ShentonSTAGE Daily for FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 23

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Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE Daily, at the end of another key week in the continuing history of our great national companies. The RSC appointed Daniel Evans and Tamara Harvey as its new artistic co-directors, bringing in two of our most prominent regional theatre directors to jointly helm the company.

Although Daniel Evans (currently artistic director of Chichester Festival Theatre) began his career as an actor with the RSC (playing Lysander in an Adrian Noble production of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM when it made its way to Broadway in 1996, in a cast that also featured Lyndsey Duncan and Alex Jennings as TItania and Oberon respectively, Desmond Barritt as Bottom, and Monica Dolan as Hermia), he has not directed there; he has not directed any Shakespeare at Chichester, either, though at Sheffield, which he previously ran from 2010-2015, he directed OTHELLO and MACBETH.

He is joined by Tamara Harvey as co-artistic director (currently artistic director at Theatr Clwyd in Wales, a theatre which the late Terry Hands had run from 1997 to 2015 after leaving the RSC, where he had been its joint artistic director with Trevor Nunn from 1978 and sole chief executive from 1986). She becomes the company’s first permanent female artistic director — they both succeed current acting artistic director Erica Whyman, who has been running the company since Gregory Doran stepped down; on Wednesday, after it was clear that her own application for the job had failed, she tweeted,

Tamara has previously directed MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING at Clwyd in 2016, a play she also directed at the Globe in 2004; her other Shakespearean credits are productions of HAMLET (co-directed with Tim Carroll) in 2007 and ROMEO AND JULIET In 2008.

It is striking that the RSC have therefore not chosen directors with strong Shakespearean pedigrees, but strong track records in regenerating and positioning their theatres as venues that have made an impact on the wider theatrical ecology. This was, of course, already the case at Chichester, where Evans succeeded Jonathan Church, but under him it has continued to transfer shows to London (the latest, Steven Moffatt’s THE UNFRIEND, was announced this week for a transfer to the Criterion in January) and staged co-productions with other theatres, including the National (OUR GENERATION played earlier this year on both the South Bank and then East Sussex).

Harvey’s Theatr Clwyd has also forged relationships with the National (premiering Laura Wade’s HOME, I’M DARLING at Clwyd and then taking it to the South Bank and then the West End); and during the Covid crisis, turned the theatre into an important community hub.

I’m thrilled for both Daniel and Tamara, both of whom I’ve known for many years; I can also count Tamara as a friend. Good artistic directors, and both have shown this talent already, bring in good people around them; at Chichester, Evans programmed KING LEAR in 2017 with Ian McKellen in the the title role of Jonathan Munby’s production that subsequently transferred to the West End.

In a press statement announcing her departure from Clwyd, Harvey commented,

“The word ‘life-changing’ is overused but Theatr Clwyd has, genuinely, changed my life. This is where I learned to be an Artistic Director, where I became a mother, where I’ve directed some of the work of which I’m most proud, and where I’ve had one of the most important collaborative relationships of my career with the brilliant Liam Evans-Ford [her executive director there] It will be heart wrenching to leave the team at Theatr Clwyd –world class theatre makers as well as properly lovely humans – but I do so knowing that our theatre on a hill will continue to be a vital home for our communities and a cultural beacon for Wales. And I leave safe in the knowledge that nowhere could have given me a better foundation for stepping into one of the biggest roles in world theatre. To be Co-Artistic Director of the RSC alongside the amazing Daniel Evans is a once in a lifetime opportunity and the only thing that could have lured me away from North Wales.”

As a friend, I can confirm that Tamara is herself a properly lovely human. She is also a properly talented theatre practitioner.

BIG SHOES TO FILL

Artistic directors often leave big shoes to fill, and it’s certainly the case that Evans and Harvey’s departures from Chichester and Clwyd respectively will create a huge hole — but also a huge opportunity — in each of those places.

I was reflecting on some of this only yesterday when I caught up with the world premiere production of Richard Eyre’s first original play THE SNAIL HOUSE at Hampstead Theatre (pictured above). At 79, it would be good to see Sir Richard — former (and arguably best-ever) artistic director of the National Theatre, which he ran for a decade from 1987 to 1997 — in the running for most promising playwright in the next round of theatre awards, but it’s not to be.

This fractious family drama is too tidily drawn yet also unconvincingly motivated; and for all the A list credits of a creative team that includes set designer Tim Hatley, the production feels flat and under-energised.

But it’s amazing to see Eyre, at nearly 80, stretching hs creative muscle to writing plays now; his theatrical legacy is already assured from his time at the NT (a time he chronicled in a revealing diary, NATIONAL SERVICE: DIARY OF A DECADE, that is one of the most essential books about the challenges — and rewards — of the job, and should be essential reading for Evans and Harvey, assuming they’ve not read it already).

SEE YOU ON MONDAY

I’ll be back here on Monday. If you can’t wait that long, I may also be found on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/ShentonStage/ (though not as regularly on weekends)

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