lIt’s all change at the top of British life. We have a new monarch, a new Prime Minister and from June 2023 we have two new Artistic Directors at the Royal Shakespeare Company, Daniel Evans and Tamara Harvey. It looks like an inspired appointment, and it’s not without precedent. Trevor Nunn and Terry Hands were joint artistic directors of the RSC from 1978 to 1986. Anthony Quayle and Glen Byam Shaw went further back in time and ran the Shakespeare Memorial theatre, as it was then, from 1952 to 1956. Given the size of the theater’s current company, it makes sense to have two people at the top .
An immense task awaits them. Affected by Covid, the metropolitan bias of British culture and the marginalization of Shakespeare, the RSC has lately been missing some of its former prestige: a company radical and necessary in the 1960s is starting, despite Gregory Doran’s best efforts. , an institution in need of redefinition. So what are the immediate tasks that Evans and Harvey have to deal with?
First and foremost is restoring a sense of excitement to the Shakespeare repertoire. This means that we have to attract the best actors, directors and designers to Stratford: easy to say, but it would be great to see, for example, Benedict Cumberbatch or Tom Hiddleston, Saoirse Ronan or Florence Pugh shine on the Stratford stage, not to mention young directors like Rebecca Frecknall or Josh Seymour taking on Shakespeare’s challenge. I would also urge the new directors to avoid season after season the deadly recurrence—which Doran has accomplished, to his credit—of the same box office bankers (Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream). Above all, I hope to see a return to the quick, witty and intelligent verse speaking that was a key principle of Peter Hall when he founded the RSC in 1960.
But the RSC is more than Shakespeare, and two things must happen immediately. One is the reopening of the Swan so that we can be exposed to the richness of the classical repertoire. The other is the realization that the RSC’s fame originally came from the interaction between Shakespeare and contemporary drama: one of the highlights of the 1960s was seeing a group of actors steeped in Shakespeare apply their skills to Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming.
My final point would be that while education and community projects are important, they are secondary to the main task of giving richness and texture to the main stages. Evans from both the Sheffield Crucible and Chichester and Harvey from Theatr Clwyd have shown they have a sense of adventure: they must now bring the same sense of calculated risk to the Avon.