In a press statement issued April 24, Adrian Noble has announced that he will not be renewing his contract with the Royal Shakespeare Company when it expires in March 2003. Noble said, "It has been an enormous privilege for me to lead this wonderful organization since 1991. After 22 years with the Company it is now time for me to seek new artistic challenges. It is helpful for everyone involved with the RSC that there is clarity about my plans, and I informed our Chairman Lord Alexander of my decision on Monday morning."
The news comes as little surprise, given the strength of criticism that his various changes at the RSC have prompted.
Many theatre insiders assumed that, given the widespread resistance to his plans for the future direction of the company, he would wait to see whether Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which he directed, would take off. If it did, the belief was, then so would he. And he has.
The press release that Noble issued was a defiant one, claiming that "Our changes have already released huge creativity." Unfortunately, dissent might be as accurate a description, with RSC Hamlet Sam West attacking the changes at an award ceremony and Dame Judi Dench's concerns being leaked to the newspapers.
However, all the recent debate — which will continue for the remaining ten months or so of Noble's contract — should not obscure the fact that during his 11 years at the helm of the RSC he has been remarkable for many striking productions, receiving 12 Olivier Award nominations. In recent months, however, the RSC appears to have lost its touch, with a string of productions that have received less than favorable reviews, including, Antony and Cleopatra, starring Stuart Wilson and Sinead Cusack, at Stratford. Ironically, however, Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph today, while criticizing the production happens to support Noble's decision to get rid of the existing 1930's theatre there.
The race will now be on for a successor to Noble. Although his contract runs to next March, it would not be surprising, given the controversy surrounding him, if he were to leave earlier, once a replacement is found.
In any case, given the press interest last year in the choice of a new head for the National Theatre (a contest eventually won by Nicholas Hytner), the RSC's sweepstake will also attract widespread attention — not least because the new head of the company will take over at the same time as Hytner.
At the moment the strongest contender is Greg Doran, but perhaps Edward Hall would be the most radical and exciting choice the RSC board could go for.
—By Paul Webb Theatrenow