Female directors take charge at RSC

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A day ahead of the Royal Shakespeare Company announcing their spring/summer 2018 season, artistic director Gregory Doran talked Arts Editor Gill Sutherland through the season highlights, and spoke about why five out six directors are female. See the second part of the interview in next week’s Herald.

Macbeth, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, directed by Polly Findlay; 13th March – 22nd September, 2018. Starring Christopher Eccleston and Niamh Cusack.

“We’ve been discussing with Christopher Eccleston for a couple of years about coming to Stratford and he was just burning to play Macbeth. It was something he was passionate about. He had worked with Polly Findlay at the National on Antigone, which I saw and loved. So it’s something they’ve been plotting and planning for a couple of years.

“It’s tricky because we don’t breed Macbeths — these warriors — so having someone of Chris’s muscle is great. He’s already been working with our head of voice, Kate Godfrey, for 18 months.

“Having someone like Niamh Cusack come back is terrific — they are a fantastic pairing.

“I’m excited about it — the design looks extraordinary too — it looks as though it’s going to be a chilling production. I’m not saying more!”

Romeo and Juliet, RST, directed by Erica Whyman; 21st April – 22nd September 2018.

“In a way this came about after a coincidence of ideas. After Erica’s wonderful Dream 16 project – going around the country picking up the Rude Mechanicals and children to play Titania’s fairy train, we sort of knew we wanted to do something to take up the legacy of that. So Romeo and Juliet devised with young people in mind is the thinking behind this. It will tour after playing Stratford.

“We will have young people in the cast, in the chorus at the beginning. It ties in with our new company of young talent — that we’re calling the Next Generation — giving opportunities to those that might not have access to the theatre [see more on this in next week’s Herald]. We wanted to see if we could give an extra invitation to young people, to say we’re here and open for business. I’m excited about that.”

King Lear, RST, directed by Gregory Doran; 23rd May – 9th June 2018. Antony Sher reprises his performance in the title role.

The Merry Wives of Windsor, RST, directed by Fiona Laird; 4th August to 20th September 2018. David Troughton stars as Falstaff.

“David Troughton is so beloved by the public. He was wonderful coming back to do Shoemaker’s Holiday, just heartbreaking as Gloucester in King Lear; and I thought what should David play next? And actually the one that would fit all his talents perfectly would be to do Falstaff in the Merry Wives. Fiona Laird is coming back to direct that. I think it gives a good balance to the season.”

The Duchess of Malfi by John Webster, The Swan Theatre, directed by Maria Aberg; 1st March – 4th August 2018.

The Fantastic Follies of Mrs Rich (or The Beau Defeated) by Mary Pix, The Swan Theatre, directed by Jo Davies; 22nd March – 16th June 2018.

“I wanted Maria Aberg to come back and do the other great Webster play because she did such an amazing job on The White Devil — it will be great to see what she does with the Duchess.

“After Aphra Behn’s The Rover I thought we must do some more… and it’s actually shameful the number of female playwrights from the late 17th century and 18th century who we’ve forgotten about, and who were actually really popular in their time. Mary Pix is one of those. By the time she came along there were actresses who had learnt their trade, and amazingly she split the play right down the middle with ten great parts – with five equally good parts for men and women.

“We’ve retitled the play from The Beau Defeated because it seems odd that she named it after a man in the play – I think it was the management that made her! Anyway we’ve renamed it The Fantastic Follies of Mrs Rich. When I sent the play to Jo Davies she loved it.”

Miss Littlewood, book, music and lyrics by Sam Kenyon, The Swan Theatre, directed by Erica Whyman; 22nd June – 4th August.

“Sam Kenyon had been working on this musical on Joan Littlewood… and we did a workshop with Stratford East and I thought this may be a moment when Stratford East meets Stratford West and this great playwright. Erica has always been passionate about the great pioneering work that director Joan Littlewood did. So it seemed to fit into the season – it’s a great summer piece.

“It’s not a biopic — although it gives you the details of her life — I don’t want to give too much away but it’s really surprising, it sort of gives you the passion of what she did and how she did it. And there is more than one actor playing Joan, put it that way, to present different aspects of her — a very surprising take on it!”

Five of the six directors for the new season are female — was that deliberate, and what do you expect the reaction to be?

“I realised we had a first — that all the directors in the main house and the Swan were all women. It wasn’t deliberate as such…

“When I joined the company it was the band of brothers — with male associates. The first play I ever saw at Stratford was Buzz Goodbody’s As You Like It in 1973, and then there was a dearth of women after that, and it felt important to me to ensure that there were opportunities for women, so I had been moving towards that.

“An interesting element that I realised was happening in the careers of many women directors who had taken time out to have kids was that they simply could not get back in — it happened to Fiona Laird and Loveday Ingram (who did The Rover last year) even though they had substantial work in their earlier careers. It’s not to say I’m only having women directors, I am just redressing the balance, put it that way.

“I don’t know what the reaction will be, it could be celebrated, I hope it is. It’s not as if I’m getting people who haven’t got talent to do the job — it’s just a build up of what we’ve been doing over the years, bringing strong female directors to the fore.

Look at Blanche McIntyre [Titus Andronicus director] — she’s one of our brightest young talents, and it’s about giving the opportunities to work in the main house.

“The RSC’s role in promoting diversity is key. In 2016 one of the things we did was to say we are going to celebrate the 400 years by creating new faces in Shakespeare. As Hamlet said, the theatre holds a mirror up to nature, and if we hold a mirror up and a lot of the population can’t see their reflection then we are not doing our job.”

For information about ticket booking for the 2018 spring/summer season see www.rsc.org.uk