Lunch break. Gail’s or Madeleine’s? Sainsbury’s or Waitrose? Or pizza by the slice opposite Clapham Common tube?
‘Do you think they’ll be interested?’ asks Jean-Pierre.
‘Who? Theatre people?’
‘They’ll be interested in a director from another country directing a show here,’ I say. ‘It’s not something we see very often.’
I can only think of Patrice Chéreau and Ivo van Hove. But they were already two of the world’s most famous directors when David Lan invited them to work at the Young Vic. It happens, but it’s rare.
‘But is what I’m doing different? To British theatre?’
British theatre… ‘I don’t think there’s such a thing as ‘British’ theatre,’ I say. Directors and critics here like to talk about ‘British’ theatre as opposed to ‘European’ theatre. It’s one of my bug bears.
As if Britain wasn’t part of Europe. As if all theatre in continental Europe was essentially the same, and essentially different to theatre in Britain.
I don’t know if the way Jean-Pierre works is different to what most British directors do in the rehearsal room. I haven’t been in enough rehearsal rooms. I’m not sure that what he does is, essentially, different to what directors everywhere do when they’re directing a text. He looks to the text for answers – answers to questions about how the actors move and play, about the scenography, about what happens on stage. He doesn’t like to have ideas ‘outside’ the text. This will, perhaps, surprise people here who have certain ideas about ‘European directors’ theatre’, but everything emerges from the text. Everything emerges from the encounter between the text and these actors, this director, this creative team, this theatre, and this audience. ‘It happens, here, right here’, the Chorus tells us at the beginning of Suzy Storck. That’s the way we’re working with Jean-Pierre. To understand what we need to do, on stage, we look to the text and to the other people in the room. Same as British directors…
For me, what’s valuable about this encounter, about inviting a director from another country to work here, isn’t that there is a ‘different type’ of theatre in other countries. It’s not that by inviting artists from other countries, we learn a different type of art. Art is art. It’s that, when we work with people from diverse cultural backgrounds, their difference helps us to understand ourselves, to give us perspective on ourselves.
On a fundamental level, I think that this is what happens in theatre: that through an encounter with difference, we discover something about ourselves. Through an imaginative engagement with characters and situations outside of our regular experience, we grow, we develop, we get to know ourselves better.
We opt for a slice of pizza and head back to the rehearsal room. Enough philosophizing for this week – back to the text.