Today, it was announced that Greg Doran is to take over as artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company in September. Very few of us can say we didn’t see that coming. He’s a solid, safe pair of hands. He believes in the integrity of Shakespeare’s language and his productions in the last few years have been nothing but good. As Michael Boyd’s right-hand man, he understands how best the company should be run and no doubt realises where improvement is needed. In discussions, he is gentle, respectful and humble. He seems the obvious choice.
But that’s exactly the problem. When talking about Doran’s work and style, many words associated with mediocrity are employed; “solid”, “good”, “okay”, “fine”. He has rarely been talked of as “bold”, “ambitious” and “provocative”. Hence why he got the job, I imagine. With a company as respected and well-known as the RSC, the board couldn’t be expected to place the ship in a new, less-experienced pair of hands. Or so I imagine the argument goes.
Some of us, however, believe that’s exactly what the company did need. Boyd has done an incredible job over the past decade of bringing the company out of the slums of Noble’s tenancy and into the realm of the theatrical heavyweights. His return to the European model of ensemble has been a superb move (though it could still go further), and most can agree that the new Royal Shakespeare Theatre is one of the most exciting major theatres built in a generation.
This is precisely the reason the RSC doesn’t need Doran at the helm; my guess is he will bring much the same output as Boyd – good but not ground-breaking – and he will continue the outgoing AD’s legacy of raising the enterprise out of the ashes. This is fruitless considering the RSC is in a far better place than it was a decade ago. It is at the stage it should be (minus a London home), and does not need the same, ‘solid’, work in order to build its reputation. Now is the time, more than ever, when the company can afford to take risks.
Some of us were unfortunate enough to be born after the golden age of Hall and Nunn, when European companies were invited to Stratford to perform in the same spaces as British performers and experimental productions were mounted at The Other Place. We long for a return to those roots, which would entail shifting the focus of the company slightly away from Shakespeare and towards theatrical practices in general. There are companies all over the continent – nay, world – who are producing work far more challenging and exciting than anything the RSC has done in years, and on a fraction of the budget. We should learn from them; the RSC needs to stop pandering to the audiences who were watching thirty years ago and provide something for the next generation too. Doran said today on Front Row that it’s not as easy as simply reopening a new black-box studio theatre, and that TOP was more of an “idea” than a real venture, but if he’s to have any success in showing the RSC to be an institution not afraid of “taking risks” (outlined on its web page), then these sort of decisions need to be made.
All this may sound like I would champion the directorship of, say, Rupert Goold, but quite aside from the fact he apparently withdrew his application, even he remains someone who is relatively mainstream (though I imagine he’d have been more exciting than Doran). Granted, the company shouldn’t have been handed over to an unknown, but I imagine that the choice of someone a little younger and avant-garde would have been welcomed by a large percentage of its audience.
Naturally, it’s difficult and somewhat unfair to come to conclusions without letting Doran even have his say about his plans, but based on his track record it’s difficult to envisage the RSC going the places it ought to. Not all of us are middle-class, middle-aged theatregoers who enjoy safe, mediocre theatre.