As a playwright who directs his own work, Peter Gill relishes the dual role of balancing creative output with theatre management skills
Interview with peter Gill by AK Bennett-Hunter, The Stage, 4 April 2002
Understated and quiet but with a passion beneath the surface which occasionally shows itself in an unexpected but perfectly turned phrase. I might be talking about Peter Gill's new play The York Realist which is at the Strand Theatre until April 20 but this description applies equally well to the man himself.
As a writer, director, the man responsible for the golden age of the Riverside Studios, in charge of the Olivier and Cottesloe Theatres under Peter Hall and founder of the National Theatre experimental Studio there is much to be passionate about. Perhaps surprisingly he reserves his sharpest comments for management matters of which more later.
To those of a certain age, the name Peter Gill is inextricably linked to the trilogy of DH Lawrence plays which he discovered and directed at the Royal Court in the sixties. He describes their neglect until that point as "an unadmitted scandal of British theatre".
The first of the three, A Collier's Friday Night, had never been performed and its presentation first of all as a Sunday night performance at the Royal Court was also Gill's first production as director.
Since then he has continued as both a director and writer and, as with The York Realist, has often combined both roles. On the question of writers directing their own work, he says simply that "it is not if you should or shouldn't but if you can". As a director "you need to be able to direct other things and as a writer you should not write a director's play. Write the play, do not imagine the production".
He agrees that at one time directing your own work was frowned upon and that some people felt they had to make a decision between writing and directing but then quotes Moliere and Henry Irving to illustrate a history of those who were masters of more than one theatrical discipline.
Gill rarely asks writers to rewrite in rehearsal and applies this to himself. Gill the director solves the problems set by Gill the writer.
The only difficulty is the practical conflicts of the two activities. "You need time to write, " he explains, "and you cannot play at directing."
Perhaps these are also incompatible with the responsibilities of running a company?
But Gill feels that the management culture has now established itself to such a degree that he admits he would not like to be in the position of running the Riverside Studios today.
Having set this play in York rather than Wales, where he comes from, or London, where he has mostly lived, Gill is also directing regionally. The York Realist is produced by English Touring Theatre and opened at the Lowry Centre in Salford "a good place to open a play."
In May and June the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield is running a Peter Gill festival.
It will include productions of five of his plays, workshops and masterclasses including another new play, Original Sin, which he will also direct.
The York Realist, set "just before what is known as the sixties", has as its background a production of the York Mystery Plays. The director of these plays, who we never meet, is (as it happens) called Peter. A description of him by one of the characters just might give us a clue as to what Gill the writer thinks of Gill the director. It certainly seems to have more than a ring of truth to it.
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