Can you tell us a bit about the piece – the characters, storyline etc?
Well it’s a play that the Coliseum has commissioned from Saddleworth-based playwright Philip Goulding – a world premiere. We’re in the midst of rehearsals right now. Basically, the story is about Margaret who’s a trawlerman’s widow, who’s been living on the coast with her daughter. Her daughter decides to move out of the home – after all, she is 31! The daughter sets up for a visiting American to go and lodge with her mother. The American’s following the trail of an American painter, who had been in the area in the early 1900s. So, the story’s about the developing relationship between all three characters, and how this foreigner comes in and completely turns all of their lives around. It’s really touching and a lovely story, with moments of pathos as well.
If you can, can you tell us what inspired Philip Goulding to write the play? Any personal experience or purely imagination?
It’s a whole range of things. What he says is he had an Arts Council bursary to write the play, and those bursaries are about writing what you like. He wrote an epic tale about civil war with hundreds of characters, which took place over several continents. In a way, doing that inspired him to look at how outside events impact on individuals.
The Colisem is a venue that really encourages new and upcoming writing – what is it about this work that you have found most special?
Philip came to me with the idea – he said, ‘It’s three characters, it’s basically a love story, it’s set on the Lancashire coast.’ I thought it would be perfect for this theatre, so I commissioned him to do it. We have a responsibility to create new work, and I have an aspiration that we will produce at least two new works every year – which is a quarter of our output. I think it’s also important that I’m working with playwrights who understand the region and understand the theatre here. We have quite a unique audience here – very loyal. So you’re not going to suddenly see the new Sarah Kane coming through the Coliseum, but you’ll see good, well-crafted plays!
How are the actors finding the rehearsals, with it being such an intimate cast of only three?
It’s quite intense, but we’re really enjoying the process. It’s pretty full on, with there being only three in the cast. With any new work it’s always exciting to know you’re the first person to breathe life into these characters. Philip is attending a lot of the rehearsals. I’ve been really impressed by them – we’ve just run the first act this morning and you go, ‘Yeh, that’s in really good shape.’
What have you found most pleasurable – and challenging - about directing Goulding’s drama?
When you have really good actors doing what they do best, it’s an absolute joy to work with. There are a lot of laughs in rehearsals. The characters are people that we all recognise – people that watch the play will go, ‘OK, that’s my mother.’ In terms of the mother/daughter relationship, which is particularly finely written, you’ll certainly know people in similar positions. It’s great finding ways to communicate the story. In terms of challenge, it’s difficult to say – I mean, we’re tweaking it, but there are no big scale changes. That’s not always the case with new writing. You go, ‘OK, I need the final quarter of the play rewriting’ and there’s nothing like that happening with this one. I think we got it to where we needed it to be.
How did you find your passion for directing and have you got any special techniques that you use within rehearsals?
I was an actor. I was working in a resident company, in the days when we had resident companies (that shows how old I am!), and the Artistic Director of that theatre said to me, ‘You ought to try directing’, and I said to him, ‘Give me a show to direct’, and he did. It was a studio show, but it just wouldn’t happen today. At that time, the company was producing 18 shows a year, and so there wasn’t a huge risk. That sort of thing today would be an enormous risk! I did it, and liked it far more than acting, and took it from there really. I was always somebody that saw the bigger picture of the play, even as an actor. The techniques I use depend on the show, but one of my big things is to create an atmosphere where people feel comfortable to contribute, and give of themselves to the process. I want everybody to have a real ownership of what we do together, and it’s my job to make sure that that all fits together. Other than that... I’ll write a book!
Is there any play that you haven’t yet had the chance to direct, but would love to in the future?
There are loads and loads. I love Arthur Miller and I love Shakespeare – actually I’ve done both Miller and Shakespeare in the past, but I would love to do it again. I would love to direct Sweeney Todd, and I’d like to be able to afford to put on The Crucible.
As Artistic Director and Chief Executive, you must be delighted that the Coliseum has maintained its Arts Funding after the recent cuts? What is it about the venue that you think made it stand out to the Government?
Well obviously the Arts Council went through quite a big process, and we had to apply for funding. Some people got cut completely, others got significant cuts and we actually got a 19% rise, which is remarkable. It’s to do with the quality of work on our stage, but it’s also about the quality of our education and outreach work. It’s about the way we sit within our community, and make a success of a theatre in an area of multiple deprivation, where you wouldn’t necessarily think a theatre would thrive. It’s another way of saying, ‘It’s not like Richmond, is it?’ I think the Arts Council recognised we’re serving a unique audience, and serving an area that’s been hit with all sorts of problems due to the economic recession – and we’re providing something for everyone within our community.
What are your plans for after this production?
We will be announcing our new season on the 20th June – there are big plans afoot. Watch this space!
Kevin Shaw was speaking to Rebecca Cohen.
A Fine Bright Day Today runs at the Oldham Coliseum from 16 June - 9 July.