Old Vic-tim

Theatre Royal, Bristol

Big shout out to the Arts Council for sticking to its guns and quite properly protecting tax payers money from yet another member of Bristol’s old boys’ network with a snooty accent and promoted way above their abilities.

At last it finally looks like the Arts Council have managed to force the chair of the Old Vic Theatre Trust, Rupert Rhymes, to fall on his sword. The Arts Council has been withholding a £2 million cash grant for the refurbishment of the Theatre Royal in King Street run by the trust in an apparent stand-off with Rhymes for some time.

The theatre, of course, closed down in financial chaos back in May this year, despite already having announced the opening production of its autumn season and printed details in its brochure. Ludicrously Rhymes and his cronies claimed their decision was taken as part of a long-planned refurbishment of the theatre although the money to actually do any building work was quite transparently not in place.

When this excuse fell apart, Rhymes told The Stage newspaper the closure was due to the “poor plumbing” in the theatre and more recently he has taken to ranting aimlessly about the evils of the Arts Council to his mate at the Evening Cancer, Maurice Fells, who has faithfully reproduced this whining nonsense word-for-word in the pages of the Cancer on a regular basis.

The sudden closure of Bristol’s flagship theatre and company with the loss of around 100 jobs and no plans to carry on producing in other venues during this alleged planned closure of just eighteen months was in fact the entirely the responsibility of Rhymes and his hapless board of trustees.

Over the last four years, after the appointment of a couple of highly ambitious London luvvies as the theatre’s artistic directors – David Farr and Simon Reade – the theatre was transformed into a financial basket case as Rhymes and his trustees failed to control the rampant and profligate spending of this dubious artistic duo.

Huge cost overruns creating scenery and sets more suited to an upmarket tart’s boudoir became the order of the day as the pair of shamelessly self-promoting directors produced lavish productions of their own – and their wives! – uninspired adaptations of the classics. The pair of self-publicists even branded their work as ‘Radical Classicism’ in an effort to market their expensive tripe to London critics.

However their “movement” was so obviously self-serving and so utterly shite, boring and cynical that Bristol audiences simply stayed away in their droves and the theatre was effectively run into the ground by May this year when it closed on the verge of bankruptcy.

Despite this breathtaking financial mismanagement, Rhymes and his board have so far stayed in post running a lacklustre ‘Save the Old Vic’ campaign that has failed to catch fire largely because of the lack of confidence most of Bristol’s informed theatre community have in Rhymes and his cronies.

Now at last the Arts Council – by persistently stating their lack of confidence in the theatre trust’s business plan – have forced Rhymes out.

However, don’t start cheering too loudly just yet at the demise of this member of Bristol’s old boys’ network as Rhymes may have the last laugh yet. String puller to the end, he only seems intent on appointing his successor.

What’s needed, of course, to refurbish the theatre, get it reopened and get audiences through the door is a sharp financial operator with a sure populist touch. But what Rhymes is proposing is that another member of Bristol’s old boys’ network takes over – Dick Penny, Director of the Watershed.

Unfortunately Penny doesn’t fit the bill in the slightest. Another luvvie like Rhymes, his Watershed is another financial basketcase, which has persistently relied on shamefully undisclosed handouts from the city council ever since it opened. Neither has Penny any obvious populist credentials – The Watershed’s programming being a text book example of elitism and exclusiveness.

Penny hasn’t accepted the job offer as yet although he has indicated he is minded to. Surely a better recruitment process than this is required for such a crucial post for such a crucial institution?

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