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Brief Encounter with ... Leicester Curve's Paul Kerryson

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Paul Kerryson is artistic director of Leicester Curve, which opened in 2008. His current production is a revival of Hello, Dolly! starring Janie Dee in the title role, which continues until 12 January 2013.

Kerryson's previous directing credits for the Curve include Entertaining Mr Sloane, Gypsy, Absurd Person Singular, The Light in the Piazza, The King and I (also UK tour), 42nd Street, The Pillowman and The Lieutenant of Inishmore.

Why did you want to stage Hello, Dolly!?
About two years ago we turned our financial fortunes around thanks to our production of The King and I, which really helped us to stabilise the ship here. So since then we’ve stuck with our musical at Christmas being a traditional, familiar title, and Hello, Dolly! seemed a natural choice.

Janie Dee stepped in to replace Caroline O’Connor
Yes – Caroline, who had such a hit with Gypsy, was originally unavailable but then the Broadway show she was due to do got cancelled so she said she’d do it. However, then she got offered another Broadway role and I didn’t want to stand in her way. But Janie’s one of those people who I knew I could ring up, lay it on the line, and know she would take up the challenge. I really admire her for that, especially considering she was performing in NSFW at the Royal Court while rehearsing for Dolly. That’s what I call a professional marvel.

And you’re working with Michael Xavier for the first time
Yes – I’ve met him at many wedding receptions but this is the first time I’ve persuaded him to come up to Leicester. He usually plays Princes and things, so for him to be playing a down-trodden clerk (Cornelius Hackl) is great to see and he rises to the challenge brilliantly.

Janie Dee in Hello, Dolly! Photo: Catherine Ashmore

Are you utilising many of the Curve’s much-vaunted technical tricks?
The staging is actually quite traditional for Dolly, though I take the walls out at the side of the theatre after each performance so the audience can see behind the scenes and chat with the actors and technicians, which is what we’re famous for.

When you opened there was some controversy due to the increased budget
Well like the birth of anything new there was a certain amount of nostalgia for the old venue, as well as some misconceptions about the new space. I read things in the papers that were completely wrong - there was a lot of misinformation to overcome. But since I did that ‘turnaround’ season with The King and I, Brian Friel, Kneehigh and Matthew Bourne in 2010, I haven’t had any complaints. We definitely turned a corner then.

How are you affected by the cuts?
I’ve been in Leicester for a long time, during various funding situations. I learnt an awful lot about capital projects and I’ve found that as long as we’re doing good business we can avert the threat. But obviously the flip side of that is there’s a huge amount of pressure on each production, as one flop can push you over the edge. It’s a bit different for us because we’re a recently opened theatre, and the Arts Council and local council are very keen to see it make a success – I’m feeling reasonably confident about our relationship with our funders.

But would you say the programming has had to become increasingly commercial?
Well I try to maintain a balance - some of the musicals we do would hardly be considered commercial hits, but I always try to do two new things each season - so this year we did Finding Neverland and Obama the Mamba. Of course there’s always a risk element when it comes to new work, but we’re flying the flag as much as possible for new musicals. And we have a huge range of co-producing partners in other genres, such as Akram Khan and Matthew Bourne, which enables us to keep our programming broad and engage as many people as possible.

Speaking of Finding Neverland, is a West End transfer in the offing?
I honestly don't know. Harvey Weinstein was the guiding force behind that musical, and we were very pleased to present the premiere, but the future of that show is very much in his hands.

So what’s the five year plan?
Well certainly I’d like to be financially successful and continue producing at least four new productions a year. Behind the scenes I want to continue our commitment to community groups and our young company, which is flourishing. I directed Oliver! with them last year and it was so successful it made us a profit of about £40,000. I’ve also got two new associate directors who are pushing the boundaries in that direction, so I’m very optimistic about the future.

And in terms of specific productions?
Well I can’t give too much away but I can reveal that we’ve commissioned a new musical from Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary. I can’t let on about next year’s Christmas show because we’re still waiting for the rights...

Finally, tell us why people should come and see Hello, Dolly! this Christmas?
The lovely Janie Dee is putting a very special spin on it, unlike anyone who’s done it before. She’s witty, she’s cheeky, she’s charming and has every quality that Dolly should have. We also have a big company and a lovely band and we guarantee to send you home feeling better than when you arrived!

- Paul Kerryson was speaking to Theo Bosanquet


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