Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Supplementary memorandum submitted by Mr Donald James


  1.  I qualified as an architect in 1949, having prepared my thesis in Stratford-upon-Avon (British Council Centre, Church Street). I worked in the town 1949-51 dealing mainly with old buildings. In 1951 I commenced my private practice in Warwick where I carried out major works on Listed buildings, Lord Leycester's Hospital, Warwick Castle, almshouses for various Charities, and many mediaeval and post-fire buildings. I was an expert witness in many cases in the magistrates, county and high courts; I have advised and been an expert witness in local planning inquiries and regularly advised solicitors in legal/architectural matters and in disputes. I retired from the practice in 1983 and was a consultant for some years. I am passionately interested in Stratford-upon-Avon where I live.

  I am advising HOOT (Hands Off Our Theatre) in these proposals.

  2.  I have studied the history of the theatre, the minutes of the CM&S committee 8/1/02 and relevant correspondence from which can be seen the hostile attitude of RSC towards RST.

  3.  RSC regards it as poorly designed and cannot say one word in favour of Elizabeth Scott or the theatre and ignores the fact that she was awarded the scheme in a competition. The theatre was acclaimed in the architectural press. There were criticisms of the building, not unexpected, as it was to be seen from all sides, unusual for a theatre, at the same time its scale was much greater than that usually seen in a mediaeval town. Its scale and the brickwork marry in with the town favourably. I believe that the majority of the townspeople like it. It certainly does not deserve such unfair commitment from RSC.

  4.  RSC says that the sightlines and acoustics are flawed. This may be the present situation which has changed considerably since 1932. Elizabeth Scott employed the acoustics expert Mr Hope Bagenal to advise. He was the leading man in this discipline. RSC support the unfavourable comments on the auditorium by Ms Cusack, Theatre Trust and Iain Mackintosh. I had considerable doubt about that: these comments were not compatible with the work of Hope Bagenal and the architect. I comment on this later.

  5.  Mr Foy wrote to me saying that consultants (plural) had been representing each of eight disciplines. I replied requesting that I be allowed to see the reports of these consultants but it has been denied. I still wish to see them and also the letters briefing the consultants. With costs amounting to £750,000 at present there can be little doubt that this sum includes consultants fees. Bearing in mind that this is public money and that there should be proper public participation in such an important matter as this, where the charity wishes to destroy one of its most valuable assets. I do not understand why I should be denied in this matter. It would show transparency which RSC espouses.

  6.  According to a 1934 publication "Brave Enterprise" the original seating in the auditorium was 1,000. Since then there have been many alterations to the layout and numbers of seats by various directors. The current number of seats in 1,439 an increase of nearly 44 per cent.

22.8 per cent
38.4 per cent
99.1 per cent

  This overcrowding has severely affected sightlines and the acoustics particularly in the circle and balcony; comments made by Ms Cusack and quite understandable but theatregoers tend to accept the situation because of the production. The point I wish to make is that this is not due to the work of Elizabeth Scott and to criticise her is quite erroneous.

  7.  In spite of having advice from acousticians there has been no mention of the problem as set out above. It was self-inflicted but RSC regard the auditorium as a disaster and one of the main reasons for demolishing RST.

  8.  For RSC to condemn RST in order to demolish it when the majority of the problems can be resolved is an act detrimental to the Charity particularly as it is governed by Royal Charter. That policy is not in the best interests of the public purse or those who contribute to the Charity. In my view, the Directors are responsible for any problems that could flow from their policy to demolish the theatre. They have so many additional powers in the Royal Charter that in pursuing a controversial path of speculation they should be reminded of their responsibilities to the Charity.

  9.  In order to deal with the problems raised by RSC in support of their proposals to demolish RST, I wish to suggest the following action. Many of the problems are self-inflicted but overall the ambience within the building could be enhanced.

  10.  Remove the seating in the auditorium, deal with the floor (there will be problems). Provide seating for, say, 1,050, so that it is comparable with RSC proposals for a new theatre. On these figures there will be a loss of 389 seats. These seats being improved by increased comfort and sightlines could call for an increase in ticket prices, but overall it is likely to show a loss in revenue. But this would also apply in a new theatre if, as Mr Noble has said, the range of ticket prices will remain as existing. He hoped.

  11.  Backstage conditions to be improved by increasing space for actors and staff and additional lavatory accommodation for them and the public all within the building envelope but there could be other improvements if some of the land facing Waterside could be taken into the main structure. I feel that this possibility should be considered seriously. The reallocation of space for the improvements proposed will mean that some office and restaurant space will be relocated.

  12.  Provision to be made for access for disabled and wheelchair patrons.

  13.  Work required to satisfy authorities, operational requirements including work to the fly tower.

  14.  These works would achieve major improvement to RST but is unlikely to meet the aspirations of those who want an Elizabethan theatre, yet it does demonstrate that there are no valid reasons to justify demolition of RST where successful productions of Shakespeare's works have been performed for 70 years. It is totally unreasonable to pull down a theatre such as RST which is still regarded as a memorial to not only the Bard but also those responsible for financially and physically making it possible. Those less than 70 years old will not really understand RST's social importance.

  15.  I belive that the proposed action would be supported by English Heritage. There would be a reduction in the £100 million pound budget of at least £20 million pounds of public money which Ms Debra Shipley may support.

  16.  RSC's policy/propaganda against retention of RST is mainly handled by Mr Pope who generalises and does not deal with the real issues facing RST. This technique and his charm seems to convince people that it is essential to have a new theatre. In so doing he is not acting in the best interests of the Charity because his words lack transparency. This is the conflict between a flawed policy and the need to promote a balanced presentation of the facts, engendering no good will for ESC and, this is what they are looking for. For example, at the only public meeting organised by HOOT Mr Pope had the floor for 40 minutes and at question time he was not prepared to answer any. RSC is determined not to be deflected from their policy because they do not have an alternative of keeping RST and improving it. In my long experience with Charities, I have never known one to be so adversarial with those who support it. In this case it is allowed to produce misinformation, insinuation published in the press who are accused of misreporting by Mr Pope.

  17.  Because of the recent initiative of Stratford-upon-Avon District and Warwickshire County Councils and, certain businessmen depending upon the proposal for a new theatre being approved have formed a committee to consider a scheme for riverside development including a bridge over the river Avon. All of this has met with much opposition because of the unsuitability of development in an area of such high environmental quality. I am making no further comment on this except to say that the RSC proposals become even more contentious. I am concerned that there is the possibility that an application to demolish RST will not be called in by the Secretary of State and that it will be left to the District Council to determine. This is a nightmare scenario because of the vested interests of the council, councillors and landowners. This is the most important matter in Stratford-upon-Avon for the last 100 years and I am raising it with the committee because a decision on funding RSC proposals is vital, not just for HOOT, but for the best interests of the Town. Local Government seems to have taken leave of its senses.


  By keeping RST and improving it on the lines proposed will save at the very least £20 million pounds, but it will not provide the theatre plan and technology required by Mr Noble; it may be desirable but not essential. This important building will be saved and it will allow works by William Shakespeare to continue for another 70 years as successfully as in the past. Patrons will be more comfortable and enjoy the acting; Mr Noble's requirements are not essential for the patrons' enjoyment and this is an overriding factor. Mr Noble's attitude is that of the throwaway society, it is costly. In this case at the very least £20 million pounds too much. If RSC continue with their proposals then, in order to protect the public purse and those who support the Charity, the grant of £50 million pounds should be reviewed in the light of the reduced cost of the scheme. I cannot believe that money may be squandered when there are so many needs to be met. I trust that the committee will be able to support this memorandum and that it has been helpful.

November 2001

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