INTERVIEW: Greg Doran on RSC’s Winter 2018/2019 season

RSC artistic director Greg Doran in his office, at his Robin Day-designed desk and chair inherited from Sir Peter Hall. Photo: Mark Wiliamson R7/1/18

With his fulsome beard and fine head of hair there is something very lion-like about RSC artistic director Greg Doran, writes Gill Sutherland. But in person he is super friendly, upbeat and always happy to chat, and shows no sign of aggression or pouncing, no matter how accidentally inane the questions this interviewer puts to him are!

I have arrived at Greg’s nicely appointed corner office on the upper floor of the RSC’s Chapel Lane offices on a gloriously sunshiny Monday morning to discuss the newly announced Winter 2018 season. I’ve noticed, and this must be our sixth or seventh such chat, that if you do happen to ask Greg something clumsy he answers as if you have put a perfectly worded and erudite question to him — a man of leonine charm and zero harm.

We each take a comfy red sofa each and settle down for a good chat.

The season announcement does not disappoint, and add a bit of hype from Greg and it sounds doubly delicious. “The winter season is full of dark comedy and satire, with productions exploring abuse of power, greed, lechery and human potential for change,” says Greg. “This season is packed with exciting theatre artists and has bite, humour and powerful resonances in our volatile world.”

Greg continues: “I’m not sure the marketing department has picked up on this yet but it’s a season of Ts: Troilus and Cressida, Tamburlaine, Tartuffe and Timon of Athens,” he says with a smile, before talking me through the headline news.

Troilus and Cressida, 12th October to 17th November at the RST, directed by Gregory Doran, with music by Evelyn Glennie — dedicated to the memory of the RSC’s co-founder, John Barton

“So for this entire century there has only been 12 performances of Troilus and Cressida at the RSC — including six performances we did with the Wooster Group that was famously controversial. It was a production that Rupert Goold brokered and then drew away from — so we were left to pick up the pieces… It’s a difficult play and layers and filters were added that made it more difficult [the 2012 production attempted a Native American angle].

“It is a wonderful play, testosterone-fuelled and also very funny; even though it’s not thought of as that. It’s quite radical in terms of what Shakespeare seems to be doing with the form, and it’s dark and bitter, and a sardonic play. It’s a very good play for our times: it takes the Trojan heroes and shows you what feet of clay they’ve got – and we are very into that at the moment, very aware of our leaders’ frailties! So it seems to be a very fitting play to do.

“I have wanted to work with Evelyn Glennie, the profoundly deaf percussionist, for a long time so it is great she is working with us. I went up to see her in her Cambridgeshire home, and it was amazing to hear her response to what it might sound like. She is going to be performing live which will be incredible.

“This production is going to be the first play that is consciously 50/50 male to female actors. To me it’s very early days of exploring gender balance, so I wanted to try it — but it’s not a new policy.”

Tamburlaine, by Christopher Marlowe, 16th August to 1st December at The Swan — directed by Michael Boyd, who returns to the RSC for the first time since stepping down as Artistic Director

“I’m so delighted that Michael’s coming back, it’s just lovely to have him back in the building. He’s fantastically generous and all-encompassing spirit. I’m in awe of Michael’s absolute drive that got the new RST built.”

Tartuffe by Molière, 7th September to 23rd February 2019 at The Swan — a new version by Anil Gupta and Richard Pinto, directed by Iqbal Khan

“I wanted to do Tartuffe for a long time. It is one of those plays that has slightly lost its teeth because when Molière wrote it the church threatened those that saw it with ex-communication — because the play was criticising the church, specifically corruption and also using religion for your own ends. So shifting that from the Christian religion to the Muslim community in Sparkhill, Birmingham, allows the play to be universal: the idea that someone is abusing religion for hypocritical ends becomes much more vivid, and adds edge and real currency. It’s a really funny play, and Iqbal is the right person to pull it off.”

Timon of Athens by William Shakespeare, 7th December to 22nd February 2019 at The Swan, directed by Simon Godwin

“I’m thrilled that Kathryn Hunter is returning to us to play Timon, Shakespeare’s philanthropist-turned-misanthrope in Simon Godwin’s production of Timon of Athens.

“Unbelievably it will be the first Timon in The Swan. The last production we did at the RSC was mine in 1999. I started rehearsing with Alan Bates and he became ill and with two weeks to go Michael Pennington stepped into his shoes — my admiration for Michael went through the roof!

“The play is a parable for our times. When Kathryn said it was her favourite play and Simon came on board it all came together in one of those moments that felt right.”

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, 4th December to 20th January 2019 at the RST – adapted by David Edgar, directed by Rachel Kavanaugh

“I’m delighted to have Rachel’s production back, and for all those people who couldn’t get to see it. It’s been a big success; David Edgar’s adaptation was so acute and brought out all Dickens’ social relevance and made it pertinent for today.

“We’re not sure if Phil Davis will return as Scrooge — he says he would really like to do it and also would hate to see anyone else do it but he’s got various things in the pipeline so can’t quite commit yet.”

See next this week’s Herald for more on our interview with Greg, and when we ask him about the rumoured RSC collaboration with David Walliams!