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Brief Encounter with ... Old Red Lion directors Henry Filoux-Bennett & Nicholas Thompson

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Henry Filoux-Bennett and Nicholas Thompson are the artistic directors of the Old Red Lion Theatre.

The theatre’s upcoming season is made up of Henry V and The Revenger’s Tragedy. Filoux-Bennett’s previous work includes Wasted and The Importance of Being Earnest and Thompson’s previous work includes Lady Chatterley’s Lover and La Dispute.

Here they talk to Whatsonstage.com about the upcoming season, which runs from 25 July 2012 to 29 September 2012.

What’s your thinking behind the twinning of Henry V and Revenger’s Tragedy? How do you see them sitting together?
We know Henry V and (perhaps to a lesser extent) The Revenger’s Tragedy as classic texts, but they both speak to the society we live in. With the legitimacy of war being examined in public for the first time ever and the threats of conflict around the world, and in a world where we see routinely that people will do absolutely anything to get what they want, both plays give us the opportunity to look at the state of our nation. With both productions we get a chance to do that in a black comedy and drama setting.

Do you two have very different style of directing? Will audience who see both feel like they’ve seen companion pieces, or do you both have a distinct vision to impart?
We both have a different approach to directing, with Nick having been an actor before directing, but we both have a very naturalistic style which we hope the audience will pick up on. Given that we are also working with the same creative team on both, we also hope the audience will get to see two productions using one space and one set of creative visions but in different ways.

Both plays are clearly going for political topicality – how closely to Middleton’s and Shakespeare’s worlds do you think our own has come? What do the two playwrights have to say about the very specific historical moments you’re situating them in?
One of the reasons we picked Henry V and The Revenger’s Tragedy was because of just this – the worlds that both plays inhabit are eerily similar to the world we now live in. Both playwrights were questioning the ruling elite in some way, and when you think of questionable wars, the recent banking scandals, and phone hacking it doesn’t seem a million miles from the worlds Middleton and Shakespeare inhabited.

What type of balance have you struck between fidelity to the originals and making the modernisations work? What inspired you to look at these moments in particular?
Both of us have remained entirely faithful to the texts – whilst there has been a lot of editing, there are no startling additions to the language, and we hope both plays remain at their cores the texts that people have loved for so many years. That said, this was a chance to look at our world order, and so we have been free in how the staging has worked. The RSC have inspired us both a great deal – their recent productions of Julius Caesar and The Merchant of Venice particularly.

What do you think are the big advantages to running a show in repertory? Do you think it’s important for the selection of plays to complement each other?
The obvious advantage of running two plays in rep is that the company (and indeed all of us) gets the opportunity to work in a way that sadly very few people do anymore. It’s been an incredible challenge, but it’s thrown up a series of hugely interesting opportunities for us all. It’s vital that the selection of plays complement each other – for us, we started with the question ‘Does nothing ever change?’ and worked from there to pick our plays.

Do you see the different roles the actors play feeding in to each other? Is there a Vindici inside Henry?
Yes, absolutely, and the most interesting thing is that this has come from the actors themselves. Inside the first two weeks, at least three members of the company had found corresponding characteristics in their ‘other’ parts, which they’ve developed wonderfully in the limited rehearsal period.

It’s an exciting time for the Old Red Lion Theatre in light of recent successes and transfers – where do you see the venue headed in future?
We’re delighted with the progress we’re making at the Old Red Lion Theatre. We receive no funding at all, but we’re incredibly fortunate to have an owner who loves theatre and who is willing to develop the work we’re doing. We’ve got an incredibly exciting co-production with Headlong Theatre which we’re going to be announcing very soon and which we’re thrilled about, and after the rep season I think it’s more of the same – what we hope is exciting programming and exceptional theatre from some of the very best new talent in the industry.


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