Ever since I first started researching the history of The Other Place, I’ve been fascinated by the number of amazing shows which I had no idea started at The Other Place. The RSC’s Studio Theatre really is steeped in theatrical history!
During its original 15-year life span, The Other Place was home to some pretty exciting pieces of work. Thirteen Shakespeare plays were produced there between 1974 and 1989, and interestingly most of them were tragedies. At The Other Place, directors could choose what they wanted to direct, which resulted in some of Shakespeare’s most popular works being reimagined in radical and unusual ways.
The Other Place was also the birthplace of several plays which would go on to achieve success and longevity both in the UK and overseas. It’s amazing to consider the variety of productions which sprang up in the RSC’s tin-hut-turned-Studio-Theatre.
With that in mind I decided to do a bit of research into some of the most notable shows staged at The Other Place. Maybe some of these will surprise you - they certainly did me.
I was familiar with Pam Gem’s controversial musical play because it enjoyed a fairly recent Off West End run, but little did I realise that back in 1981 actor Jane Lapotaire earned a Tony Award for her performance as the title character. Focusing on the life of French singer Edith Piaf, whose famous song ‘Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien’ is a pop culture staple, the play showed Piaf’s alcoholism and promiscuity, and famously contained a scene in which the singer urinated in public. Interestingly Piaf was the first RSC play to break out from the subsidised to the commercial theatre scene, as it played in the West End’s Piccadilly Theatre, and was the first RSC production to play on Broadway too.
Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s most familiar plays, often studied in schools. In fact, I remember watching a scary cartoon version during a GCSE English class. The production which played at The Other Place in 1976 sounds even more eerie though. Critically acclaimed, and so well received by audiences that it was immortalised on film, Trevor Nunn’s claustrophobic show, starring Ian McKellen and Judi Dench, is still seen as one of the most effective Macbeths of all time. Staged in the intimacy of The Other Place, it had a distinctly creepy vibe, caused in no small part by the use of black magic. Nunn presented Dench’s Lady Macbeth as a woman dabbling in the dark arts, and the audience even sat around a chalk circle.
3. Les Liaisons Dangereuses
The title of this play may sound familiar to you. It’s a disturbing story about two jaded aristocrats who commence a series of seductions and manipulations for nothing but pleasure. Christopher Hampton’s adaptation won the 1986 Olivier Award for Best New Play when Les Liaisons Dangereuses transferred to the West End. But it began at The Other Place, starring Alan Rickman as the lascivious Vicomte de Valmont and Lindsay Duncan as the scheming Marquise de Merteuil. The play went on to be produced on Broadway, and has since had notable productions around the world, been made into a film, and acted as the inspiration for the 1999 Teen Choice award winning film Cruel Intentions, which starred Sarah Michelle Geller. Remember that one?
Like many theatre lovers, Hamlet is one of my favourite Shakespeare plays. What’s most intriguing is its reputation. There are many examples of the play weighing heavily on actors and directors, due to its universal themes of death, betrayal and uncertainty. Ben Kingsley starred as the Danish Prince in a popular 1975 production at The Other Place, but its success was sadly marred by the death of director Buzz Goodbody who committed suicide just four days into the run. It went on to garner hugely positive reviews and ended up transferring to the Roundhouse in London.
1. King Lear
Buzz Goodbody’s production of King Lear was the show which started everything at The Other Place, and so its position at the top of this list is well deserved. Designed specifically for young audiences, Goodbody shaved the script down to only the most necessary parts, and made it more relevant with an extra monologue which opened the play and linked its themes to the very relevant idea of poverty among elderly people in 1970s Britain. Goodbody’s remarkable interpretation was a huge success and the starting point for a Studio Theatre which would go on to house an astonishing number of exciting and diverse shows!
Of course, this list is in no way exhaustive. Maybe you’ve seen some of the new writing at the biannual Mischief Festival, or perhaps you can even recall some of the shows which appeared at The Other Place during its original lifespan from 1974 to 1989. Plenty of amazing productions started their lives at The Other Place, and with new shows appearing all the time, no doubt in a few years this list will look even more impressive.