20 Questions With... Mike Bradwell
Date: 5 February 2007
Director, playwright & actor Mike Bradwell - who ends his decade as artistic director of the esteemed new writing theatre The Bush this season - talks about patience, teamwork & lucky breaks.
Mike Bradwell trained at E15 Acting School. His eclectic career has included playing Norman in Mike Leigh's award-winning film Bleak Moments being an actor/musician with The Ken Campbell Road Show and an underwater escapologist with Hirst's Carivari.
He founded Hull Truck Theatre Company in 1971 and directed all their shows for a decade, including his own plays Oh What, Bridget's House, Bed Of Roses, Ooh La La!, Still Crazy After All These Years and news plays by Doug Lucie, Alan Williams and Peter Tinniswood.
Bradwell has directed nearly 40 shows at The Bush, the first as a visiting company with Hull Truck in 1974, including Hard Feelings by Doug Lucie, Unsuitable for Adults by Terry Johnson, The Fosdyke Sagas by Bill Tidy and Alan Plater, Love and Understanding by Joe Penhall (also at The Long Wharf Theatre, USA), Love You, Too by Doug Lucie, Dead Sheep and Shang-a-Lang by Catherine Johnson (also 1999 national tour), Howie The Rookie by Mark O'Rowe, Dogs Barking by Richard Zajdllic, Normal by Helen Blakeman, Resident Alien by Tim Fountain (also for New York Theater Workshop), Flamingos by Jonathan Hall, Blackbird by Adam Rapp, Little Baby Nothing by Catherine Johnson, Airsick by Emma Frost, adrenalin...heart by Georgia Fitch, The Glee Club and Gong Donkeys by Richard Cameron, When You Cure Me by Jack Thorne and, most recently, Crooked by Catherine Trieschmann.
Bradwell has also directed new plays by Helen Cooper, G.F Newman, Jonathan Gems, Richard Cameron, Flann O'Brien and Terry Johnson at Hampstead Theatre, the Tricycle, King's Head, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Science Fiction Theatre of Liverpool, The National Theatre of Brent, The Rude Players of Winnipeg and The Royal Court, where he was Associate Director. His television writing and directing credits include The Writing on the Wall, Games Without Frontiers, Chains of Love and Happy Feet.
His final play as artistic director of The Bush is I Like Mine With A Kiss by Georgia Fitch, who made her debut at The Bush in 2002 with her first play adrenalinÖ heart, revived in 2004 when it was also invited to the Tokyo International Arts Festival. The play centres on best friends Louise and Annie, who are in their late 30s and facing life decisions including marriage and motherhood.
Holland Park, just round the corner from the Bush so thatís good, I save on the bus fare!
First big break
I guess the first was with Hull Truck, but then while I was working with them in 1974 we did my play The Knowledge, and the guy who was running the Bush at the time was supposed to come to see the show but we were banned for profanity and because we got banned he couldnít come to see it so we had the day off, so we came to London in a van and we performed the entire show as an audition! And that, I think, is what started those 30-odd trips to the Bush from Hull Truck and led to me becoming artistic director there.
Why did you want to become involved in theatre? And become a director in particular?
I liked theatre when I was young because you could be rude to teacher and get a girlfriend. Now itís what I do and who I am. I would have been entirely unsuited for anything else. For me itís all the same in a funny kind of way, whether youíre an actor, writer or director, itís all about working in rehearsal rooms, and theatreís a collaborative process and everyone has a contribution to make towards the final play, so putting the show together is what I really like, in whatever capacity.
A play I wrote for Hull Truck A Bed of Roses, which was the first job for both David Threlfall and Frances Barber, and it transferred to the Royal Court 1976. And I wrote and directed a film for the BBC in 1991 called Happy Feet - it would probably have been entirely successful if it had had penguins in it, we forgot the penguins. The Glee Club by my great friend Richard Cameron about singing coalminers transferred from the Bush to the West End, so that was also a highlight.
Many years ago we did a show called The Fosdyke Saga, which was a cartoon strip about a tripe empire in Manchester, and we did a musical version where five actors played 160 parts and we threw tripe at the audience and the Monty Python team was so impressed they came and took us out for dinner. It was one of those shows people still talk about because it was so ridiculously outrageous it had to work.
I have hundreds. The ones Iím working with at the moment always become my favourites. There are hundreds of great actors who are not famous, and lots of famous ones who arenít great. But anyone who doesnít sell out and carries on telling the truth is a great actor to me.
Catherine Johnson who wrote Shang-a-lang which was rather wonderful about 40 year old women who go to see the Bay City Rollers at Butlins; she went on to write the book for Mamma Mia!, of course. And Richard Cameron who wrote Glee Club, who Iíve know since we were 17 at Doncaster Technical College.
What other directors do you most admire?
Mike Leigh and Ken Campbell are particularly good. I think the main quality you need to be a successful director is patience.
Whatís the last thing you saw on stage that you really enjoyed?
Caryl Churchillís last play at the Royal Court - Drunk Enough to Say I Love You?. I thought she got it absolutely right, it was a great piece of political theatre and I thought the fact it was entirely one-sided was a good thing because I like people who play it like they believe it is, the idea of playing the special relationship between Britain and America as a gay love affair was a great idea.
Whatís the best advice you ever received?
If you canít take a joke you shouldnít have joined.
If you could swap places with one person (living or dead) for a day, who would it be & why?
Berry Gordy. Iíd love to have been in Detroit in 1962 when he discovered The Supremes and to be part of the early days of R&B and Motown. It would have been fantastic.
This is a chance to be really intellectually impressive, isnít it, but I canít think of any off the top of my head as there are just too many I like!
Favourite holiday destinations
I love India. My daughterís there at the moment teaching at a school in Calcutta and Iím going to go over to work with some actors there after I finish this play. I think India is fantastically exciting.
Favourite after-show haunts
Home. I like to relax and go straight home after work.
Ebay. I love it because I collect vinyl music and can often find some great buys on there.
What has been your fondest memory while working at the Bush?
I think opening two shows in two consecutive days in two different theatres in New York about six or seven years ago; it was all very exciting and both of the plays fortunately were gigantic hits. It always has and always will be the ambition of the Bush - and any new writing theatre - to get the book seen by the largest amount people as possible, so to have two on in New York was a great achievement.
What made you decide to step down now?
Iíve been doing it for nearly 11 years and I thought it was about time someone else had a go, and I think to an extent Iíve said all I can with this space. I want to do work on a wider canvas and working at the Bush is very time consuming and very hard work, and Iím also a writer and I havenít written anything apart from programme copy for 11 years. I want to do more of my writing and more work in film, and play on a different playing field.
What have been your main challenges during your time at the Bush?
Staying alive! Basically itís recreating that magic eight times a week for ten years, finding the writers, developing the plays, juggling all the funding bodiesÖ the strange thing about the Bush is itís a very established new writing theatre and centre of excellence but we are always under-funded and always fighting budgets and against the clock; but thatís the excitement - we do things in a different kind of way and fly by the seat of our pants and that makes it exciting. However, after 11 years I think Iíve had enough of that kind of excitement.
Why did you want to premiere I Like Mine With A Kiss as your last production at the Bush?
I did her last play, adrenalinÖ heart, which we did three years ago and took to Tokyo, and Georgia and I have been working on this sort of on and off for two years on script, design and character and it was very much something that I had to do because Iíd been very close to it. And strangely enough, and not consciously, the first play I did at the Bush was Kiss the Sky, and the last play is I Like Mine With A Kiss, so I begin and end with a kiss. And it opens on Valentines Day as well. Although itís not exactly a great play to take your date to on Valentines Day because itís a play about relationships and having children and an examination of a lot of stuff thatís not really first date material! Georgiaís writing is very now and set in contemporary London and it addresses the stuff that is modern and relevant today. It is written by a London woman about London women and thatís whatís exciting about it. Iíve got a great team working on it. Itís all about being 39 and the clock ticking and having babies and getting drunk and going clubbing and life choices like that. Itís urban and funny as well. Itís tough and about today and it makes This Life - or to be more contemporary, Party Animals - look like Noddy.
How would you describe your legacy is to the Bush theatre?
Iíd like to have given everyone a good time. Weíve always has this saying at the Bush that nobody ever gets paid enough to have a bad time, so thatís what we always try and do. We think itís very important to look after the people we work with because the real stakeholders in the theatre are the people who work there, and anyone who works there in any capacity should feel they are part of the creative team and the work that goes on stage is reflective of who we are.
Why do you think it is so important to encourage new playwrights?
Because thatís what theatre is; just as there are kinds of music, classical and contemporary, so there are classical and contemporary pieces of theatre and we are contemporary practitioners. We aim to tell the widest possible range of tales about life today to the widest possible audience.
Whatís your favourite line from I Like Mine With A Kiss?
At this point in the rehearsal period Iím trying to work out what all of them mean, let alone picking one out! I couldnít pick out one line, as I like them all, and look at them as telling the story as a whole.
I want to direct all the major plays of Chekhov because although Iíve been doing this for quite a long time Iíve never directed a play by anyone dead so that will be a bit of classical rather than contemporary to see what I can do with it.
- Mike Bradwell was speaking to Caroline Ansdell
I Like Mine With A Kiss runs at the Bush from 14 February to 17 March 2007.