Festival for the actors' playwright
Michael Grandage fell in love with the writing of Peter Gill early in his career. Now it's your turn. Lynda Murdin, Yorkshire Post, reports, 17 May 2002.
Michael Grandage first came across plays by Peter Gill when he was a drama student in London 20 or so years ago. It was a defining moment.
It made him realise what theatre was all about. And now, as associate director of Sheffield Theatres, Grandage is masterminding a Peter Gill Festival beginning May 23 at the Crucible.
The month-long season includes a new drama, Original Sin, inspired by Wedekind's Lulu Plays, which is directed by the playwright on the Crucible's main stage. Alongside that, four of his earlier plays will be performed in repertory with separate casts in the Crucible Studio. They include Kick for Touch and Small Change which, when presented in 1983 at the Cottesloe, part of London's National Theatre, were responsible for that big change in Grandage.
He recalls: "I went to the Cottesloe not knowing anything at all about this author and I saw these two plays. I was sort of changed by them. It was a poetic voice with no real narrative, no beginning, middle or end. But it was a voice I understood. I was taken on this journey where I was invited into people's lives.
"It was a moment on my part of very clear, absorption into the theatre unlike anything I had previously experienced."
It must be said that many people today may still share Grandage's previous ignorance about Gill who, born in 1939, has long been associated with the National as director of both its Studio and of occasional main stage productions there. But - with an odd coincidence of timing, given that planning for the Crucible's festival began a year ago -Gill has recently come into greater prominence. Following a successful West End run of his latest play, The York Realist, he has been rediscovered by many a commentator.
Grandage adds: "In the theatre community he has always been a key figure. Whenever I've met writers, it's been very noticeable to me that they often say he was one of their influences. In any field there are specialised influences that don't necessarily get heard about by a wider public.
"Among theatre-goers, he is generally known but he has never had the prominence of Pinter or Stoppard, partly because his output is not large. His whole body of work to date, including adaptations and translations, adds up to under 20."
After that first encounter with Gill's work, Grandage read everything he had written. Then, as a young actor, he met the man himself. Gill auditioned him for a role in a play he was directing - and turned him down.
Even so: "It was the most interesting audition I ever had in the 12 years I was an actor."
Grandage combines his post in Sheffield, where he has now bought a property, indicating his on-going commitment, with being artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse in London's fashionable Covent Garden. Now an influential theatrical figure himself, he has got to know Gill better.
"We were introduced three or four years ago and he has become very important in terms of a figure one turns to from time to time for advice. He has such a history. There are so many different areas to his experience, as an actor, director and writer."
Then Gill sent him Original Sin, focusing on the shifting fortunes in 1890s Paris and London of Angel, a beautiful boy who becomes the plaything of a wealthy newspaper proprietor. With a cast of 15, Grandage thought it ideal for the Crucible and hit on the idea of using it as a way to introduce audiences to more of Gill's work.
The Crucible Studio's festival repertoire also includes Mean Tears, not revived since its original 1987 production, and Friendly Fire, a play written for teenage actors. And there is a programme of talks and workshops, one by designer Alison Chitty, who is working on all five plays.
Grandage would have liked to direct one of the plays, but realised that, as the overall co-ordinator, he had to be generally available and not locked away in a rehearsal room.
He adds: "One of the joys about programming a theatre is that if you know you have Kenneth Branagh doing Richard III, as we did recently, you can then try and appeal to a different audience with new work. We have a new work policy which is all about building up a core audience over several years.
"It's entirely as luck would have it that we're opening after The York Realist became the surprise hit of the London season. It was hailed and started this process whereby Peter is being reconsidered.
"I've no idea what the festival will be financially, but artistically it will be a very important building block."
The Peter Gill Festival is at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, May 23-June 22.
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