Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40 - 52)



  40. And will that be available for the casual visitor, not just the school parties because that is the key, is it not?
  (Mr Noble) Very much for the casual visitor. I lived in Stratford for many, many years—I do not now—but if you go there on a Sunday, it is jammed and our doors are shut. And if you could get through our doors there is nothing in there. There is a cramped foyer and —

  41. Which is not that great anyway.
  (Mr Noble) Absolutely and for two of your number, your interval will be spent entirely in the toilet queue. It takes 15 minutes to go the toilet.

Ms Shipley

  42. Spot which two, yes.
  (Mr Noble) It is a disgrace, an absolute disgrace.

Miss Kirkbride

  43. Unlike my colleagues, I would be surprised if you can do it for £100 million.
  (Mr Pope) We will do what we can for £100 million. We are confident we can do the main building and the essential elements. There will be elements which we will not yet be able to do.

  44. I think that is inevitably the case. But one of your constant problems, of course, is on-going budgets and money, and raising money every year whether it is from the council or from other people, so within the context of these development plans how much more self-financing are you likely to be? How much more can you tap people for a bit more money when they arrive for Shakespeare in the RSC in your development plans?
  (Mr Foy) In terms of people arriving to see Shakespeare we should be as accessible as we are at the moment. In Stratford you can buy a seat for £38 or you can buy a seat for £5 and that is the range of access which exists. I would not like to see that narrowed by bringing up the bottom. We have to go on making ourselves very open. We have national responsibilities and we should not under-estimate what those are. I think some of the implications of the changes that are in view at the moment mean that we have to do rather more than we have been accustomed to, to complement the sale of tickets and public subsidy funding. We are a risk business. Actors know that better than anybody else when they step out into that dark space, but from a company standpoint we need to be able to give as much space for risk to be taken by actors and directors as possible, and if we continue to live in a world where we define the limits of our ambition by a combination of core funding from the Arts Council plus ticket sales to operate with Shakespeare as our subject would not be possible, so we have to create a third pillar to the model of the company and that is what we are embarked on at the moment. We hope to be able to build—and so far the confidence that we have in our plans is being borne out as we begin that journey—both an endowment in a way that is customary in some other countries for large arts organisations and, secondly, we have to add to and extend the enterprise that we undertake. If the model for the last few years has been fundamentally public subsidy plus ticket sales, in the future our plan is to create a third leg to that stool to give us a more robust and reliable platform.

  45. What kind of other business projects. Children spend lots of money on CDs. What are you going to get them to spend their money on which is not a ticket sale?
  (Mr Foy) At the moment we hope to increase the sorts of things people presently spend their money on, that is we have retail activity, we have events, some of which are paid, we have an RSC product line, there is food service. We also have licensing arrangements for the films that are produced based upon the shows that we are doing. You ought to expect us to be more active in the area of new technology and media using RSC content to extend our reach in a way which allows us to do better in our primary purpose, which is on the stage. It is building an extra dimension to the life of the company which is in line with our primary values. That is treading a line which is not about becoming a commercial organisation but it is doing things as best we can to reinforce what is our primary purpose and allow more risk taking.
  (Mr Pope) A lot of those things require some space in which to do them—better catering and better retail—and the whole thinking behind The Other Place development is that it is both a theatre space and also a space in which you can do media recording and film and sound recording and so on. Those sort of things will be factored into the thinking about the redevelopment as well.

  46.Within the context of that and your business plan is it your intention to raise more money from private sources in order to extend your artistic activities?
  (Mr Foy) We have made an assumption that we would not be worse treated than we presently are in terms of public subsidy. To the extent we need additional resources we are going to have to pull ourselves up by our own boot straps.

  Ms Kirkbride: Good luck.


  47. I have absolutely no problem with the kind of support you are looking for, after all we conducted an inquiry just before Christmas on Wembley Stadium with so far £120 million for nothing, which they will keep with no outcome, whereas you are, I would have thought, a central artistic institution in this country. I was in New York last week and I picked up the New York Times. I cannot think of another artistic institution in the world that would attract that attention in a foreign country. What I am interested in really is making sure that you are able to do what you feel is best for extending your reach. We did an inquiry about the Royal Opera House and after all of those years it is still exclusive, whereas when one goes to the RSC, as I did a few weeks ago to take a young relative to Julius Caesar, with all of the inadequacies that you accurately described he was terribly excited, he had come from Leeds, not simply by the production but by the total experience and the buzz round the place. Even with all your problems you have that buzz, in my opinion, I cannot think of any institution in the country which is more important, because it is not simply a great place but the fact that our language would not be same without Shakespeare. I had a constituent who came to see me a while ago to attack the city council, which most of my constituents do, in which she said the council had done something in "one failed scoop". She had absolutely no idea that she was misquoting from Shakespeare. The language that we have all been speaking this morning would not be the same without him. I represent as deprived a constituency as anybody round this table, possibly more so, but I have no problem in justifying taxpayers' money going into an institution of this kind. What I am keen about is, (a) that you make yourselves as accessible and available as you can and (b) that you do not get hung up too much on the basis that you have to be everything to the whole country. After all Bayreuth is in Bayreuth because that is where Wagner was. Salzburg is one of the most money grabbing places on the globe and is cashing in on the fact that Mozart was there and was very unhappy when he was there. After all it is one thing that is actually not in London, which I think is really important. Indeed what I would like to know is about your plans for the site and to make sure that you maintain the entire experience, not simply the place, which is the core and heart of it all, but the total experience, the location, the restaurants, which are a very important part of it, and I congratulate those who cater there. Also parking, accessibility to parking is not what it ought to be. Could I add one other thing, that is sight lines. If there is one awful experience that I have when I go to the theatre, it is that I build up my expectations and my hopes and I look forward to the performance and when I go there somebody's bloody head is in the way. When Mr Mendes reconstructed the Donmar he did a marvellous job with everything except actually seeing the plays. If do you not sit in row A or B in the Donmar you cannot see. There was a guy with a big head sitting in front of us—and I was row B—and I was going to ask him not to lean forward too much until it turned out to be the Lord Chancellor. On elementary things, is the rake going to be good enough so that I will not have somebody's head in front of me when I go? Am I going to be able to get there and not find that I am going to miss the start of the performance because the parking is no good? Am I going to be able to eat? Am I going to be able to buy souvenirs, all of the things that are part of the experience.
  (Mr Noble) The reason we use the word "village" is, of course, in a village in theory you go to the pub and have a drink, you go to the butcher to buy your meat and the baker to buy your bread. That is really part of what Stratford is and has been since 1986 when the Swan opened. There is a cluster of theatres, there is a restaurant, there is a hotel over there, there is the Dirty Duck down there, there are two different kinds of gardens, and it is part of the buzz that you describe, Chairman, that you move between places. It is also, I think, part of the atmosphere of the company, that in order to get your wig fitted you go upstairs and to get your costume fitted you cross the road, and you keep bumping into people. It may be a writer, it may be an actor, it may be a resident, it may be a tourist. We are very keen to maintain that. What we do not want is one great monolithic jobby into which we shovel everything and audiences go in one end and art comes out the other. We want to keep that village atmosphere. I am going to ask Jonathan Pope to answer about parking which is the short straw in your question. In terms of sight lines, again here we have been working on this in great detail for the best part of 10 or 11 months and we have hired Iain Mackintosh, who is the doyen of theatre historians and theatre architects, to advise us and to ensure that the very points you are making are addressed. It is worth noting that there are very, very few seats in the present RST with good sight lines.
  (Mr Pope) 348 to be precise. I have sat in them and we counted all the ones where either you cannot see the whole of the stage or where you are too far away from the stage or there are the various problems that you are describing. There are very few good seats in that theatre. May I just pick up on one of the points about the seat rake because this is one of the fundamental problems of the Elisabeth Scott building. The original concrete rake of the stalls floor (which sets the level of the seating) was designed and built in such a way that you could not see, if you were sitting in those seats, the flat floor of the stage surface. What the RSC has done in over 40 years is to always rake the slope of the stage surface, so we literally tilt the stage surface towards the audience so that they can see the stage floor. You may think that this is not an important matter but if you think about it if you are watching theatre and you cannot see what the actors are standing on, you are missing a key part of the experience. This is fine, we do this in Stratford and we have plenty of technology and skill and know-how to do it. But when we tour our productions off the main stage, because the scenery is built to work on a sloping surface, we then turn every other flat floor stage around the world (and we have done this in numerous theatres) into sloping stage surfaces. This is one of the inbuilt inefficiencies of the building which stems from the fact that the structural rake built by the original design was not right. These sort of questions that you are asking are the detail of getting the project right and that is why we have got Iain Macintosh working on it. We have even, for example, done recently some mock-ups of possible seating positions and seating units in our workshops shops in Stratford to look at what they are like, what it is like trying to get past the people sitting in them, and we are looking at different seat models that we might use, and all of these things we are going into in considerable detail. We are as anxious as you are, within the resources that we have, to bring our best knowledge and other people's best design knowledge to bear on getting it right for the people sitting in the seats watching the performance.

Mr Bryant

  48. Are you aware of any other country in the world that would list a foyer and a staircase?
  (Mr Pope) The whole building is actually listed, but the foyer, the staircase and the front facade are the bits that most people—

  49. Would they insist on the foyer and the staircase remaining?
  (Mr Pope) We have yet to see whether we are going to end up in that position. I accept the thrust of your question, it is a strange situation to be in.


  50. Coming back, Julie reminded me, you did not answer the question about parking. When we have gone before there has been a car park right in front of the theatre, well that has gone now or had gone when I was there. What are you doing to enable people to park without roaming round and looking, fearing the wardens are going to the get them, et cetera.
  (Mr Pope) We will show you this in detail when you come to Stratford, but essentially the transport strategy, which includes parking, is a core part of the project. We have recommended to the local authorities that the only way this project should proceed is if it proceeds in the context of there also being a comprehensive, integrated transport strategy in Stratford in which parking is a key element. We have suggested to the local authorities that there is already a lot of parking provision in Stratford adjacent to the theatre but it is not very accessible. If you think about the other side of the river bank, the recreation ground, as it is known, there are 943 car parking bays, service bays already there on the other side of the river but to go and park in them you then have about a three quarter of a mile walk to come back down the car park, cross the existing bridge and come to the theatre. We have suggested a rather, we think, elegant and simple solution, which is a new pedestrian footbridge crossing the river at a point adjacent to the theatre which will immediately make the access a lot better. We have also suggested to the local authority that signage to the existing car parks is very important. As you know, when you approach Stratford you cannot see a sign that directs you to the theatre. One of things we have done in partnership with the local authorities is to help them, the county council, to win an award of a half million pound grant from the Department of Transport for what is known as the Urban Traffic Management and Control System Project in Stratford—a great title, we are thinking of putting it on the stage. What it essentially means is bringing new technology and new systems to bear on the management of traffic, even within the existing infrastructure. What it will do in the future, and they are planning to implement this in the next 12 months, is to put variable messages on the systems as you come off the motorway on the major trunk roads there will be signs, some of which are fixed signs, and some of which are electronic changing signs, which will tell you the best route in, point you to the car parks, tell you whether there are car park spaces available, some of it is pretty basic stuff and some of it is quite high tech. That is something that we have helped them go ahead with and we are putting £20,000 into the process of that happening. It is an example of working together to solve these wider transport questions.
  (Mr Foy) It is crucial because Stratford is very poorly served in terms of public transport, it is difficult to get to by rail, the service is not good.

Michael Fabricant

  51. Right at the very beginning you were speaking with some enthusiasm about the RSC Academy and we rather drifted on that and did not come back to it at all. I was just wondering if I can ask either Mr Noble or Sinead Cusack what will be the role of the Academy in the new enhanced theatre?
  (Mr Noble) Very briefly, the underlying thinking of the Academy is that we believe that learning and access to learning could and should happen at any point in one's life. The Academy will have two or three strands, one it will be a very practical training ground for young artists, young technicians, young designers and young directors who want to go into the classic theatre.
  (Ms Cusack) Like a doctor going to medical school, if he wants to specialise he needs further training, in the same way we have this academy for specifically dealing with classical acting.
  (Mr Noble) The RSC has historically provided the British theatre, and in the last 10 or 15 years the world cinema industry, with many of its most illustrious stars, they will all say they learned their trade in Stratford because it is a teaching theatre. We want to develop that up. We want to develop considerably the number of opportunities of courses that we offer to young people to develop up the work we already do in considerable measure for teachers. For the last six or seven years we have run something called the Prince of Wales summer school for teachers of Shakespeare, they come and have intensive two weeks training. We want to build all of this up and we are actively seeking funding to do that, particularly from the private sector.

  52. You have to ensure there are grants available to enable people to go to it?
  (Ms Cusack) Indeed, yes.

  Chairman: Thank very much indeed, it was an extremely interesting and valuable session. We will meet again at Philippi. Thank you very much.

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