Monday, December 5, 2011

Royal Shakespeare Company Gets Fresh Perspective

You would be forgiven for believing everything produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company is a repeat. After all, the Bard has not written a new stage play in centuries. However, the RSC has chosen to seek out original material from a new perspective in an effort to present something slightly different.
Not Monty Python different, but different enough to attract people who have grown tired of "All Shakespeare, All The Time."

To this end the RSC has chosen Mark Ravenhill to be its new writer in residence.

This is hardly the first time RSC has pursued original stage plays. In fact, when it was founded in 1960 its purpose was to encourage new writers to embrace the original works of Shakespeare and create their own plays from inspiration they receive from classical works.

Unfortunately, this project has been hit-or-miss at best. Some original works were decidedly more successful than others, and as the RSC has evolved each new leader has taken the group in a slightly different direction, also with mixed results.

It is certainly not the easiest thing to create a great play. Shakespeare himself did not produce a hit with sweep of his pen, no matter how great he might seem to us today. The same is true with modern writers as they strive to capture the essence of the human condition as we know it today, without seeming too trite or too sardonic. However, the pursuit of original writing should not be abandoned for lack of success. It is difficult to know what work will become a hit, much less what work will earn a new appreciation a decade from now, or even a century from now.

I applaud new RSC writer in residence Mark Ravenhill and the decision to bring him aboard. If nothing else, regardless of his success, it is the idea, the very pursuit of success which makes me believe that in the final analysis the work he produces will only serve to enhance the legacy of the RSC.

And that's a good thing.

Not only that: the RSC in the 90s lost contact with a whole generation of emerging writers. In the last decade, we have also seen the appetite for new writing growing elsewhere. The National, under Nick Hytner, commands the loyalty of what you might loosely call the Bennett-Stoppard-Frayn-Hare generation. In addition to established venues such as the Royal Court, the Bush, Hampstead and the Tricycle, we've also seen the Soho, the Finborough and Theatre 503 scrapping eagerly for new talent and a major regional theatre such as Manchester's Royal Exchange continuing to develop its own new play competition, the Bruntwood prize. The RSC is simply one among many in the scramble for new plays. Gone are the days when a writer of the stature of Harold Pinter saw it as a natural home.

Yet the RSC still has a lot to offer: a company of actors, ample resources, big stages. What it doesn't have is a permanent London address. In recent years new-writing seasons have randomly popped up at Wilton's Music Hall, Hampstead and Soho Theatre, reinforcing the impression of a lack of coherence.

Click here to read more about Ravenhill and the RSC.

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