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


Memorandum submitted by Mr John Maples MP


  Your Committee has recently taken evidence from the RSC as part of its current inquiry into major arts redevelopment projects. I am the MP for Stratford-on-Avon where the RSC is based and I should be grateful if you would treat this letter as a written submission to your Committee.

  The RSC is one of our two major national drama companies and the only one based outside London. It attracts visitors from all over the United Kingdom and from around the world. It is an important part of the region's (and the nation's) tourist industry, which employs a great many people. It is the only company dedicated to performing Shakespeare and is an internationally renowned centre for theatrical excellence. It has helped to train many of our leading actors and will continue to do so. The RSC performs in London and tours the country with regular performances in provincial cities. Any grant to the RSC benefits the whole country and not just the Stratford area.

  The RSC's physical facilities are inadequate and unless they are redeveloped soon the company will have great difficulty maintaining its reputation and in continuing to attract audiences. The main theatre is unsatisfactory for actors and audiences alike. It was built in the 1930s and substantially resembles cinemas of the period. As a result the stage and backstage areas are inadequate and many of the seats are too far from the stage with poor sightlines. The space is also inflexible. The RSC will have given you details, but the company clearly needs a new main theatre.

  The RSC has been studying its options in depth and at length for a long time and has come to the conclusion that the right place for its new theatre is on the site of the present main theatre. The plans also include the improvement of the backstage facilities at the beautiful Swan theatre, which will be fully preserved, and the rebuilding of The Other Place as a much larger theatre.

  The current theatre has three listed features, all in the lobby area and all of which could if necessary be reconstructed elsewhere. While there is some understandable nostalgia for the building, I do not believe there is any architectural reason for preserving it and its listed status should not be allowed to stand in the way of redevelopment.

  I believe that the RSC's proposals should be encouraged by your Committee. They are not just in the interests of Stratford, but are of national importance in maintaining in Britain one of the world's leading theatrical companies with all the benefits to our economic and cultural life that flow from that. Without the proposed redevelopment, those benefits will be in danger from better equipped competitors and it would not just be Stratford or even the West Midlands that suffer, but the whole country.

  The substantial lottery grant will have to be matched by other fundraising. This is exactly the sort of project which the lottery was intended to fund, and if dramatic arts are to receive public money then the RSC must surely be at the top of the list.

  I hope that your Committee will give its wholehearted support and encouragement to the RSC, as I have done, in its imaginative and necessary redevelopment plans. Indeed, if the RSC had no such plans then I believe the Committee would be wholly justified in criticising them in the strongest terms for forsaking their role and condemning themselves to decline. They have met the challenges that face them in an appropriately ambitious and practical manner and deserve the support of all of us who are dedicated to the future of high quality drama in Britain.

10 January 2002

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