Thursday, 22 November 2012

Phillip Perry

Philip Perry graduated from Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in 2009. He is Artistic Director of Gentleman Jack Theatre Co.  Phil also lectures at City of Bristol College and has lived in a pastel coloured house in Windmill Hill for the last seven years.

All's Well That Ends Well by William Shakespeare 

Tuesday 27th-Saturday 8th of December 2012 @ Unitarian Chapel, Brunswick Square. Directed by Philip Perry.

Follow on twitter @GentJackTheatre

Phil Perry
November 12th 2012

What are you working on at the moment?

I'm working on All's Well That Ends Well...In spite of its alphabetical advantage over other Shakespeare plays it very rarely gets an outing, and it's a play that feels oddly familiar and perennial. It's about tension between generations, very recognisable human failings and is presented in a peculiarly modern way that feels more akin to social realist drama of the mid Twentieth Century than anything contemporaneous to Shakespeare.

Tell us a bit about Gentleman Jack and it's ethos/challenges/rewards?

Gentleman Jack's ethos is to take underloved and underperformed classical texts and present them in non-theatrical spaces in a non-worthy, immersive way, finding their humour or tragedy and underlying idiosyncracy and trying to make it relevant to where we find ourselves today.
The rewards are manifold...finding something new in something old, building a world to put the play in, but above all the greatest reward is working with a tremendously talented company of actors and creatives.
The challenges are huge, staging anything large scale with no money is hard. Having said that, there is nothing better than limitation to make you more creative...

Who or what inspires you?

In immediate terms it is the acting company itself, but more widely it can be anything. Theatrically, I had an amazing experience as a teenager watching De La Guarda in a Warehouse in East London, which has been a huge influence on how the company works within the audience. More recently, Filter's Twelfth Night at the Tobacco Factory was profoundly influential. Their approach to the text was full of love and trust in it's ability to withstand and transcend an irreverent approach to it...It reminded me that Shakespeare isn't made of glass.

What is best advice your ever been given?

After Twelfth Night, I asked Ollie how I could get his job. He said that I couldn't have it, but the best thing could do was start my own company. I have followed his advice to date, and here we are.

Dream projects?  Any budget, any locale?

The Chimes at Midnight. A Zillion Pounds...any one of the hundreds of beautiful unused buildings in the city...The Old Norwich Union Building is a particular favourite...

Best directorial note? 

"Just be a bit better..." To me...

Final question.  Is the director dead?

No. I think the director is fine. But, he needs actors to keep him in check...they've got a better nose for what's good than he has...

Thanks Phil for sharing your thoughts!

"The Art of Theatre is neither acting nor the play, it is not scene nor dance, but it consists of all the elements of which these things are composed" -Edward Gordon Craig

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Jesse Briton

My apologies dear readers and interviewed directors yet to be published!  From working on a "whale" of a show while heavily pregnant, becoming a new mom and now getting started on some new theatrical ventures, I have sorely neglected this blog!  If I had the time, I'd start a new blog just for parents trying to do and juggle it all in the arts...but enough of my excuses and onwards with the interviews.  Yay.

Jesse is an actor, playwright, director and an East 15 alumnus.  He is Artistic Director of Bear Trap Theatre Company.  His play Bound has won various awards including Edinburgh Fringe First in 2010 and has been performed throughout England and abroad.

For more on Jesse and Bear Trap please visit

Follow on twitter@youbigjesse

Jesse Briton
March 1st 2012
Bristol Old Vic

What are you working on at the moment?

I’ve got a couple of pieces I’m doing through the company Bear Trap.  One we’ve been developing for a year and half.  Largely a family drama, part historical epic, set during the first crusades.  It’s that classical story telling which we try and make intimate, things we use visually, music as well.  This time we are working with a cellist.  We are also doing, in contrast to that, quite starkly, a one woman autobiographical show, partly in the welsh language and partly in English, which is about our designer, Bud who designed Bound.  She comes from a long family of farmers in Wales.  It’s been in the family 300 years. So she’s becoming a theatre designer, her sister has become a workshop/website designer, and there’s no one to continue on the farm and essentially she feels a lot of guilt cause her decision signs the death of that farm.  It started off with that as the idea for the piece, we devised it. With first crusade piece I am writing it and directing. With this piece I am devising it with Bud and directing.

What are some of the advantages/disadvantages of being both playwright and director on the same project?

There’s always the issue of distancing yourself from the project, particularly if you’re writer and director.  You’re almost ‘god’… whatever you say goes.  It can be like that.  I try to refrain from being like that when im directing and give the cast as much leeway on the text as possible.  And be gracious with how much I let them improvise and let things spill over.  Its important, especially with a piece like Bound, which is an ensemble drama and requires a lot of fast interconnecting stuff and they need the freedom to spill over the text.  One of the things that being an actor gives me is a sympathy for actors, a love of actors.  When im working on a project I’ve written and directed there’s the potential you don’t give the actors much freedom and retain for yourself and allow yourself that width of depth and ideas and don’t neccesarily share with them.  It becomes very close to you, its obviously difficult to see things objectively.  I find you can become defensive when there noone else to share the blame.

Who or what inspires you.

I never intended to be a writer. I enjoyed creating my own work, but never really thought it was a possibility or an option to do and certainly not end up coming to the Old Vic from Somerset.  In the world of new writing, it feels like the plays that are being written and produced are actually quite narrow. I think that’s partly dictated by those institutions, which supports new writing for example, the Royal Court or any of those lovely theatres. As a young writer, you have to write a certain style. I don’t feel what I write fits in very naturally in to that. I’m quite obsessed with classical. I’m not really interested in people who have real angst, inner emotions, domestic violence/abuse, all that troubled stuff. It’s never really interested me. I’ve always been interested in telling more archetypal stories. There is nothing really original about that. The stage I’m at, I really enjoy not borrowing, and not stealing, but looking back. I’m obsessed with history. I’m particularly interested in what’s human, funny or quite tragic, and how very quickly they turn. It’s particularly interesting, very strong comedy, and very strong tragedy, that actually they’re incredibly close. That within great tragedy we see some thing which is very human.

I have trained as an actor, and as a theatre maker.  The majority of the work which I go and see, is devised work. I follow companies like Complicite.  When they were developing Master and Margarita, they called a load of people to work shop it, I was lucky enough to be called in.  I spent a few days working with Simon (McBurney) and it was incredible for me. Simon is like a demi god almost within the British theatre.

What is the best advice you have been given?

From Uri Roodner who trained me, “If you don’t run no one would follow you”.  Uri is a really wonderful man, gives quite cryptic advice. That was a particular one for me. In my early parts of training, I was a very nice young man and was very interested in every one having a good time, creating theatre together.  What that meant was we never got anywhere, and he said that to me. I was called in by the acting tutors with all the other people who were struggling and weren’t very good with attitude problems and all the rest of it. I thought I was doing all right and they said, you are working here, which is where every one else is working, but you’ve got the potential to be working…. here. And at the time I thought what’s the problem with that? I’m doing what every one else is doing? What’s the problem? I think, and this is perhaps another long conversation, about our British education system, society, and our culture. I was a state educated school kid.   Almost afraid of really taking opportunities that I wanted to, and as soon as he hammered that into me, I kind of went through quite a painful process, well I’m going do what I want, I’m going to stop being so democratic in how I create work. I had just been treading water, as soon as I took that decision, I went BOOM.

Dream projects?

I‘ve got two views on this. One which is a very kind of glib answer to, is just do your dream project. If it’s a dream project you probably never get a round to doing it. Just do the thing you want to do in that moment. Like for example the piece I’m working on, is a piece which I really love, and desperate to put on, set in the first crusades. Which is a huge effort.  You should always put your self under pressure to do the project you really want to do at that moment. And absolutely trust in it.

Second view is on films.  Bristol old Vic is my nearest theatre but it’s about forty five minutes drive away. Growing up in Somerset there was really no theatre in the area and I grew up watching films at the cinema. Wells has got a tiny little independent run cinema, I went to religiously.  There something in me, where by I want to test myself in that medium as well and would really love to have a crack at that.

Best directorial note?

When an actor is not doing very well, I tell them, “Do it like Daniel Day Lewis would do it.”  As soon as I give that instruction, their performance gets better. It’s funny… it never fails to. If you use it in a serious situation, it ejects a kind of note of lightness.  People know what you are talking about. It’s committing.  Daniel Day Lewis commits straight away, it’s that intensity which we are partly mocking but need to manufacture, for yourself…this is my intense work on acting and theatre.  It has been accused by people from different countries, that British actors only act from the neck up.  It’s the way we go about learning acting, it’s all psychological, and we separate it.  People are entirely disconnected from their bodies. We’ve got an actor in the current company, who has never trained and he’s on par with everyone else in the company that have come from top drama schools. There is something which is just  …. about not acting. I don’t think there is any thing really you have to do. It’s just listening.  If you are really listening to what some one is saying, if you really hear it, everything takes care of itself.  The directors should think as much as they can. They should go away and just think. But actors should be in the moment, just living and listening.  

Final question. Is the director dead?

I don’t think the director’s dead.  On your blog, you’ve got lots of older, much more experienced directors. And this is very presumptuous, but I think directing is actually very simple. It’s a balance. I try and give as much authority to the performers that is humanly possible.  The cult of the director has become unhealthy. Everyone has gone to see shows where the ideas the directors had, killed the show and killed the actor’s natural playfulness.  We see the director being somebody of overall charge. And I don’t see that. I see it as being the person helping the actors on to the stage. There is the point when the actors must ultimately own it. For me that’s the most important thing. Quite often it feels like a director owns the production, or a writer owns a production.  I don’t think the directors dead.  I think that role still exists, but it must evolve.

Thanks Jesse for sharing your thoughts!

“Error is not just acceptable, it is necessary for the continuation of life, provided it is not too great. A large error is a catastrophe, a small error is essential for enhancing existence. Without error, there is no movement. Death follows.” -Jacques Lecoq





Tuesday, 1 May 2012

BOVTS 2012 Graduating Directors

The Directors’ Cuts Season at the Alma Tavern, is a theatrical showcase for Bristol Old Vic Theatre School directing graduates.  It runs from May 1-26th.  On a rainy afternoon last week, Anna Girvan met for a chat with the 2012 graduating class.

Timothy Howe, Iain MacDonald, Anna Simpson, Ellie Trevitt
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Channings, 1.20pm 
Clifton, Bristol





What drew you to directing? Anna- Originally, I thought I wanted to be an actor.  In my drama society there were plays and a style of theatre that they just didn’t do. The only way to get them on was to do it myself, so I thought, ‘yeah, well, why not? I’ll give directing a go!’ I got the bug from there. It was hugely satisfying having a vision in your head and seeing it manifest, better than you could have envisioned, on the stage.

Tim – I started directing at school, just me being the bossy child. But in the final year some of us wrote a musical from scratch, directed and put the whole show together. I got bitten by the bug then. Like Anna, I went onto University, putting on work that other people weren’t doing which complimented my degree scheme.

Ellie – I was an actor for five years. I was forced into directing really. My part in a piece I was doing was literally taken off me and I was told I was to direct a festival piece instead, so I directed it, kicking and screaming, but loved it, absolutely loved it. I then spent four years directing for small companies up North before coming here.

Iain – I was a member of the Scottish Youth Theatre which is like the National Youth Theatre but… up in Scotland.


The first thing I did was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and from that I got asked to be in SYT Productions which was the semi-professional wing of SYT and we did a play called Dying For It, which was an NHS funded TIE thing… it was a lot better than it sounds.

All chuckle at this.

It was about sexually transmitted infections. It toured really successfully for about two years. I got on really well with the director and…

At this point we were interrupted by magical waiter who turned Anna’s pot of English Breakfast tea into Camomile tea and then back again. I suppose you had to be there…

Just after that I got more involved and realised I just got on better with actors rather than as one of them. I preferred being a collaborator rather than anything else.

What is your first theatrical memory?

Tim –I went to see pantomimes for many years at Nottingham Playhouse, near where I grew up, and there was this glorious moment…the Dame had gone swimming and he suddenly just appeared from a fly and was swimming in a UV scene. The actors around him were all in black with big cut-outs of neon fish, it was just amazing. I can’t remember anything else about that play apart from that one moment.

Ellie – We didn’t really go to the theatre when I was young partly because we didn’t live anywhere where there were theatres. That sounds weird but true, so I saw a lot of German Opera and a lot of Russian Ballet with big touring companies that came fairly nearby.  Other than that… my Dad as King Rat at the local pantomime. He was brilliant, the rest was rubbish, so from a young age I was put off pantomime but I do still like Opera, particularly German Opera.

Iain – The first thing I remember seeing, was a pantomime at Eden Court in Inverness, the closest sort of theatre to me. It was Postman Pat, the pantomime and they had real cars, which was amazing. I have one memory of a van driving on and the man, who clearly wasn’t the Pat, I knew that… but it looked like him, he came on with a man dressed as a cat as well. Oh… and I remember at school I was in the Easter show and I was Doubting Thomas, which is quite ironic now, these days.

All laugh.

Anna – My family aren’t theatrical in any way so I didn’t see much theatre apart from the odd pantomime, which didn’t particularly stick with me. I mainly got into it from being the annoying performing child who liked being on the stage. For me, I was more like 17 or 18. I got this brilliant drama teacher who showed me that theatre didn’t have to be a naturalistic drawing room drama where everything had to be literal, it was the first time, which sounds odd at that age, I came across the concept that theatre could be about ideas or it could be physical or it could be anything but an exact reflection of reality. That was the big revelation that got me into it more.

So, the first of your Directors’ Cuts Season starts next week. Tell me a little about the plays you have chosen and why?

Anna – I’m directing the first show, Disco Pigs by Enda Walsh. I came across it when I was studying in Ireland and the script really intrigued me. The language is unique. It’s a kind of Cork phonetic and Irish slang mixed with the characters own baby language, so it takes you a few minutes to get into it and understand, which is a brilliant challenge to direct and act. It also keeps changing location very quickly and runs at 100 miles an hour in the way the two characters live their lives, so you can’t take a naturalistic approach with it. It leaves it very open for a director to figure out how to best tell the story. I re-read it over the summer of the riots when there were all these debates about wayward youth.  These parallels then struck me and I thought it might be something interesting to draw out.  It’s just a gorgeous love story at the end of the day, between these people who could be really awful and despicable. They just drink and take drugs, beat people up and rebel but it is the relationship between them, which makes them very human. You see their vulnerability under all the bravado.

Tim – I’m directing The Yalta Game by Brian Friel. I didn’t have any ideas about what I wanted to do for my Alma, so I read lots of plays.  Yalta was quite an emotional reading. I cried at the end because it was such a powerfully simple story, about two people who fall in love, know they can’t be together, but try anyway. There’s something about the hopeless romantic in me which connected with that. I then discovered it was Friel’s take on Chekhov. I read into Chekhov’s work, life and his musings on the concept of marriage. He said ‘if you don’t want to feel loneliness then don’t get married.’ I wanted to take everyone on that emotional journey.   Just because you live for the moment and you love them doesn’t necessarily mean that it is all good. We get this glossed over image of the Hollywood idea of love. I’m quite a cynic when it comes to stuff like that so that was nice to push my boundaries and do something on doomed love.

The theme of love has come up a lot here and I see that is the theme of the Alma’s this year?

Iain – We were asked to come up with a theme and it was the day before and I thought ‘shit I forgot about that’.

All laugh.

Iain - I emailed everyone and said ‘God, I know this is a bit loose but… love?’ you know, ‘discuss’ and the next day the programmes were printed and it’s ‘love’ and petals everywhere.

Anna – So it loosely emerged after we chose them.

Ellie – It did seem to be the only common link, didn’t it? But it didn’t influence our choosing.  Mine is more about obsession than love. I’m directing After the End by Dennis Kelly. It was a wild card choice for me. Like nothing I’ve ever done before. I’ve mostly done family shows and comedies.  There were two things that got me excited about the play initially, the first being the space. They are in this nuclear bunker and can’t get out and that is all they have, this one small space between the two of them. I was excited about exploring that and it became very important how the space effects what happens. The next was the individuals, Mark and Louise, and how they are so totally different by the end of the play. I was interested in tracking that journey, where all of those changes happen, and getting to the truth of that.

Iain – I’m directing Knives in Hens by David Harrower, arguably the best writer in Scotland right now. It’s quite dear to me because it is one I’ve wanted to do for so long.  I was a bit worried, because it’s the most performed Scottish play outside of Scotland. It’s also a bit sentimental as the play is dedicated to George Gunn who is a poet and playwright in the North of Scotland and he tutored me and he tutored David when writing the play, so there is a weird passing the buck thing going on. The play is all about language and I’m all about working with text. I suppose people could read into it and think its about the transition between rural to urban culture or its about knowledge being the fall of man, but really at its heart it is a fable, a love triangle and storytelling.  I’m a big fan of simplicity. We are telling the story in the easiest way and the simplest way.  The audience will take different things from it and though it is just a story it’s got a dream like quality to it, a good dream. Strangely life affirming but at the same time quite harsh and stark.

You all work quite closely with the designers at the BOVTS. So tell us a little about working with them and the spaces you are creating.

Anna –Coming here and working with designers was a new experience and I had no real ideas for Disco Pigs. I knew I wanted the space to be multi-purpose, to engage with certain ideas I’d been exploring which I wanted to draw out via the design and capture this idea of the youth culture. I told Max, my designer, he was very free to do whatever and a week later he came back with this design that somehow managed to capture everything I’d jabbered on about for about two hours. It works wonderfully. Max is very passionate about it. From the outset he just said he really loved this play and engaged. It’s great because you feel you have a creative partner. It can be a daunting process so it’s nice to have someone to throw those ideas at and bat them about at you.

Tim – Faye is in quite an abstract world in her head, so to bring her into a play that is Friel’s take on Chekhov, and see how she might make that work in harmony with her, was quite interesting. She brought stuff to the table that means we’ve even moved the time in which the play was set as a result to give it a different feel and sense of where it is. She pushed me in directions that I didn’t think would come up, different ways to go with the play. We spent a lot of time talking about the film Brief Encounter and how similar it is to the play and film noir. We drifted around that for ages and that pushed me into thinking about the music, so I got original music written for the piece. It’s quite an exciting set as it is about complimenting the actors and telling the story yet still has an imaginative quality to it.

Ellie – My designer is Sarah June Mills and we found early on that we were thinking in the same direction. She’d already done a lot of research on nuclear bunkers from other projects and knew a lot about them. We went slightly less realistic towards the end of the design, well… we haven’t built a nuclear bunker on stage, let’s put it that way. We have a ladder we can climb, bunk beds and a chemical toilet, and we’ve both got really excited about that. But again it was just about creating the right space to build the right atmosphere for the cast to give their best performance and Sarah does that really well. It’s gorgeous.  I love it.

Iain – I was pared with Hadla, which is great because we both drink quite heavily.

All laugh.

No just kidding. She’s from Scotland as well which is just a coincidence, it wasn’t just because we’d be able to understand each other.


Hadla’s terrific because she had so many ideas and so did I.  I come from a touring theatre background so whenever I was doing designs in the past it was whatever would fit in the back of a van. It’s great working with Hadla because I’ve realized that under-design is just as fatal as over design. We had so many ideas and we went the long way around to come back to the thing we started with, which was that the language is the most important thing and the acting.  We wanted something that would compliment but not detract. It’s a play that is quite a snap shot of scenes inside and outside, in a bar, in a tree etc so it had to be functional, it couldn’t be too defined, it is all about atmosphere for us.

Do you think you have a particular directorial style or approach?

Anna – I approach texts and work in a very physical fashion.  A lot of people do it bottom up but I tend to do it top to bottom, working from the outside-in. It’s the idea that the unconscious mind knows things that the conscious mind doesn’t.  Sitting around a table and analyzing for a week feels like an English Literature class. I just want to get things up on its feet, analyze on it its feet as you go and try things out. That’s how you discover really.

I saw an interesting tweet from Company of Angels asking if starting rehearsals with read-throughs is a thing of the past for directors now?

Anna - I usually don’t start with a read-through. I feel like if you sit down and do a read-through, or just sit down for too long, you’re avoiding doing the play. It’s almost an avoidance technique. With this play I did a very informal read-through with a few drinks and snacks and just went a bit mental with it and then after that it was straight away on its feet doing physical experimentation.

Ellie – Our first day was a picnic in the sunshine and we did a read-through, but not in any formal way. For me the first day is about building a team with that company and for that play, whether they have worked together before or haven’t doesn’t really matter. In our case we all knew each other reasonably well and just went on a picnic and had bacon sandwiches on a gorgeous sunny day.

Iain – I get quite textual about stuff and I will always start with a read-through. It’s a good place to start, if they don’t know what they’re saying, when they are standing up they’ll really struggle. It’s a building block starting around the table and it’s about striking a balance. It also depends upon the project and what you’re doing changes from play to play. I never get rid of the table I just move it to the side.


I’m quite gradual and ultimately for me I’m most interested in the audience because they are the ones that are coming to see it and if they don’t hear ‘Once upon a time…’ then I think they are going to find it really difficult. I always ensure the story is priority. One of the most important things you can do as a director is love the play you are working on because it is infectious and the other people will love working on it too and it’s great to be able to share my good positive burden with other people.

Tim – I always think there is time even if it’s three weeks in to say ‘right, we need to go back to the table with this scene because we’re all barking up the wrong tree. Let’s go back to day one and start again with this scene.’ You need the opportunity to be able to do that. I started this process slightly differently because of various commitments, but in my first two days of rehearsal neither of my actors saw each other. I did one day with one and one with the other and the next day we did nothing to do with the play.  We just listened to music and talked about love songs. It wasn’t until the following week that we finally put it on its feet and I just threw them in the space and said, ‘lets look at what comes out. We’ve discussed the play, we’ve discussed your parts, we’ve got a shared pool of thought, let’s see what happens.’ Then we went back to the table again and worked the scenes and the monologues individually. There is a place for a read-though, it’s how you decide to do that that makes it.

Ellie – It also changes on the project.  We’ve had a really relaxed rehearsal room for my play. We’d not block it,  just go wherever you feel like it, chat, laugh and tear it to pieces in whatever way is right for that moment. I’ve done more trips out than I have before as research with any other project. Suzi (Preece) and I went to see a lady called Tracy Richardson who works for a charity called Kinergy. They’re a group that council people who have experienced sexual violence or abuse. It really helped Suzi and I get our heads round some of the issues that come up in the play. Last weekend Johnny (Gibbons) and Suzi spent a few hours in a dark cellar with a torch just to get used to what it feels like to be in such a small space and no way out.

What do you think are the positives and negatives in this current economic climate?

Tim – A distinct positive is that everybody’s just as hard up as we are and as desperate to do work and get work on. We are coming out of a school with a great bunch of actors and there is a sense of ‘we’re all in this together’.

Iain –A friend of mine worked on a North Sea oilrig for 15 years before he figured out he wanted to be a playwright and he always says to me, ‘you’re so lucky that you’re this age and you know what you want to do now because it’s much better that way’. We’re not any worse off or better off.  Without money things are much less complicated. It has always been difficult, I’m just lucky that I know what I want to do.

Tim – And I suppose the other things that comes out of this financial and political upheaval there is a lot of new work coming out of it. There is now something to work against and document and put on stage.

If you were to take anything from your training at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School into your careers, what would it be?

Anna – Apart from the name? Which is always handy.


Iain – My shopping budget has got pretty good.

More laughs.

I hardly spend any money on food anymore so I hope I can stick with that for the rest of my life.

Tim – I suppose it’s just the knowledge that it doesn’t matter about anyone else, it’s about the work and the here and now. It’s given me a lot of strength and confidence. I have to have faith in my work and know that it is good. I can hold it up against other people’s work and know that it holds its own.

Anna – It is very self-affirming. Makes you think ‘maybe I am on the right track with this whole directing thing’. It’s very easy in any kind of arts career to have doubts because of the difficulties, but I think that BOVTS makes me think it is possible, it can be done. We got in, and fingers crossed, if we work hard, we’ll get stuff afterwards as well.

Ellie – I just feel like I’m leaving with a whole load of tools that will be useful in the future. I’ve got things coming up that wouldn’t have before this and people I can pester for help, so all in all it’s been just what I hoped it would be in that way.

Anna – Contacts.  Contacts are invaluable.

Iain – It’s just good to know you aren’t barking up the wrong tree. I’ve always wanted to work in Scotland. I’ve never been secretive about that so I think going away from somewhere to do something and then coming back is always more useful. The training has been great too!

Have you been given any advice at the school, or out of the school, that you think you’ll take with you on your way?

Anna – Hum….

Tim – John Hartoch (Head of Acting at BOVTS) told me not to worry about money. We were talking about starting our pensions and he said, ‘do keep some money for a rainy day but if you see something that you think you should pursue and its going to cost you some money don’t be afraid to do it. You don’t know when that opportunity might come along again.’ He’s not regretted any money he has spent.  Another bit of advice from him was ‘remember where you park your car because after a long day at the theatre, you want to remember where that is’.


Iain –George [Gunn] has always helped me through with things.  He said, ‘if you don’t believe in yourself no one else will’. If you come from areas that don’t have a theatrical tradition or active theatre environment it is very easy to self doubt and feel that your work is inferior or that you want to tell certain kinds of stories that aren’t popular. I mean who wants to do anything that’s popular?


Anna – It’s quite difficult to pick one thing but probably something from Clive Hayward. We were talking about how there were different approaches and I was being pushed in new directions and he said that was great obviously and be open to that and learn but don’t lose sight of what you love doing and don’t let anyone tell you that the style that you enjoy most is wrong and not as valid. You can so easily be guided in another direction and start to doubt that what you were doing before was wrong or not as good, so it was nice to hear that. I’ll keep hold of that.

Ellie – I worked with Toby Hulse (Director) at this school and I remembered how much fun it is to tell stories.  Which is why I do what I do. I grew up in a whole family of storytellers. My Dad writes plays and different people in my life tell fantastical stories.  Toby reminded me, with the way he is in rehearsals, that to have fun doing this is the most important thing. To play, that is what this is about for me.

Final question.  Is the director dead?

Ellie – Ha! Well I’m not!


Anna – Well I hope not, that will make leaving even trickier!

Iain – Ah, no. Absolutely not. There is a reason they exist. It gets muddied whether you call yourself a director or a creative practitioner,  but they are there for a reason. If nothing else you have to be the pre-audience, you have to watch it because they can’t watch it themselves.

Tim – It would be easy to say that they don’t exist but they are the driving force that keeps the whole thing ticking along and everyone in a creative mode. You can have five actors and they can all be great, but if anything starts falling apart in that collection they are just going to fall apart.  Where as if there is someone outside of that unit, who can take the collaboration and point it in the right direction, be that extra eye that is the audience, it just helps to craft it.

Iain – It’s like herding cattle really isn’t it.

Ellie – The sort of director I want to be is about finding the writers that you think the world needs to listen to. I like working with new writers. I read a lot of plays from unknown people.  Being a driving force in putting that work on or finding the opportunities. Even before you get to casting, even before you get to the rehearsal room it’s such an important job for a director to do.  I don’t think anybody else can do it, I think the director is the best person because they know the whole process, don’t they?

Anna – Theatre can technically exist without a director but funnily enough there didn’t used to be courses that would train directors like this. Directors emerged from actors usually who hit a certain age and decide they want to give directing a go. I would say it’s the reverse now, the director has become more prominent where there are people specifically training to be directors. The directors set up the parameters of the world of the play, of the story that the actors get to play within. Their job is to keep it cohesive otherwise you can get loads of ideas and who gets the final say? The director is very much alive and kicking.

Tim – There are times when it can go to the extreme and things can get so utterly director driven, that ‘k├Âncept’ takes over.

Ellie – Don’t get me started on that kind of theatre!

Iain – Maybe there are types of director I wish were dead!


Thanks directors for sharing your thoughts!

Disco Pigs by Enda Walsh - Tues 1st May – Sat 5th May
Knives in Hens by David Harrower – Tues 8th – Sat 12th May
The Yalta Game by Brian Friel – Tues 15th – Sat 19th May
After the End by Dennis Kelly – Tues 22nd – 26th May

All shows start at 8pm with matinees at 2.30pm on Thursdays and 5pm on Saturdays at the Alma Tavern Theatre.

Tickets are £8 for all shows except a special £5 tickets for Thursday matinees!
Knives in Hens is also being taken to the White Bear Theatre in London on the 8th & 9th of July.

Special thanks to Anna Girvan for conducting interview on my behalf.  Anna is a theatre director and BOVTS Alumni. 

More on Anna:

More interviews to come shortly with Jesse Briton and Natalie Ibu.  My apologies dear readers for keeping you waiting...

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

John Retallack

John is currently the Associate Director of the Bristol Old Vic Theatre.  He was a writer and director of Company of Angels (2001-2011), which produces new and experimental work for young audiences.  He was also formerly the director of Oldham Coliseum Theatre (1985–88), the Oxford Stage Company (1989–99) and founding director of ATC Theatre (1977–85).

John Retallack
Friday Dec 16th 2011
4:30pm Bristol Old Vic

What are you working on at the moment?

I’ve just done something at National Theatre of Scotland called Truant and I’ve just directed Good Clown Bad Clown here (Bristol Old Vic).  National Theatre of Scotland, it was the first time I’d worked for them and it was quite an opportunity. A year before I went up and did three weeks of interviewing people about the relationship between teenagers and parents and the need of each to ‘play truant’ on one other.  We got some 150 thousand words of transcript typed out from the interviews and from there I did two more workshop weeks with a group of actors and then finally started rehearsals at the end of this September. We rehearsed for another 5 weeks and toured TRUANT (a series of short scenes and movement pieces) around community centres all over Glasgow.  It was great to do something as unhurried and as considered - both personally and collectively.  Very good creative team – Michael John McCarthy, Simon Wilkinson, Becky Minto, Catrin Evans.  For me, it was quite an adventure, because it was partly writing, partly devising and, on tour, partly debating with the audience.  Each show had a facilitated debate immediately after, something I’d picked up from FAR AWAY at BOV. I’d never done that particular combination before.  Coming back to Bristol was like coming home.  It was good to work again on a children’s show.  I’d taken the precaution of working with the cast of Good Clown Bad Clown back in August and made that our first week of rehearsal, so, at that time, we had trialed ideas without the pressure of opening.  The designer Liesel Corp, went off to design and when I got back from Scotland, (although normally you don’t want to do one show on top of another) at least we were prepared. 

What is your earliest theatrical memory?

I didn’t really like theatre when I was a child and didn’t really like it when I went to college.  I started to work as a teacher of English in a school where many of the teenagers were from broken families and could not settle down and concentrate to write a whole essay, although they were really bright.   The only way I could get them to focus on what we were studying was to do a performance of it.  I was 22 and in one year I directed about 5 productions in this school.  It worked so well for them and they started to write essays as a result.  I discovered I really enjoyed making plays and I remember half term during school I went over to Paris because I had read in the paper a 5 star review (or whatever they had in those days) by Michael Billington of a Peter Brook show which I had thought was Titus Andronicus but was actually Timon of Athens.  So I read the wrong play on the boat.  It was the debut show of the Bouffes du Nord and it was just ravishingly good.  It was the first time Michael Billington had used the word ‘ensemble’ in a review and that really intrigued me.  What was ‘ensemble’?  Collectively devised by an international company around a great fable and it was so beautiful.  As a result I then went off and started a theatre company.

Who or what inspires you?

Well, Peter Brook was certainly inspiring.  Then I started seeing the work of Peter Stein in Germany, and Ariane Mnouchkine in France, all great ensemble directors.  They were the three that absolutely blew me away.  In England it was Mike Alfreds and he was directly helpful to me.  He came to see my very first show, an adaptation of Byron’s epic poem Don Juan. 

What is your directorial approach or style?

It’s changed in different periods. Because I originally come from teaching, I like to prepare thoroughly on my own and then open up conversation with the actors.

You are Associate Director of the Bristol Old Vic and head of its Outreach Program.  What are some of the initiatives you will be taking on for 2012?

Last year we toured primary schools with Tim Crouch’s FairyMonsterGhost. I love performing text in daylight and that interaction with children.  What I’d like to do this year is a play called the Wild Girl which I wrote a few years ago.  I did it in England and then a company got a hold of it in Holland and reimagined it for two actors.  A husband and a wife who adopt a feral girl from the woods, who is really wild, like a wild animal, they do everything they can, very lovingly, to try to get her to become an ordinary child who will grow up and go to school and so on. It’s about how they succeed and how they don’t.   In light of the questions raised by the riots, the words ‘wild’ and ‘feral’ have been used a lot.  Where does the child get a choice, what choices does the child have?  And this story is interesting, because here the child really does decide for herself.  A beautiful piece and I have asked Miranda Cromwell, who runs the young company and is a very good director, to direct it.  We’ve also got some interesting European texts that we’d like to be getting out to teenagers, not necessarily in the educational sense.  We could play in a library, a hospital ward, all sorts of places -- It’s what I call ‘suitcase theatre’ -- you can just show up with what you need in a suitcase.  I am very interested in theatre happening in non-theatre spaces. 
We’ve also got a wonderful ongoing project called Made in Bristol.  A group of Young Company members who were no longer in college or who had just left school, went to Tom Morris and Emma Stenning and said, ‘we love it here at Bristol Old Vic – we helped keep it open when it was closed -- we want to continue doing work here’.  They ended up making the show Riot, which is now going to Edinburgh and they will work for 2 weeks at the National Theatre Studio on a new show.  It’s truly remarkable. 
We’ve got a new group of 11 Made in Bristol members that Miranda has been working with every Friday.  We are developing these people as both workshop leaders and as a young theatre group.  That’s quite an important project that’s going on. 
We’ve also got some major Young Company shows for next year to coincide with the opening of the theatre. 
And we are completely re-thinking how we can work with schools when the Theatre Royal re-opens.

What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?

I think probably just do it.  I took some pretty big risks to leave teaching after 3 years and just start building ATC, back in the day.  And Company of Angels was a risk and I must thank my wife for that, who was working full time, which let me off to start something up.  For anyone, you, me, theatre is such a risk and so labour intensive.  Just to put on Wild Girl and tour to schools, a decent two hander, it’s what?  £15,000?  It’s all got to be raised.  People who do theatre have always been driven but even more so these days – we are all producers now.

Dream projects?

Truant was a bit of a dream project.  I think I am reassessing my dreams.  I am starting to look again at the repertoire and I am very interested in things that Bristol can do and maybe that the Young Company can do with a professional and community mix of performers. CORAM BOY is an education. I’m feeling more responsive to other people at the moment, rather then feeling I’ve got something of my own to impose.  I think as an older director, I should be responding to other people and taking interest in other people’s productions.  The dream is really what this space (Bristol Old Vic) could be.

Final question.  Is the director dead?

There are certain directors who kill plays.  It would be fair to say there are directors who don’t know they’ve died.  They die on the job and don’t know it.  People find directing really addictive and compelling. But what you’re asking is, ‘is the role of the director over’?  It’s a very difficult thing to do, very few people can do it well and anyone who can do it very well is going to get a lot of work.  I’ll give you an example, going to watch Sally Cookson’s Cinderella at the Tobacco Factory the other day, just so reminded me that the director is NOT dead.  There she is putting on the most wonderful work, with the designer, music, the cast; I found the evening scintillating.  That’s the director, take her away and you don’t get nearly the same thing, even with all the same people involved.  I think the director is very much alive.

Thanks John for sharing your thoughts! 

''There are two categories of artists: the artists of absolute creation and those who create upon the creation of others. As interpreters we are instruments. Our job is to understand what these great absolute artists have created and to communicate that to a public. The greatest director of 'Don Giovanni' will never be the equal of Mozart. There is a diabolical danger in the craft of interpretation, to believe that we are as capable, or even better than Mozart or Shakespeare.'' Giorgio Strehler

Monday, 12 December 2011

Andy Burden

Andy is a theatre director based in Bath.  He was Artistic Director of the Rondo Theatre from 2001-2008.  He’s taught at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, DeMontfort University, University of Bristol and Circomedia.  Recent directing credits include;  Pinocchio (Tobacco Factory), Seasoned (Brewery), I Remember Green (Alma Tavern) and he is currently working on the Meaning of Riff, previewing at Norwich Arts Centre on Dec 13th and the Rondo Theatre on Dec 15th, 2011.

For more on Andy please see his website

Andy Burden
Friday, Dec 9th 2011
Bath, UK 1pm

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on the Meaning of Riff, a one-man show with Eamonn Fleming, who is one of the stalwarts of Hull Theatre.  He is going to kill me for this, but famously for being that man with the bee beard in the Magners advert.  This is the second one-man show we’ve developed together and 4th or 5th solo show I’ve developed with actors.   It’s something I really like doing.  It’s very funny.  The whole idea is were working on it now and see if we can make tweaks and then go off to Edinburgh and hopefully on tour next year.  It’s a theatre/stand up comedy thing.

Who or what inspires you?

Real people.  The real world.  There are lots of people in the theatre world I’m inspired by, but for me it’s real stories, real characters, real incidents.  And either you do a comedy, compress it and make it more acute or larger than life or you do something very beautiful, try to pinpoint it and put it into an interesting context or something physical, stylised and try and communicate in a different way, in a visual way.  That’s always what inspires me in terms of my work and what I do, the world around me.  Also I’m really interested in history.  The next show I’m doing after this, is Henry VIII and the Royal Wedding Planner, which is another one person show and in the Brewery from the 10th of January.  That’s all about Henry VIII’s wives and inspired by a character named Jane Parker, who was a lady in waiting for five of the wives. 

What is your directing approach or style?

I’ve only just realised what it is.  The thing about being a director is you don’t see other directors direct.   But I have worked with an associate and co-directed, who will remain nameless, and I just sat there wondering, why are you doing it like that?  My approach is basically very playful, right at the beginning of rehearsal what I try to do is get people to open up and almost find that kid in themselves.  So what we are doing, even the most serious thing in the world, has some sense of fun and directness.  I don’t spend hours with the actors trying to decode the script, I do the work on my own before I go into rehearsal.  I don’t do lectures about the writer.  I believe a lot in just doing and finding things, bringing things to it.  Sometimes we ask questions after, and then we’ll do the academic stuff.  Instead of setting out like it’s A level Theatre/English literature text, we play around and figure out what works, why does that work and ask questions.  We're always putting stuff to the test.  I want people to do and try and to act naturally.  If you’re going to do comedy that’s heightened, then control that in a way that you can build up and make it very simple and very precise.  If it’s something naturalistic, you keep the ambivalences there and the feeling.   My approach is to always make the rehearsal room playful, open and relaxed place, where people can be creative to the last minute.   What I’m doing feels dangerous but I plan carefully where I’m going next and slowly bring everything in, until it all comes together and the actors go, Oh, it’s all there!  Because it comes from them, they don’t have to madly learn something at the last minute and they feel connected to what they’re doing. 

You are currently on a great run of successful shows as a freelance director.  Any advice you can give to a director starting out or struggling in this industry?

Years ago I wanted to be a musician.  And I went to Roy Harper, who I am big fan of and said I want to do what you’re doing, what would your advice be?  He just went to me; Don’t give up your day job!  There’s an element of truth unfortunately.  Despite some who would say they’re supporting and giving people opportunities and spreading their funding, basically its very, very difficult to get a start in this business because you have to do a lot of work for free.  Which means either its very rich people or people who somehow financed it another way.  When I was younger I was running around doing electrics, lighting, scene shifting, I kept all my work within the theatre world and tried to fit stuff around it.  I know people who are teachers and say I’ll direct and do it 3x a week.  That doesn’t work because you need that intense time.   I’ve just gone show to show, but at the beginning of this year, I didn’t have any work and it was a nightmare.  Having a fallback is not a bad idea. 

Peter Brook says in The Shifting Point, a director should never be out of work, because you set out the projects.  It’s about making the contacts and getting people on board, wherever it is and try to make work happen.  It’s not really an actor’s job to create work.   As a director I think we need to have that skill base to set things up, get an idea and find a way of doing it.   Part of what you do, has to be something people will come and see.  You have a choice in the industry; impress other theatre professionals or the audience.   Sometimes we forget we should be really impressing the audience.  The Rondo, Alma (Tavern), Tobacco Factory are making sure there is a place where people can try stuff out and also put on a full show.  That’s my other bit of advice, put on a full show.  Don’t be tempted to just put on 30 second bits.   I know it’s a trend, but I think as a director you have to put on a full show.  Like a writer has to write a whole play.  Writing a ten-minute short or sketch or doing something for a scratch night is a different skill to impressing people for that short time than it is for an hour or two-hour show.

Dream projects?

I’ve got loads.  Macbeth, A Beautiful Thing by Jonathan Harvey.  I’d love to do some Brecht, Betrayal by Harold Pinter, Statements by Athol Fugart.  There are a number of adaptations and quite a few original projects in my head that I’m trying to write and co write.  To be honest the dream project is always what’s going on next.  So at the moment, it’s that Meaning of Riff is really successful.

Final question.  Is the director dead?

No - but there are plenty of directors making dead theatre and killing things off!   If you are a director enabling people to do their best, then absolutely not.  There’s been a fashion of directors putting their imprint or brand on stuff, like a Rupert Goold play will have a big image in it, like water and sharp lighting, or Katie Mitchell will have video in it.  I don’t really go for that.  I don’t know what an Andy Burden show is.   People say my stuff has a style.  But I think the way I’ve trained and developed, in the European way of working, is you work from the people you’re working with, so you’re enabling people, rather than saying look at me I'm the director.   As long as people are coming out of my shows saying I had a really good night out, I feel fulfilled.  If it’s well paced and it has heart, that’s all I want.  What a director can do is make sure, actors dig deeper, make sure that the play has a good pace, all the creative team are coming together, to bring something special to the audience.   That role of the director isn’t dead.  I would love to see the role of the academic director go.  I would be happy to see that go. 

Thanks Andy for sharing your thoughts!

"It is through collaboration that the knockabout art of the theatre survives and kicks. No one mind or imagination can foresee what a play will become. Only a company of artists can reflect the genius of a people in a complex day and age"- Joan Littlewood

"Everything you imagine is real" - Pablo Picasso

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Jackson Gay

Jackson is a New York City director. She is on faculty at the New York Film Academy and Primary Stages ESPA School of Theater. She holds an MFA in Directing from Yale School of Drama.  Jackson is the recipient of the Jonathan Alper Directing Fellowship at Manhattan Theatre Club, the Williamstown Theater Festival Directing Fellowship and the Drama League's New Directors/New Works Fellowship. She has directed for the Atlantic Theater Company, Alley Theater, Second Stage Uptown, Goodman Theater and Playwrights Horizon.

Jackson will be leading a workshop, ‘Playwright/Director Collaboration’ at Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia on Dec 7th and and Dec 14th 2011.  For more info on how to join the course please visit

Jackson Gay
Fri Oct 28th 2011
New York, 1pm

What are you working on at the moment?

I have a small production company, that does film, TV and theatre.  And we’re working on a new musical by book writer/lyricist Cheri Magid and composer Evan Palazzo.  It started off as an idea for a screenplay and we all decided it would make a great musical. It’s called First Lady of Christmas and tells the story of Dorothy Shaver, the first president of Lord and Taylor and a major advocate of American designers during the Depression. Sarah Lawrence College here in NY, offered to let us develop and produce it with their students.  Sarah Lawrence has a fantastic theater program and Christine Farrell and Robert Lyons of SLC have been incredibly supportive. As we speak, we are putting it up on its feet and it opens Nov 17th.

Can you tell us a bit about your faculty roles at the NY Film academy (NYFA) and Primary Stages?

At NYFA, I have taught script analysis and acting for film.  At Primary Stages, where I teach the most, I teach scene study, monologue classes, dramaturgy and film producing.  I taught a class devoted to (Bertolt) Brecht and one devoted to Tennessee Williams.  I teach different classes there depending on what the students are wanting at any given semester.  All classes are focused on contemporary work--writers that are emerging onto the theatrical scene and writers who are being produced at this moment in time.

Who or what inspires you?

I have a six year old daughter, Lola, and she’s a big inspiration to me.  I grew up in Texas in a much stricter, fundamental christian upbringing, where we really were told, to be seen but not heard kind of thing and, thankfully, Lola is having a completely different childhood.  My number one joy is seeing her become a strong, spunky young woman. She inspires me because she encourages me to continue to do the same thing and follow my passions.  And she makes me laugh, a lot. The person who has inspired me most in my artistic life is the director Paul Berman.  He is the first person who really honed in on me as a director and pushed me to go for it.  He introduced me to Beckett, Chekhov, Witkiewicz, Muller, Kroetz- writers that continue to have a huge influence on me.  Paul Berman continues to be someone who I turn to and I guess I still seek his approval in many ways, if you know what I mean...

What is your directing approach or style?

I started off as an actor, so I consider myself an actor’s director.  My approach is text based.  I tend to start and finish there.   I try to look at the script in terms of what they are doing, what is the action?  Focus on that and everything else will come out of that.   I love discovering things with the playwright, actors and designers.  Which is why I love working on new plays, because no one really knows completely yet and I like that part of it, figuring it all out together. 

What advice would you give to a director starting out in their career?

I know so many people that didn’t go to grad school, or college actually, that are doing extremely well and are fulfilled artistically and having a great artistic life.  For me, I don’t know how I could’ve done it without going to grad school.  Because I came from Texas and didn’t know anyone on the East coast, it was a way to actually get to work and meet people.  A great way in, is to make contacts with directors that are working in the industry and ask them if you can assist.  And not just assisting on one particular production, because a lot of times you’ll run into problems because the theatre has somebody they want you to use, or that sort of thing.  But to actually ask if you can assist that artist.  Directors do a lot at once and have many balls in the air.  I feel like people can get a lot from from seeing what’s involved in a complete way, doing a lot of different projects at once.  I have assistants I have absolutely recommended for things and that’s how it happens.  People recommended me for things and that’s how I got my foot in the door.  I try to not forget that.

Doing good work is number one.  Doing good work is going to get you more work.  And number two, is who you know.  Some of it you can control and some of it you can’t.  But what you can control is being your own advocate, and inviting playwrights to coffee, assisting directors.  What you can’t control, let it go.  Let it go and do good work.

You are teaching a course soon for PlayPenn.   What is one thing you can give us as an insight to a good playwright/director relationship?

Number one is making sure, before you get into the rehearsal room, that you know what each other’s expectations are and what the playwright wants, what they’re going for.  There are many ways to accomplish that prior to the first rehearsal.  Like having the playwright read the play out loud to you.  That’s an incredibly helpful tool- it’s stunning how much you learn from he or she reading it out loud.  The way they say lines, the tone they have, the beats they take etc etc.  There are so many things you learn without having the playwright tell you anything.  It will keep you from huge amounts of misery and miscommunication.

Dream projects?

I directed this play for my thesis production at Yale, but I have always wanted to direct it with age appropriate actors.  Three Sisters.  Really, I would love to work on any Chekhov play.

Final question.  Is the director dead?


Thanks Jackson for sharing your thoughts!

“Words shouldn't be faster than the thought. Only the thought creates reality.”
 Liviu Ciulei

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Peter Arnott

Peter Arnott is a playwright and director, born in Glasgow, Scotland.  He has been working professionally since 1985 when The Boxer Benny Lynch and White Rose opened in the same week in Glasgow Arts Centre and the Traverse, Edinburgh respectively.  Plays since then have been Muir, Losing Alec, The Wire Garden, and Cyprus.  He is currently the resident playwright at ESRC Genomics Forum in conjunction with the Edinburgh Traverse Theatre.

Don’t miss Peter’s next play The Infamous Brothers Davenport on at The Lyceum in Edinburgh, January 2012.

Peter Arnott
Friday Oct 28th, 2011
Edinburgh, 10am

What are you working on at the moment?

Yesterday I was doing one of my informal get-togethers at the Traverse Theatre, as part of my research into genomics.  I come to the Traverse bar with some videos and discuss with people who are interested in the issues and bounce things off them.  I am just over halfway through this particular residency with the Genomics Forum and the Traverse.  The first half was very much research, the second half is much more with thinking about what play I’m going to write.

What are some of the topics you are exploring and what are some of the responses?

Medical ethics.  Who owns the tissue in the body?  Once the tissue leaves the body, it becomes the property of the researcher.  Issues with synthetic biology.  Is it a useful idea to talk about human dignities in the context of genetic research?  Also issues about who owns this technology.  What are they going to use it for?  Do we trust them? The industry has a misconception that people are luddites, that they are primitive and superstitious.  That they distrust the technology, because it is somehow unholy and I think that’s not true at all.  What we don’t like and don’t trust, are them.  What was interesting, is that it’s almost an immediate consensus, but people have no problem with technology or with the idea of genetic modification. The consensus is they have a problem with authority, with ownership.  And in a sense, it merges into a more general malaise of capitalism, which we are currently living through.  

What is your earliest theatrical memory?

Being in the King’s Theatre in Glasgow, watching Stanley Baxter doing a pantomime.  The great Scottish comic actor and impersonator and impresario. 

Who or what inspires you? 

I suppose the single most inspirational experience would be going to the Citizen Theatre in Glasgow, in a period of about 15-20 years in the 70’s and 80’s ,where it was a world class European theatre.  Which in a sense, didn’t know what it had.   I saw a production of Macbeth in that theatre when I was about 14, all male, with another great Scottish actor, David Hayman.  He was Lady Macbeth.  There was no lighting changes, no set, everything was done with trestle tables, the actors sitting on opposite side of stage reading a newspaper when they weren’t in the scene… and I thought, I have to do this...  this is too exciting!  I was doomed from then on.  Of course many things along the way have been very inspirational.  A show called Woza Albert, done by the Market Theatre in Johannesburg, 1980-81.  A company called ATC,  did a two-part adaptation of Don Quixote (The Life and Death of Don Quixote) that completely blew my mind.  I saw it in the Oxford University union, in an audience of 5 and I thought this is just GREAT

Have you ever directed one of your own plays?  Any challenges/disadvantages?

I directed my play, Cyprus, in 2005.  The disadvantage is that you don’t get a distance from it.  I am quite good at cutting, and saying, I may have loved this when I wrote it, but actually its crap!  Because it was a very small scale show, it felt like the right thing to do.  We did it in a little theatre in Mull, with 3 actors, all one set, not great technical demands, done like an old-fashioned drawing room drama.  Where you have a mysterious stranger and have to find out who he is-- it’s a secret service play about the Gulf War and Iraq.  We did it in a converted barn theatre and it was all very organic.  We had chickens and frogs coming in during the rehearsals.   What was very odd, was that it then transferred to London, to Trafalgar Studios.  No chickens.

What is your directing style?

Oh.  Blimey.  I don’t think I have a style… I think it’s a basic insight or stolen idea.  A playwright is an actor with a pencil.  Being poetic, philosophical is nice, but not necessary.   What matters is the immediacy of the relationship between the audience and the actor.  If I have a style, it is allowing little to get in the way of that.   Never pretend the audience isn’t there.  I worked with some very good directors and some very bad directors.  The best ones have a way of being in the room, a way of working with actors, collaborators and designers.  Really, it has to do with the way of being a person more than an aesthetic system.

Dream Projects?

One of my best theatrical experiences, an early, formative one, was a play called White Rose, which was on at the old Traverse Theatre in 1985.  Basically I was given a brief, a very strict brief--you’re opening on May the 6th, you’ve got 3 actors, this is the space, this is the set- tiny space and make it big - GO!  Working from that brief, I came up with something better, so in a way, if somebody offered me a dream project, I’d probably hide in a hole because I wouldn’t know what to do with it.  I think theatre works the other way around, here’s the place you’re doing it, here’s whose coming, now think of something. 

Final question.  Is the director dead?

No!  Of course not.  Anyone that brings something into the room isn’t dead.  Directors have a way of being in the room, in which they filter, suggest, and cajole.  Their essential role is to substitute for the audience.  Their job is to make this experience as direct as possible for themselves and through themselves as an audience.  The director of course is an innovation. Most of us are here to avoid making an honest living.  David Mamet, said in one of his books ‘The moment they stop burying actors at crossroads, were in trouble’. The moment that theatre becomes respectable and part of the academy then it’s in trouble.  It should be a disreputable way to make a living. The great directors have been organizers of bad behavior.

Thanks Peter for sharing your thoughts!

“Amazement guides his brush.” Bertolt Brecht