Actors 'not being taught lessons of Shakespeare'

DRAMA schools have failed to teach aspiring actors how to tackle Shakespeare, according to the head of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

In an outspoken interview with the Independent, Adrian Noble said he had also been conducting tutorials for some of the country's leading theatre directors on how to speak the verse.

Mr Noble added that he had been having talks with the Prince of Wales on how to interest more young people in Shakespeare.

Unusually for a leading figure in British theatre he also went on record about the dearth of good new writing among young British dramatists.

The interview belied the upbeat performance that Noble gave yesterday in front of national and international press when he announced the RSC's programme for this year - a season that will feature Robert Stephens as King Lear, Alec McCowen as Prospero, and Antony Sher in a revival of Tom Stoppard's Travesties.

The RSC, whose president is the Prince of Wales, recently lost its pounds 2.1m sponsorship from Royal Insurance, and Noble said there would clearly be difficulties in replacing it, particularly in the areas in which it specialised - touring, improving access for disabled people, and having proms seasons. However, he is introducing matinees with all seats at pounds 5 and pounds 10 this year to encourage more young people.

While Noble's own work with his company has been hugely praised, he has very few contemporaries who know how to stage Britain's national playwright.

'The terrible truth is that it's more difficult to direct a Shakespeare play than a modern play,' he said.

'What I'm concentrating on is really inducting directors towards Shakespeare. Yes, this country should be overflowing with them. In the Seventies and Eighties we were obsessed with studio space. Now there's an increasing appetite among actors to work on the big stage where Olivier and Gielgud performed.'

Noble, 42, speaks with a passionate intensity about bringing Shakespeare and the classical tradition to more people. He has discussed with Prince Charles how to make Shakespeare more inspirational for the young, so that (following the Government's prescription of three plays for all 14-year-olds) they do not just see the plays as 'ways to get better marks and better jobs'.

He said: 'We have to show them that it is an imagistic language, and an imagistic language in the modern world is like someone inventing the colour green if you live in the inner city.

'I believe every child should be taken to the theatre twice a term. It's a social and emotional experience.'

Noble also signalled a change of image for the company, which infuriated the Government by closing for a time in protest against low funding at the end of the Eighties. 'We did have a subversive, left-wing image. The flag we now fly is quite reactionary, the need for a strongly articulated classical tradition right in the midst of our culture.

'I'm a traditionalist, a classicist. I believe the classics offer to audiences a quite unique intellectual and emotional experience for which, yes, they sometimes need to be educated. In the mid- Eighties, the voices of dissent - phrase it how you like - were much stronger. I hold drama schools responsible. Most drama schools today don't teach acting they teach behaviour.'

Asked about new writing, he said: 'I can't put my hand on my heart and say there's a lot of new writing about. It's been the case for 10 years . . . the writing community failed to find a collective answer to the collective problem of Margaret Thatcher.'

(Photograph omitted)

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