Brief Encounter with ... Physical comedy director Cal McCrystal
Date: 10 January 2013
Cal McCrystal is an award-winning clown and comedy director who has worked with the likes of The Mighty Boosh, Spymonkey and Cirque du Soleil.
Among recent projects he directed the physical comedy sequences in the National Theatre's hit production One Man, Two Guvnors, which is currently running in the West End and on tour.
How would you describe your job?
I think of myself as a director specialising in comedy. My job varies a lot according to what project I am working on. If I am doing a devised piece I like to have six weeks to create a show from scratch. Directing an existing text is much easier but I do take the liberty of changing anything I don't like. Naughty! I also work as a comedy consultant in film. Basically, my job is about looking for laughs.
How did you get into it?
I left drama school in 1981 and worked for many years as an actor mainly in Theatre and TV. When I was about 30 I did courses with clown gurus Pierre Byland and Philippe Gaulier. They both invited me to do shows with them. Companies who saw me perform started asking me to direct them and soon directing took over. Sometimes I do miss the selfishness of being a performer.
Is clowning an endangered art?
Far from it. I think people are realising that theatre mustn't compete with film or TV. Theatre needs to be interactive. The audience must be - even in a small way - part of the show. Clowns and comedians are generally better at making this connection than your typical drama school graduate who is happy behind the fourth wall. I hate the fourth wall.
What was your role on One Man, Two Guvnors?
I think Nick Hytner had seen my work with Spymonkey and invited me to be associate director. The script called for a lot of physical comedy and Nick asked me to create a comic vocabulary for the show and create the physical sequences. We worked closely together throughout rehearsals. My title was changed to physical comedy director when we transferred from the RNT to the West End.
Tom Edden as Alfie in One Man, Two Guvnors
Alfie is a brilliant character - how difficult are the moves he performs?
The actor playing Alfie must have a degree of physical confidence and mustn't mind getting the odd bruise. Some of his more spectacular looking stunts are made possible by elaborate mechanics below the stage (I won't give too much away). In the various casts Alfie is played by an actor much younger than the character. If we used a real old man I think we would kill him.
Have there been any mishaps?
Happily not with any of the cast - but the doors are a constant problem. They get treated so roughly during the dinner scene that they have to be constucted on a steel frame. I think they get more maintenance than a jumbo jet. If the lock jams or the knob falls off during a show, the cast usually make the most of it.
What's your favourite moment in the show?
I am very proud of the dinner scene. It is 20 minutes of sheer hilarity. The audience don't just laugh. They scream and laugh at the same time. This is my favourite sound.
What else are you working on currently?
Right now I am working as a comedy consultant on various movies here and in the USA. My favourite show, Spymonkey's Cooped, is being revived in Northampton before coming to Brighton and London. I'm also preparing for new shows - a rarely-performed Ayckbourn called Mr Whatnot at Northampton, and A Little Hotel On The Side at Theatre Royal Bath which I am co-directing with Lindsay Posner.
What advice would you give to people wanting to follow in your footsteps?
If you want to be a director get on the stage and do some performing first - it's important to know how actors work. Look for your characters in the actors, not just the text. Get your head out of the book. Create your own work. Have a short attention span.
|Michael Coveney: So, who wants to run the National Theatre after Hytner? - 11th Apr 2013 blog|
|Mr Whatnot (Northampton) - 20th Mar 2013 reviews|
|1st Night Photos: Rufus Hound joins One Man, Two Guvnors - 13th Feb 2013 photos|
| Show Pics: New cast for One Man, Two Guvnors - 30th Jan 2013 photos|
|Rufus Hound On ... Being the West End Man & hosting the Whatsonstage.com Awards - 28th Jan 2013 interviews|
|Rufus Hound to star in West End One Man, Two Guvnors - 9th Nov 2012 news|
|One Man, Two Guvnors extends at Haymarket, Tom Edden returns - 28th Sep 2012 news|
|Cast: Harry Melling in Camera at Southwark, new Guvnors - 27th Jul 2012 news|
|WOS Radio: Bean & cast share Guvnors thoughts at Q&A - 14th Jun 2012 news|
|Morpurgo’s Private Peaceful fills gap at Haymarket, 18-29 Sep - 18th May 2012 news|
|Boss Blog: WOS 15th birthday: Reporting on the Oliviers over the years - 24th Apr 2012 blog|
|WOS Radio: Bean's Guvnors gets more giggles at Q&A - 12th Apr 2012 radio|
|Arthur & Co. serve up more laughs at One Man, Two Guvnors Q&A - 12th Apr 2012 blog|
|Live Tweeting: Last night's Club Outing to One Man, Two Guvnors - 11th Apr 2012 news|
|Matilda, Guvnors & Constellations compete at South Bank Awards - 2nd Apr 2012 news|
|Wyatt & Garcia front dance Revolution, Sundays at Haymarket - 2nd Apr 2012 news|
|WOS Award winner Richard Bean joins Heart of the West End panel - 20th Mar 2012 news|
|Matilda, Guvnors & Ladykillers lead the field at 2012 Oliviers - 15th Mar 2012 news|
|One Man, Two Guvnors (Haymarket) - 14th Mar 2012 reviews|
|1st Night Photos: S Club party at One Man Haymarket opening - 14th Mar 2012 photos|
|Hannah Spearritt: Why You Should Come & See ... One Man, Two Guvnors - 12th Mar 2012 interviews|
|Show Pics: New One Man, Two Guvnors photos, royal visit - 7th Mar 2012 photos|
|Photos: New cast rehearse One Man, Two Guvnors - 14th Feb 2012 photos|
|Prenger & Spearritt join Haymarket cast of One Man, Two Guvnors - 20th Jan 2012 news|
|Nothing On Noises Off - 12th Jan 2012 blog|