A few days away from mobile phones, TV and radio combined with the aftermath of a cold have played havoc with posts to my blog. Now back on track, I find that not only has Michael Boyd announced that he will be leaving the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2012 but speculation about his successor is in full swing. Lists of potential candidates, even shortlists and ballots, for the most important job in the Shakespeare world have already started to appear.
So who should be the next Artistic Director of the RSC? I thought it might be worth looking back to see how the leadership of the Company has developed.
In the 50 years since the Company was renamed in 1961 it has had only five Artistic Directors, all theatre directors: Peter Hall, Trevor Nunn, Terry Hands, Adrian Noble, Michael Boyd. At the time of their appointment all were already working for the organisation. Two of them had directed cycles of Shakespeare history plays just before being appointed, as if this was a kind of audition for running the Company.
Before the foundation of the RSC many of the people who ran the Theatre were actors, the most distinguished being Anthony Quayle who during the 1950s raised the profile and reputation of the theatre by bringing in virtually all the greatest Shakespeare actors in the country as well as foreign stars like Charles Laughton and Paul Robeson.
Further back, before there was an Artistic Director, Stratford was the highlight of Frank Benson’s tours around the country for over 30 years. He became synonymous with the town’s Shakespeare festival, undertaking several foreign tours in its name.
Quite a range of possibles have been suggested as successor to Michael Boyd, just as there were back in 2002: then, as well as Boyd himself, two director/actor duos put themselves forward: Gregory Doran and Antony Sher, and John Caird and Simon Russell Beale. John Caird, less high profile than the others, had directed a number of successful RSC productions as well as partnering Trevor Nunn on two of the company’s biggest successes, Nicholas Nickleby and Les Miserables.
Talking about partnerships is crucial: it isn’t just Boyd who’s leaving the Company, but his Executive Director, Vikki Heywood is departing at the same time. The interview in the Stratford Observer for 21 October has described Vikki as “Bonnie to Mr Boyd’s Clyde”, and any new Artistic Director will need to establish a similarly strong relationship with their Executive Director.
So who, so far, is being suggested? The most obvious candidates are the three RSC Associate Directors, Gregory Doran, the most senior, Rupert Goold and David Farr. Michael Billington included in his list Dominic Cooke (currently at theRoyal Court), Marianne Elliot (at the National), and Michael Grandage (now at the Donmar).
Billington’s list didn’t include any actors, but both Kenneth Branagh and Sam West have experience of directing and of management. Both, incidentally, have been notable Hamlets for the RSC. Only a couple of weeks ago Kenneth Branagh, with immaculate timing, mentioned that it was his ambition to be Artistic Director of a theatre company. Branagh’s got the huge advantage of being a globally-known Shakespeare actor, though his appointment would probably not please those wanting the RSC to pursue an edgy agenda.
The Boyd/Heywood collaboration has achieved what seemed impossible less than ten years ago: the successful transformation of the RST, the Complete Works Festival, the building of the temporary Courtyard Theatre, the reintroduction of what seemed to have become a dirty word, the ensemble. Partnerships with theatre companies worldwide have been encouraged and major foreign visits have been carried out. The plans for the 2012 Shakespeare Festival are in place. The way seems clear for the Company to exploit the potential of having two fully-functioning theatre spaces in which to focus on Shakespeare’s plays.
Peter Hall’s appointment, back in 1960, set the tone for a completely different style of theatre: moving away from the glamour of established actors like the Oliviers, Hall proclaimed that the company would create its own stars, and so it did, and continued to do. The theatre’s now at another crossroads and the new Artistic Director will almost certainly put the Company on another new path, perhaps for years to come. It’s going to be a fascinating few months until March when the announcement is made. “The readiness is all”.