Gill, Peter (13 of 14).  The legacy of the English Stage Company.

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  • Recording date

    2008-11-10, 2009-02-27, 2009-03-25, 2009-05-17, 2009-09-29, 2009-11-25, 2009-12-10, 2010-01-21, 2010-02-10, 2010-03-05, 2010-03-29

  • Interviewees

    Gill, Peter, 1939- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Devine, Harriet (speaker, female)

  • Abstract

    Part 13: [Session 10, 5 March 2010] PG’s chapter in John Burgess' ‘Directing Shakespeare’; PG’s RS production of ‘Measure for Measure [MforM]’; his feeling he got it wrong; difficulties of the ‘bed-trick’; problems raised by play being set in Vienna, decadence, parable nature. His present view of play as romance; danger of making play too feminist. Helen Mirren as PG’s Isabella; her views on ending; PG’s response to make non-decision into curtain call. Use of stage space and set, giving epic quality. Problem of part of Duke, not having any scenes. Description of set, linear collage; costumes in period. Hard to give place to contrary elements in Shakespeare; tendency to come apart in Act 4. Tyrone Guthrie’s Stratford production of ‘Alls Well That Ends Well’. George Baker in PG’s ‘MforM’; good company; critical reception. Thoughts on PG’s critical reception in general; importance of good reviews; RCT combative attitude to press. PG’s RS production of ‘Julius Caesar [JS]’ [14:11]. Assisting LA on RCT ‘JS’; problems of casting; sending script to Charlie Chaplin; cross casting; LA’s production of ‘Hamlet’, interestingly cut; LA too arrogant and anxious for ‘JS’; AH and RP in cast; JH’s designs, not her best; use of rubberised cloth for togas; use of open stage, difficulty of getting actors from one side of stage to the other, PG’s role in making it work; LA and PG adding speech to avoid doing battle scenes. PG’s desire to see if play could be made to work at RS; problems with small budget and small cast; problems with laundry because of blood; men in dance-like costumes, with leather armour and swords; resemblance to dance-piece; hinged raised stage, steel and wood benches; solution to crowd scenes, bold staging; collage on back wall; use of red sleeves and red smoke to suggest blood in stabbing scene. Influence of American/European modern dance at RS. Casting Robert Fleming [RS] as JS; casting problems at RCT; Bernard Lee at RCT in David Storey play; meeting RS, his exquisite manners, his patrician look, his humility; his success in RS ‘JS’. Length of rehearsal periods at RS [28.00]; rehearsal periods in general, PG’s present scepticism; rehearsing ‘JS’ for five weeks, paying equity minimum, balancing budget throughout year. LA’s production not successful owing to LA’s lack of experience; LA’s failure to rehearse crowd, PG rehearsing them in Sloane Square; faults and virtues of LA’s production in PG’s mind. PG’s ‘puritanical’ directing based on previous experience of other productions. NW’s speech at Frith Banbury’s memorial service. Impossibility of knowing about productions from the past. [35:00] PG’s workshops on Shakespeare’s women, at RS and at NT Studio; finding good scenes for the women; putting audience in the middle, playing scenes round the outside. Actor Julian Hough, his Cambridge childhood, his suicide, his work in National Theatre of Brent. PG’s fascination with speaking Shakespeare, importance of the vowel sounds, example of speech from ‘Antony and Cleopatra’; workshop at NT on Shakespeare with regional accents; powerful effects: East End ‘King Lear’; playing a celebration of your accent, but need to go with the text; releasing effect on actors from Shakespeare being province of university actors. Collaborative nature of theatre. Invited audiences at NT Studio; difficulty of knowing how to show to public. PG’s thoughts on language and theatre; physical nature of speaking. PG’s work at NT Studio with 15 young black male actors [45:46] Working on Shakespeare; Decima Francis; 1950s/60s, very few full-time black actors. Activities with actors at NT Studio; deciding on production of ‘Macbeth’, casting. Actors’ three accents: South-East London, RP, parents’ accents. Success of production at Studio Night in Cottesloe. Michael Rudman’s all black ‘MforM’. Thoughts on genealogy; West Country accents of PG’s paternal grandparents; Irish phraseology of MMG. Mobility of language of PG’s black actors; advantage of their use of parental accents. Accents of Shakespeare’s actors; courtly Elizabethan accents; vowel sounds; problem of lack of variation in some accents. Anthony Sher doing Shakespeare in Africaans. Freeing effect of native accents. Difficulty of Shakespeare for young actors; making leap to owning speeches, hearing tone; class-based world; elocution problems [1:00:39]. PG’s poetry-writing, beginning in adolescence; PG’s childhood friend, poet John James [JJ]; writing a verse play at school with JJ and Stephen McKenna; PG’s recent discussion with friend Barney Norris [BN] about his early incomprehension of free verse; GG’s help; PG’s lack of confidence; BN’s similar problems with decodings. PG’s work on some old poems and some new ones; response of Faber literary editor; sending under a pseudonym; getting published in ‘Poetry Wales’. BG’s view of poetry as ‘the real thing’; PG’s scepticism. Problems associated with PG’s South Wales background and influence of Welsh language, leading to flabbiness in English. PG’s book ‘Apprenticeship’; effect of PG’s learning to use computers; his difficulty with physical act of writing in longhand. Finding old diary written during BG’s production of ‘Caucasian Chalk Circle’; decision to edit and contextualise; an analysis and a polemic. PG’s pleasure in writing book; toughness of John Burgess about first draft; PG’s pride in the book, and its evocation of the time; its lack of pomposity, PG’s view of it as too light-hearted. Thoughts on education. PG’s future plans, anxiety about lack of application [1:12:50]. PG’s difficulty in using reference libraries; problems in the London Library. Interest in struggle towards a serious theatre, 1850s to 1950s; desire to write book on it but requirement for more scholarly reading. Granville Barker season at RCT. Biography of Tom Robinson, reform of commercial theatre, effect on subsequent British theatre. PG’s future prospects for directing; lack of money in present theatre. Uncertainty, no easier though growing older. PG’s lack of entrepreneurial flair, a result of state education. PG’s career in retrospect; his pride in sticking to the course, annoyance with intransigence. Wish to have worked harder, especially on writing; realisation that writing is a compromise. Feeling more free but more puzzled about art. Reflection on the present times; Michael Foot’s recent death, and subsequent eulogies to his integrity and compassion as no longer possible. Difficulty of taking on board current crisis in capitalism. Reflections on child murderers, Mary Bell [1960s] and Jamie Bolger case, differences in public reaction. Discomfort of being in present world.

  • Description

    Life story interview with Peter Gill, theatre director, playwright and actor.

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