that the deadline to extend their contracts had expired on Monday. The RSC negotiated a week's grace but a spokesman said yesterday time was running out.
The decision confirms the fears of critics such as the actors Sir Antony Sher and Samuel West, who said it was wrong to leave the Barbican for a peripatetic existence in venues hired according to need.
The move from the Barbican lost the company a £1m subsidy and created extra expense with commercial rents in venues such as the Theatre Royal, Haymarket. It also dissolved the close ties the company had with its audiences. The decision was made by Adrian Noble before he departed in the face of condemnation over his plans for the company, which included demolishing the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford. Mr Noble's successor, Michael Boyd, has partly conceded the madness of the move, and is in negotiations to establish a new base in London for the company.
If he is successful, his inaugural season of plays at Stratford next spring will come to London in the autumn. It is more economically viable to fund a long-term residency in London with a full company of actors performing in a number of plays as Mr Boyd plans.
An RSC spokesman said that not all Stratford productions had come to London in the past, but it was "terribly sad" that none looked likely to come this winter. "This year, we've needed to make a very difficult decision that we couldn't afford to bring our shows to town with our subsidy," he said.
Other seasons, such as that at the Roundhouse in north London, had been supported with subsidy, but it had been decided not to spend subsidy on transfers when it had debts. He said: "We know we need to address this urgently. Our audiences in London need a place where they can see everything from Stratford. It does highlight the need for us to have a London home." Plans to take some of the plays, including The Taming of the Shrew, to Newcastle and then Washington DC will still go ahead as planned.
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