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


Memorandum submitted by Valerie Newey

  I feel that it is time that I joined in the debate about the future of the RSC in Stratford — I'm sure that you have received many similar letters but, as any MP will know, any one letter represents at least 300 others.

  I have been supporting the theatre in Stratford since my first visit with my English teacher in 1949 to see "Julius Caesar" — a new and wonderful world opened up to me and through it I have been nourished and sustained until today. Even now I have embarked upon a course in Shakespeare Studies organised by Birmingham University taking place at the Shakespeare Institute. Not only has theatre been a fulfilling part of my life but also my children have taken great pleasure from their visits and their lives have been similarly enriched.

  Following that you will guess that I am one of the grey-haired theatre-goers so disliked by the people who want to see vast changes to the main theatre and The Other Place but do they ever look at the whole audience? I have been sitting amongst children and young people many times and have seen them as enthralled and I was so many years ago—and still remain. It is often we elderlies who introduce the young audience—and pay for the seats.

  Firstly—The Other Place. A totally new theatre-going experience was presented to me when this opened. Theatre right at my feet, demanding to be heard and, often demanding to be felt. You don't want a list of my stunningly best, but the most recent, "Richard II", called for a restorative cup of tea in the café before I dared drive home. So often I have felt involved and, indeed I once was, and it is the saddest thing that it is to be closed.

  I don't understand the need for an acting academy in Stratford — surely that's what we have. A look at my old programmes shows that a very large number of the "greats" have started off as spear-carriers and assorted bit players in Stratford. I'm sure that a survey would reveal that even the low salaries and two-year contracts have not put many actors off. Some, admittedly, have not enjoyed being part of the company but many have learned their trade there. As part of the audience I feel that we do not need "stars" to make a good play; witness the success of "The Merchant of Venice" at The Swan. I have watched at least one "star" who seemed to have little thought for his colleagues become an ensemble player and enjoy it. Sinead Cusack has antagonised many people with her comments and several have resolved to boycott her performances this summer. Thank goodness for Michael Pennington.

  I will admit to not being enamoured of the main theatre although it was there that I had my early experience and continued pleasure. I used to see most of the plays from the balcony—later, as a "member" I was able to get front row balcony seats but before then I often sat at the back. Never was my viewing disadvantaged there and, in fact, the only time I was unable to see well was for a projection of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in 1999 when I sat in the very front row of the stalls. The stage had been raised so the fairies and the flowers appeared without my noticing. I did write commenting on this, as I write when I have been especially pleased with a performance, and received a very pleasant letter in reply. I have experienced poor sight-lines in The Swan and I have queued for the loos there too and this after proper thought was given to the planning. Women always lose out on loo provision. I think that if I, and all the thousands who regularly attend the theatre, keep coming there can't be all that much wrong. I do now afford a stalls seat from time to time, though not rich, and I guess that I must be more easily seen by Sinead Cusack. Michael Simkins claims that the front five rows are easily viewed from the stage and they may be filled by the rich and elderly. Nor have I had any problems with hearing—actors are trained to project and do it well normally.

  You might also be interested to know that the course that I am attending normally involves three visits to see plays by Shakespeare during early July and we were sad to find that it would not be possible in Stratford this year—instead we will go Will seeking further afield.

  Finally, why are there not more "real" theatregoers on the RSC Board and should there be some open meetings to hear what we have to say? A couple of MPs who are ill-informed and have only visited once or twice should not be allowed such an influential voice at a Commons Select Committee meeting. I am more than happy that Newcastle should be the home for more RSC work but not, please, at a loss to Stratford. I talked with people recently who had driven up from Bath and Stroud to see "Hamlet" and another who had travelled by train from Wales. It's not just a local theatre but also a worldwide magnet. Why not open the Theatre on Sunday and build more lavatories—the facilities of a "theme park" already exist?

4 February 2002

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