Though I enjoyed the South Bank programme about the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) because of my interest in the Company and its work, I did start to feel that it was more like a promotional DVD, than an in-depth study. It is sad to see a long running show axed and I hope other shows take its place, and that we see Melvin Bragg in other slots. I think I need more of the wonderful Culture Show with its weekly mix of short pieces and specials, such as the recent programme focusing on Michael Jackson. However, though entertaining, this episode of the South Bank show was not really challenging and it didn’t reveal things about the RSC, that I didn’t know already from reading interviews with Michael Boyd and from the RSC’s own publicity material. Maybe the overall description of the programme was ‘on message’ as far as the RSC was concerned.
I found the trip to Russia and the background to The Grain Store very interesting. I also thought that it was great to see actors in rehearsal and to watch the bit on how the new theatre is progressing. I thought it was amusing that Mariah Gale and Katy Stephens practice their speeches in funny voices. However, alongside all this interesting nuggets of information, I felt that the main purpose of the programme was to promote the RSC’s current vision. The programme highlighted the committment to the ensemble idea and the rationale behind the new theatre space. Michael Boyd reiterated his distaste of celebrity culture, which he has mentioned in other places. The programme also gave us the reason why the RSC are committed to performing new writing and linked all this back to Peter Hall’s vision for the RSC. What the programme didn’t seem to do was critique the new direction or really place this in the context of other ways that the RSC could evolve and develop.
The idea of the ensemble brings massive benefits, and of course The Histories project is used to as an example to support this approach. It will be great to see this year’s ensemble at work in new plays next year. However, it is also very exciting to see new actors and new approaches. I have written in previous places on the blog that I feel that the ensemble is not making enough of the opportunity to take ideas across more than one play as Greg Doran did in the 2008 season with his utilisation of the mirrored set for three productions. This ensemble company had been split into two and are in effect, until the Russian plays, two separate companies as far as I could see in the way they approached The Winter’s Tale, As You Like It and Julius Caesar. Only having the one theatre has meant that there isn’t as much productions. in 2010, this year’s productions will be repeated and joined by new productions, but with the same actors. There are benefits of seeing the company play in different spaces and though I love The Courtyard, I miss smaller spaces like The Other Place and I would love to see a production at The Swan again when it reopens.
In addition, to the commitment to the ensemble, the new theatre space, the RSC do embrace other approaches. They do bring in new companies during the ensemble run such as the wonderful Twelfth Night this autumn. I have also written about how well the RSC productions transfer to the proscenium arch space and maybe it is a positive thing that the RSC can work on the thrust stage as well as in the traditional theatres it also uses. Finally, I know that some actors had built up a reputation in the theatre before becoming celebrities due to television work, but actors such as David Tennant and Richard Wilson bring enormous benefits to the RSC as does the current RSC ensemble approach.