Stephen Unwin, the outgoing director of English Touring Theatre (ETT) has joined Sir Peter Hall in the artistic team of the Rose theatre, Kingston, which was launched to the press today. Unwin joins as Artistic Director, while Hall, who has played that role for the last five years, becomes Director Emeritus. The two will work together to bring about their vision for the new theatre.
Amid this vision, set out by Hall and Unwin, is that the Rose will become a producing theatre, attracting actors from the very top of the profession. The pair aims to create an ensemble company which could also include students taking a Masters degree. This vision, it was emphasised today, is one the theatre will be working towards over time, as with no funding from the Arts Council or Lottery, the theatre must prove financially stable before it can progress.
In the meantime, the directing duo hopes that many of the country’s top touring companies will follow the lead set by ETT with its current production of Uncle Vanya, and open at the Rose before moving around the country.
The design of the Rose, an open lozenge stage without flies, would make it difficult for the theatre to accept touring productions with intricate sets and designs. But as both Unwin and Hall were at pains to make clear, this is not the purpose of the Rose, with Richmond theatre and the New Wimbledon, which both serve this purpose, so close at hand. “If we don’t have something particular here which is different to Richmond, we shouldn’t be here,” confirmed Hall.
Hall, whose has previously been Artistic Director at the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre, said that there were three reasons he was still connected with the theatre; the arrival of Unwin, the chance to hand on knowledge to a new generation of theatre practitioners and the building, which he described as: “extremely cheap, extremely durable and extremely honest”.
The 900 seat, £11 million venue belies its capacity, managing to feel both intimate and expansive. It is a space which will use minimal props, scenery and costumes to convey period and location, focusing on, and championing, the spoken work.
Of Unwin’s appointment, Hall said: “The enormous success of English Touring Theatre over the last 15 years is a tribute to his artistic integrity and dynamic approach to running a highly respected arts organisation. He brings an exceptional range of experience to the Rose which will benefit the whole project enormously.”
Unwin, Hall and Executive Director David Fletcher stressed that, with no funding from the Arts Council, the Rose’s ambitions would only be realised if enough tickets were sold and support received from the theatregoing community. The pricing structure sees top price tickets available for £29, while for £7 audiences can sit on a cushion at the front of the stalls.
The inaugural season, which opens on Friday with the Peter Hall-directed ETT production of Uncle Vanya, relies heavily on touring productions, among which are Tara Arts’s The Tempest, Birmingham Stage Company’s production of George’s Marvellous Medicine and Northern Broadsides’s Romeo And Juliet. The season also sees veteran actor Warren Mitchell return to the stage in Visiting Mr Green, and a revival of David Harrower’s Laurence Olivier Award-winning Blackbird.