Royal Shakespeare Company urged to regain its cutting edge

April 16, 2004

The Royal Shakespeare Company, once at the cutting edge of drama, needs to remake its case as an institution worthy of academics' attention, a researcher and former RSC employee argues in a new book, writes Tony Tysome.

In the 1960s, the RSC set the benchmark for Shakespeare productions by making the Bard relevant to the modern world and importing ideas from contemporary theatre, said Colin Chambers, research fellow at De Montfort University, in Inside the Royal Shakespeare Company . "It transformed the way everyone understood Shakespeare and the way his plays should be produced. A whole generation of academics grew up in the shadow of what the RSC had done," he said.

But after Adrian Noble took over as artistic director in the 1990s, the academic world became "bored with the RSC", said Mr Chambers, who worked with Mr Noble and was the RSC's literary manager.

"It was around that time that Shakespeare began to be seen as falling into a conservative tradition as a white male European writer who was of no more use to the modern world. The problem was that RSC productions were no longer doing anything to challenge that view," he added.

Mr Chambers said Mr Noble reversed much of the RSC's earlier groundbreaking work, eroding its prestige in an attempt to refocus its work on a more conservative approach to Shakespeare.

"He took it upon himself that Shakespeare was going to be done the way it should be done, and the RSC had to defend that against the encroachment of modern culture. The problem was, fewer and fewer people were listening to that idea," Mr Chambers said.

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