After a three-year, £112m renovation, today the Royal Shakespeare theatre in Statford-upon-Avon once again opens its doors to the public. My old friend Professor Stanley Wells was on the ten o’clock news last night, raining on the RSC’s parade as they showed off their new theatre to the world’s press. And Wells is not the only one raising objections. Full disclosure: I am on the Board of the RSC. But what’s the argument about here?
Shakespeare wrote for a bare stage thrust into the auditorium, with the audience gathered around it. These “open yard” playhouses were torn down when the Puritans closed the theatres in the 1640s. When the theatrical profession resumed with the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, new indoor playhouses were built and the proscenium arch was introduced, creating a picture-frame stage. All through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, theatre was effectively experienced in a two room environment: the world of the play was separated from the world of the audience.