Royal Shakespeare Company artistic director Greg Doran recently welcomed Gill Sutherland to his office to talk through the highlights of the recently announced Winter 2018/19 season (which you can read online here). In this second part of the interview he discusses some of the themes and issues that the theatre company will be addressing during the forthcoming year
Your autumn production of Troilus and Cressida, which you are directing, has a 50/50 split between male and female actors, tell us about that.
“Yes, it’s going to be the first play that is consciously 50/50. As a company the RSC is made up of 60 per cent women to men. On our stages across the whole we do a good balance – and next summer the plays are all directed by women. To me it’s very early days of exploring gender balance – but it’s not a policy that we will enforce or anything like that.
“We’ve had all-female productions before. Phyllida Lloyd’s all-female plays were wonderful [Julius Caesar, Henry IV and The Tempest at the Donmar] and address a convention and but I don’t think that’s really gender balancing. So I was interested in bringing that to Troilus and Cressida particularly — it is a male-dominated play and so the biggest challenge is to see how we can re-gender it. If we can find a way of doing it it’s something that inevitably will change the ecology, even if it’s only sort of slightly.”
What do you hope to achieve with the regender rebalancing?
“The bias in our management at the RSC is towards females, and I think that brings a better approach, less patriarchal. There’s much more discussion and consultation now across the company conversation. So it’s better to have a gender balance there.
“The industry is changing. In a way our choice to have all-female directors this summer is not a result of a precise decision to have all females — but something that grew organically from having more women in the building.
“I’ve noticed that the female directors don’t think gender balancing is something they want to do and I don’t want to impose that. So I thought I have to pin my colours to the mast and go with it, and genuinely see what it does. But you get a group of good actors to play the parts and then gender isn’t the most important thing. And of course suddenly there is an extra huge pool of talent available to you. I’ve worked with some great actresses here over the years and once they’ve got past Viola, Rosalind and Juliet there’s a gap before you get to Volumnia or Cleopatra so it opens up exciting possibilities for those actresses.”
And what about your approach to ‘race balancing’?
“It’s not appropriate to make gender balancing a policy – and it’s a bit like balancing BAME [Black, Asian, and minority ethnic] actors in the company.
“That little statue [Greg indicates a small statuette on the wall] represents Edric Connor – given to us by his daughter Geraldine – 60 years ago this year he was the first black actor who appeared at RST – he was Gower in Pericles. And if I think about how things have changed not just in the last 60 years but in the last ten years – last season you have a black Cleopatra, Coriolanus, Hamlet, Dido and now a black Duchess of Malfi…
“It’s about the young actors of colour being able to see their faces reflected not just in the servants but in the principal roles.”
Do you get much dissent or criticism for regendering roles or casting black actors?
“No. My feeling is if they are good actors the audience accepts it, like Glenda Jackson playing King Lear – the point of that performance was that she is a great actress – they didn’t call her ‘Queen Lear’.
“Ethnic diversity has largely been accepted since Clarence Smith played the King of France in King Lear [in 1991] – although I recall a bolshy Frenchman in the audience stood up and said ‘the King of France was never black!’ We’ve got more sophisticated than that now… and I have to say I think theatre leads the way.”
During your time as artistic director you are working through the canon – where are you at currently, when is the end date? And are there are any plays that you are particularly looking forward to directing?
“By the time we get to 2023, which is the 400th anniversary year of the publication of the first folio in 1623, at that point I will have completed the canon myself and most of them in Stratford. There are a couple that I have said I would like to do — Measure For Measure, which I’ve not done… so I know what’s coming up but not necessarily the order as sometimes it’s also about the conversation between the plays are or what is going on in the world.”
Are there any more plans to more technical innovations with staging, as with The Tempest?
“Yes, we are in development with another Tempest-style production. The Tempest said we are open for business in the world of technological innovation we have had companies come to us — so there’s some exciting developments. The technology is extraordinary even though we are not sure what it will be. I had a very interesting conversation with a company in Florida, and Sarah Ellis, who is our head of digital and on top of these things, has shown me some extraordinary things. They have such toolboxes which can be used to recreate and explore Shakespeare — like you can now have the plays in 3D on your table top — yes like Yoda! It’s early days but technology moves fast… What play would I do with some digital wizardry? One of the obvious contenders might be how we could do Banquo’s ghost.”
You’ve worked with your partner Sir Antony Sher a lot (Falstaff, Death of a Salesman, King Lear) are you planning any more collaborations?
“If we can think of the right play! There’s going to be an exhibition of his paintings from when he was in King Lear, and on which he wrote his book on playing Lear — The Year of the Mad King… So I love working with Tony but he’s got one or two things that he is pursuing but I will try and get him to do something!”
Finally I heard that you’re working with David Walliams?
“Did you? My lips are sealed on that one.”
So are you putting on a production of The Boy in the Dress?
“As I say my lips are sealed… We have some projects with David, which I’m very excited about but I can’t say anything else.”