6 March 2017 •
A farewell from Christopher HaydonWe have a tradition at the Gate that whenever a staff member leaves, they have to pick their best and worst moments of their time here. I have always enjoyed being surprised at how idiosyncratic and unexpected these answers can be. I learn of minor disasters that passed me by and can share vicariously in a relived victorious moment.
When I made the decision to leave, I knew that eventually I too would have to come up with my own best and worst. And it has been hard – really hard. Well, the worst was easy, actually, but for reasons of professional diplomacy I won’t share it here.
But the best? How do I even begin to summarise the five happiest and most exciting years of my life in one or two individual moments? I have loved all of the shows we have produced in one way or another – whether or not they have been a major hit or a noble failure. I could fill the rest of this blog with a list of the extraordinary people I have collaborated with whilst here – be they the artists making work for our stage, the staff members in the office who invest the work we make with such love, clarity and kindness every day; or the stage managers and front of house staff that ensure everything runs smoothly night after night. I have found friendships amongst all of these people that will last a lifetime.
Yet when I really think about it, the moments where I felt proudest, didn’t actually happen in the Gate itself at all. I remember going to the Royal Court to see Lela and Co directed by Jude Christian – an exceptional young director who assisted me on one of my first Gate shows The Prophet and who then directed I’d Rather Goya Robbed Me Of My Sleep Than Some Other Arsehole for us. I remember going to the Globe to see The Taming of The Shrew – helmed by Caroline Byrne who had been our Associate Director for a year before going on to direct our hit production Eclipsed. Just the other day I walked past the Donmar Warehouse and spotted Suzy Sancho – until recently our Creative Apprentice and now working front of house at one of the world’s most famous theatres.
These moments resonate for me because they epitomise what the Gate is and should always be – a springboard for the great talents of the future, both on and off the stage. Knowing I have been able to play a small part in the creative and professional development of a group of people whom I admire hugely gives me a massive kick.
In my first year at the Gate I directed a play by Bruce Norris called Purple Heart – it was a lacerating depiction of how one suburban family in the US dealt with the fallout of losing a loved one in the Vietnam war. Bruce came over during rehearsals and he and I gave an interview to Lyn Gardner of the Guardian. I remember Bruce being mischievously scathing about the idea that theatre could make us better as people. Lyn seemed to sympathise – the idea that art can have a positive moral impact on us is complicated. We all know of great artists who are terrible people and terrible people who still have the capacity to appreciate great art.
Yet stubbornly, I still believe that art can have a positive and transformative impact on us – if not as individuals, then certainly as communities. In fact a theatre can be the catalyst for a community forming in the first place. A theatre building can be a focal point for people to meet and develop a mutual understanding and to then take that perspective with them in to the wider world. I am acutely aware of how much I am going to miss the day to day life of this oddly shaped little room in Notting Hill. Yet it is a source of comfort to me, to think that the Gate family will continue to grow for many years to come, and, although I may no longer be at the heart of it, I will always be a member of it.