Royal Shakespeare Company unveils new theatre

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The Royal Shakespeare Company opened its new theatre in the Bard's home town of Stratford-upon-Avon Wednesday, unveiling the results of a 112-million-pound, three-and-a-half-year revamp to mixed reviews.

The highlight is a 1,040-seat auditorium with a new "thrust" stage, which will be surrounded by the audience on three sides and is intended to be closer to the theatres common in William Shakespeare's time around 400 years ago.

The project cost 112.8 million pounds (178 million dollars, 134 million euros) and includes a new 36-metre (119-foot) viewing tower, a rooftop restaurant and a foyer linking the Royal Shakespeare Theatre to the Swan Theatre next door.

"We have reopened our new home on time and on budget, a result of an extraordinarily collaborative project which I believe has delivered a shared vision for a playhouse which brings actors and audiences closer together and opens up our theatres to be able to invite the world to share the work of Shakespeare and a wider repertoire," said RSC executive director Vikki Heywood.

The new stage addresses a problem that has dogged directors since the previous theatre in the central English town was built in 1932, where some members of the audience were up to 27 metres away from the action.

From now, no one will be further than 15 metres away -- although there are complaints that it will often leave actors with their backs to the audience.

Peter Hall, who was the company's artistic director at its founding in 1961, has likened thrust stages to diving boards.

Directors were obliged to keep the actors moving "not because what the characters are feeling but because what the lady in row A is feeling about not seeing them", he told BBC Radio this week.

The Telegraph newspaper also criticised the "generic" public spaces, saying: "The palette of grey painted steelwork and full-height glazing serviceable but distinctly under-imagined."

And it likened the new tower, which gives visitors views of Stratford and the surrounding countryside, to a watchtower.

Although the theatre is open to the public now, the first plays will not be performed on the new stage until April, when the RSC celebrates its 50th birthday with a season including "The Merchant of Venice" and "Macbeth".

© 2010 AFP

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