All the world's a stage, but the RSC should be Shakespeare's home

A Week In Arts: Advice for the new boss of the RSC, why the Bazalgette appointment will ruffle feathers and that envious Edwina.

Click to follow
The Independent Online

What is the Royal Shakespeare Company for? Don't get me wrong, I love the thing. It's one of the glories, not just of the arts, but of the nation. But what is it actually for?

This is an opportune moment to ask for three reasons. First and foremost, in the next few days the RSC gets a new boss. Greg Doran takes over from Michael Boyd, and Doran will, I hope, be preparing a mission statement and pondering in the small hours what the RSC is for.

Secondly, he will look at Shakespeare's Globe and see an awful lot of Shakespeare being performed there, not least Mark Rylance in Richard III and Twelfth Night. He will look at the National Theatre and see Simon Russell Beale in an acclaimed Timon of Athens. He will look at the Almeida and see Jonathan Pryce in King Lear. When it comes to Shakespeare, everybody's doing it, with big stars, and creating a big noise.

Thirdly, he might take a glance at the brochure for the winter season for the RSC at its home in Stratford-upon-Avon. I have it in front of me. There is an interesting new children's Christmas show from America, a play from China, a Pushkin play from Russia, and a Brecht from Germany. And, for anyone puzzling over that middle word in the Royal Shakespeare Company, there is The Merry Wives of Windsor.

Doran will, I hope, ponder on all of this in those small hours, particularly that one solitary Shakespeare play in a whole season at the company's home base, toss and turn and wonder what the great company that he has inherited is for.

It is and must be primarily for Shakespeare. He should vow that there is never again a season with only one Shakespeare play. Shakespeare must be the majority of the repertoire if the company is to have a raison d'être. Of course, it should still surprise with marvels like the Nicholas Nickleby adaptation. But the RSC must be the first port of call for Shakespeare, a mix of traditional and radical productions.

Doran should make it a priority to reopen The Other Place, the small studio space in Stratford-upon-Avon which has produced successes like Matilda, currently playing to full houses in London. He is determined to keep the RSC in its prime place as a training centre for actors. This is fine, but he should add to that a determination to have that brilliance in voice work, movement and production values seen more widely. The company should increase drastically its links with television to increase its audience.

It sees itself, rightly, as a maker of stars, but it also needs to woo more established stars, because, like it or not, these bring new audiences.

The theatre complex in Stratford has been rebuilt, and Doran now has wonderful venues in a beautiful setting. The RSC has an awful lot going for it and for its new artistic director. Those three initials are a brand recognised across the globe. He should be able to sleep soundly – provided that, when he wakes, he starts to prepare a mission statement, with, at its forefront, a commitment to Shakespeare dominating its repertoire, and in being the best in the world at doing it.

The Culture Secretary's Big Brother has spoken

The appointment of Peter Bazalgette as chairman of the Arts Council has attracted a lot of comment about his former role as the man who brought Big Brother to British television. It's a little unfair to concentrate on that, as he has also been a very successful chairman of the English National Opera. Besides, there is a more interesting aspect to this story. Bazalgette's appointment was announced after Maria Miller was made Culture Secretary last week. Yet the appointment was made by her predecessor, Jeremy Hunt. The chairman of the Arts Council, which distributes millions of pounds to the arts, is one of the most, if not the most, important posts in a Culture Secretary's gift. Yet Ms Miller seems to have had no say in it, and, even with her name on the door, her predecessor was making the appointment. If I were her I'd be feeling a bit aggrieved. No, make that highly insulted.

Edwina's poison pen does herself no favours

In one of the more spiteful passages in her new diaries, the former minister Edwina Currie has a dig at Jeffrey Archer. "He can't spell," she remarks. "His editor showed me a draft of Jeffrey's new book. Archer thinks a woman is a 'blond' (rather than a blonde)." What a terrible sin. As a novelist herself with somewhat fewer sales, she sure has no problems spelling "envy".