View from the Director’s Chair … Abigail Anderson

Which is the most recent show that you have been working on?
The new adaptation of Jerome K Jerome’s comic novel Three Men in a Boat which is on tour in the region and then at the Theatre Royal until 23 May before going on a four week national tour.

What other Theatre Royal productions have you directed or been otherwise involved in?
I directed the rural tour of Art by Yasmina Reza (spring 2008) and Twelfth Night for
the Theatre Royal and Haymarket Theatre in Basingstoke (March 2009), as
well as three evenings of rehearsed readings for our Restoring the
Repertoire programme.

How did you come to work at the Theatre Royal?
I came to see Black Eye’d Susan in
2007 because I was interested to see the restoration of the Theatre
Royal and I’ve always had a soft spot for the Georgian repertoire. I
spoke to Colin Blumenau (the Artistic Director) and told him I’d love
to get involved somehow and he was generous enough to let me!

What were you doing before, and where?
I’m a freelance director so I work all over the country. In the last year I’ve directed a tour of Oliver Twist
for Love and Madness as well as an outdoor Shakespeare production in
America , a Hallowe’en production on a canal barge and a sonnet walk in

Where did you train? How relevant has this been to your current career?
I started directing at Oxford University and then trained at Central
School of Speech & Drama. Formal training can only take you so far,
lots of what I use every day as a director I’ve learned from watching
other people’s shows and from working with extraordinary actors and

on record as wanting to re-create the audience/player intimacy of
earlier theatre? How realistic is that in the 21st century and what are
the best ways to bring it about?

If theatre is going to flourish as a medium then it has to celebrate
the live nature of performance. The immediacy and excitement of the
actor/audience relationship is at the heart of that and it’s the most
natural thing in the world to generate – simply create a space which
actors and audience share. This can happen in a promenade performance,
out of doors, in studio spaces or in purpose-built theatres in certain
configurations (thrust, traverse or in the round). The fact that the
majority of larger purpose-built theatres nowadays are proscenium-arch
spaces presents a challenge, but not an insuperable one.

Is contemporary British theatre moving on, or is it stuck in a time-warp?
British theatre encompasses many different kinds of work and many
talented and diverse practitioners working side by side. It’s in
collaborations across different traditions that the most exciting work
comes (Warhorse, for example) and that’s beginning to happen more and more.

How do you think that audiences of the future will develop? And for what type of theatre?
I think audiences will continue to find that live theatre can touch,
inspire and challenge them more than any other art form and that it is
worth tearing themselves away from a screen for, but it’s going to have
to be imaginative, engaging and visceral to do that. I hope that people
will enjoy the very theatrical and inventive story telling of Three Men in a Boat and
get something extra from the communal experience, the charm of the
actors and the music that they can’t get from reading the words on the
page on their own.

What are the pleasures (and pitfalls) of taking touring productions to non-theatre venues – such as the annual Bury rural tour?
The pleasure comes from the direct contact with the audience that
performing in their own space gives (it’s usually the other way round;
they visit us in our theatre). Rural tour audiences are incredibly
warm, relaxed and open so are great fun to play with in a show like
this. I hope they join in! The informality and unpredictability of a
non-theatre space can cause trouble if you want to create the illusion
of a fourth wall separating you from the audience, but that’s not what
we’re aiming for at all. We like the feeling of being at home with our

What are your plans for the future? I’ve just been made an Associate Director at the Theatre Royal and I’m looking forward to the next year working here immensely.

Abigail Anderson was talking to Anne Morley-Priestman