Here at World of Books, we love both the written and spoken word in equal measure. This is why we were delighted to get involved with the Chichester Festival Theatre and sponsor the upcoming production of King Lear.
With the first performance just a week away, we talked to director Angus Jackson about his work at the Theatre and the pressures of working on a Shakespearean classic.
Firstly, thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions for us today. We’re proud to be sponsoring King Lear and are very much looking forward to seeing it at the Minerva Theatre. But let’s get started…
Is it daunting taking on a Shakespeare production, particularly one as well-loved as King Lear?
Yes certainly, but you just have to tell the story. That can involve all sorts of things – updating or not, cutting the text and certainly a thousand decisions about casting, design and tone but as long as you keep in mind once upon a time there was an old king…. then you can climb the mountain.
Are you in favour of modern re-tellings or do you prefer to stick to the original script and directions?
Shakespeare famously wrote very few directions so you have to mine the text for clues, and you are very rarely in the position of defying an instruction. I like a modern Shakespeare myself if it all adds up, but the rules of the world have to be the rules of the world of the play for me. I’m not doing this one contemporary but there have recently been modern Lears.
For you, what is it that makes Shakespeare’s plays so special and why do they endure when many others do not?
Plot, character, stakes, economy and beauty of thought, I could go on forever. But Lear is a rollercoaster ride with profound insights into human life along the way.
You’ve got a great script (of course) and a stellar cast, including multi-award-winning actor Frank Langella as the eponymous lead, so as a director does this add pressure or make it all the more enjoyable?
Having great actors is a huge pleasure in the rehearsal room, it gives you opportunities as well as responsibilities. But it does set you on a very visible playing field.
Is there one play, Shakespeare or otherwise, that you would love to direct (or direct again)?
Coriolanus. I like plays about leadership and I like high stakes plays. The play I’d like to direct again is The Father by Strindberg, it’s funny and then hugely exciting.
The theatre is well known for being full of superstitions, do you have any of your own?
I am familiar with lots of them, whistling backstage and the scottish play and all that. The one I like to observe is not rehearsing the curtain call before the dress rehearsal.
This summer you directed the political comedy ‘If Only’, as well as ‘Neville’s Island’ and will be taking on ‘King Lear’ in October; how challenging is it to do multiple productions, in different genres with new scripts and actors in such a short period of time?
Very challenging. If Only was rewritten several times a week, Neville’s was huge and ran straight into Lear. It’s fun though. But really getting in to more than one show in the same day, if maybe you have a design meeting for Lear on a rehearsal day for Neville is very hard, like turning a huge ship around.
What makes working at the Chichester Festival Theatre so special?
The thrust spaces mean the relationship to the audience is remarkable. They can’t hide and neither can you. In this regime, Jonathan and Alan, the team is of an extraordinarily high standard and very good humoured. And it’s a nice place to work if you are a parent.
Are you looking forward to working in the newly renovated theatre next year and how has the Theatre in the Park (venue for Neville’s Island) been as an alternative this summer?
Yes, it’s going to be luxurious and a big event. Well, the Theatre in the Park was a gorgeous thing, we flooded the place and put in huge trees. Event theatre.
You have directed a number of plays based on books and adapted for theatre, including the hugely successful Goodnight Mister Tom (adapted by David Wood), how does it compare to a script that was written specifically for the stage – and do audiences react differently?
The structure is different. In a novel someone might go of course the previous year he had been at home and so on, but in the theatre you don’t jump around you try to build a scene that the audience can get into. David Wood is the master of the adaptation. Do the audiences react differently? No I don’t think so, though you often get more theatrical opportunities in Goodnight Mr Tom (puppet dog, ensemble dream scenes) because the writer wasn’t thinking “how are they going to do that?”
Is there a book that you would love to see adapted for the stage that hasn’t already been done?
Well probably everything has been done in one way or another. Ok yes, “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” by Dave Eggers. But it would be very very, very difficult.
Finally, if you could only recommend one book, which would it be and why?
23 tales by Tolstoy because I injured myself when I was travelling years ago and wasn’t allowed to move for a month. I stayed in the middle east and it was the only book I could find to read. It has all the profound thought of Tolstoy and character detail but in short stories.
Thank you again for taking time to talk to us and best of luck with the production of King Lear.
my pleasure. xA
King Lear starts on October 31st at the Minerva Theatre. Visit the Chichester Festival Theatre website for more information and booking details.
Come back and see us soon for details on a new Shakespearean promotion and competition.