When I started working at the RSC as an intern in the marketing department, I was surprised to find out just how much exciting stuff is going on over at The Other Place, the RSC’s studio theatre. There’s new writing, works in progress, music nights, and a very well-stocked café bar! During an early visit to the theatre, I noticed that one of the walls in the foyer featured a mural dedicated to someone called Buzz Goodbody. Intrigued, I spent a few minutes glancing over the info on the wall and soon discovered that she was the person responsible for establishing The Other Place. The little information provided was tantalising, so of course my first idea for this blog was to look further into The Other Place and the life of the mysterious woman who was the brains behind it, all the way back in 1974.
I jumped straight on to Google, and a preliminary search threw up a couple of interesting news articles filled with tidbits about Goodbody’s career at the RSC. But I wanted to know more about the woman herself and what drove her to found The Other Place, so more thorough research was needed. After hours of furious searching, I discovered loads of fascinating details about Goodbody and her work as a director. Suddenly The Other Place seemed much more significant to me as I came to realise just how revolutionary the theatre and its founder were.
What a woman Buzz Goodbody was! An outspoken feminist and member of the Communist Party regularly seen at political demonstrations and street protests, she transformed The Other Place from a dusty tin into a home for radical and experimental theatre. It was her goal to create work specifically for those who wouldn’t ordinarily come to the theatre. To make the work produced at The Other Place as accessible as possible, tickets were sold for just 70p! Back in the ‘70s, Goodbody’s mission statement seemed rather alien, but today the idea of attracting new audiences to the theatre is common. Even so, I was amazed to discover that, in the spirit of the original The Other Place, audiences can still queue up in the morning and buy 70p tickets for some productions at the theatre!
Looking back at The Other Place now, everything about it was so non-traditional compared to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and the Swan. Even its name was unusual. First and foremost, calling the theatre The Other Place highlighted the new and alternative atmosphere which Goodbody wanted to encourage. However, the name is also a reference to a line in Hamlet. In the play, when challenged about the location of the king’s adviser Polonius, Hamlet replies that if he couldn’t be found in Heaven then they should ‘seek him i' th' other place’, referring to Hell. Very inventive!
After reading so much about Goodbody’s achievements, I was dismayed to discover that her time directing shows was as brief as it was exhilarating, as she committed suicide scarcely a year after The Other Place opened. Her death came as a huge shock and could easily have marked the end of the radical work at the theatre. Thankfully, RSC artistic director Trevor Nunn stepped in to ensure that the spirit of The Other Place did not die. He even directed a studio production of Macbeth the following year, which starred Ian McKellen in the lead role.
Following many years of electrifying and ground-breaking theatre, The Other Place closed temporarily in 2005 to make way for The Courtyard Theatre, a prototype for the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, which was being redeveloped at the time. The Other Place became the foyer for the new 1,000-seat theatre, which was the birthplace of the award-winning Matilda the Musical. The Courtyard Theatre closed in 2010 (its temporary planning permission ran out) and the future of the site looked uncertain. Thankfully, in 2012, permission was granted to reinstate The Other Place back to its former glory, and four years later, to coincide with Shakespeare’s 400th birthday, its doors opened once more.
Today the refurbished studio theatre is a flexible 200-seat space within The Courtyard Theatre. The atmosphere is upbeat and there always seems to be something interesting going on. It regularly hosts exciting pieces of contemporary writing, harking back to the original use of The Other Place as a space for new and alternative work to be developed. However, what I personally love about The Other Place is that you don’t have to see a show to enjoy the great atmosphere it offers. There are loads of exciting things to do in the building, like taking a backstage tour, getting a glimpse into the costume store, or just enjoying a hotdog in the café area. And of course there is the mural in the foyer, featuring pictures from the early days of the theatre and of Buzz Goodbody herself, the woman who made it all possible.
From humble beginnings, The Other Place has evolved into a bustling space in which theatre can grow and audiences can relax. It really is the engine room of the RSC!