The Royal Shakespeare Company is poised for a dramatic reversal of its plans to stage future plays at different venues around London by adopting a new long-term base at the Old Vic.
The RSC board is considering moving into the historic Regency playhouse for up to five months a year, giving the company the security of a guaranteed annual season in the capital whether other theatres choose to stage its productions or not.
News of the prospective deal comes after a poorly attended RSC season at the Roundhouse in Camden, during which some performances attracted less than 30 per cent capacity audiences. Advance ticket sales for two forthcoming RSC plays at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, Antony and Cleopatra starring Sinead Cusack and Much Ado about Nothing featuring Harriet Walter, have yet to top the 15 per cent mark.
If the Old Vic move goes ahead, it will amount to a major climb-down from outgoing RSC artistic director Adrian Noble's widely condemned decision to abandon its long-term winter home at the Barbican. No final decision will be taken on the proposal until after Mr Noble's successor is announced, probably by the end of this month.
The offer of an ongoing home at the Old Vic, London's oldest surviving theatre, was made by its chief executive, Sally Greene, who last week won approval from a meeting of the venue's board attended by two of its celebrity members, Sir Elton John and Oscar winner Kevin Spacey.
As well as throwing a lifeline to the RSC in London, an annual residency at the Old Vic would provide vital revenue for the theatre, which is in the midst of a costly restoration process.
Ms Greene told The Independent on Sunday: "I approached the RSC and said, 'You should come to the Old Vic. It's exactly the same size as the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, and I will do you a much better deal than you will get in the West End'.
"This is a big possibility. Our idea would be to raise some sort of fund to help this happen. It would be of great value to us, but of even more value to the RSC. Everybody on the board of the Old Vic is very keen to make it work."
Ms Greene said that, while precise details of the Old Vic's final offer to the RSC had yet to be agreed, it was likely to suggest that the company commit itself to a four- to five-month annual season for an initial period of three to five years. Such a deal would carry clear echoes of the RSC's recently abandoned seasonal occupation of the Barbican, though unlike that arrangement the company would not keep offices at the venue.
An RSC spokeswoman said the Old Vic offer was one of "several" being considered. She denied it amounted to a U-turn from Mr Noble's pledge to "find the venue to suit the play" during future seasons in London, stressing that accepting the proposal would not prevent the RSC from staging some productions elsewhere in the capital.
A move to the Old Vic would be a poignant one because Sir Peter Hall, perhaps the RSC's most acclaimed director, made his base there briefly in the 1990s. Sir Peter was also a former director of the National Theatre, which was founded at the Old Vic by Laurence Olivier.
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