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Disappearing directors

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All best wishes to Peter Gill, who fell off the stage while directing Robert Holman's Making Noise Quietly at the Donmar, and shattered his shoulder. He was at home last night, back from hospital, while his actors faced the music without him.

Some directors are more visible than others at their own openings. Michael Attenborough, who runs the Almeida, leaves the building and goes out for dinner, only returning once the critics have evaporated and the first night crowd gathered in the bar.

But Gill, who's like a darting rabbit around theatres, is always in evidence, always communicating, you feel, with his actors, even as he leaves them, however reluctantly, to get on with the job.

So his absence was keenly felt, though there was a good turn out of supportive actors in the audience -- Mark Gatiss and Mackenzie Crook from Josie Rourke's opening production of The Recruiting Officer, as well as several others who are now in rehearsal for the show after Making Noise Quietly, The Physicists. 

Robert Holman himself was sitting in the theatre with Paul Copley, an actor who's appeared in several of his plays, including the original production of this one at the Bush twenty-five years ago, which was directed by John Dove.

Gill's accident happened during a technical rehearsal. The only other instance I know of a director falling off the stage was when John Barton, notoriously donnish and tumultuously vague, took a  few steps backwards while directing some RSC actors at Stratford-upon-Avon and fell, with his hands stuffed deep in his cardigan pockets, backwards into the front stalls...where he continued talking and directing as if nothing had happened.

The disappearing director is less of a problem than the disappearing playwright, however, and Gill's production goes some way to reminding us of how curiously unaccommodated Holman remains in the theatre ecology, though a programme note by his fellow playwright (and admirer) David Eldridge reveals that Holman has become something of a guru for a younger generation of dramatists.

He fulfils this function, apparently, in bars and cafes and even his own drawing room in East Sheen and not, Eldridge says, rather pointedly, by proclaiming loftily from lecterns at conferences.

Writers even more advanced in age than Holman (who's now sixty, it's incredible to think) don't worry too much about what it takes to keep their work before the public. This week, Edward Bond is co-directing (with Sean Holmes) a trilogy of plays (from a sequence of nine) that he wrote for a Birmingham theatre-in-education company ten years ago at the Lyric in Hammersmith.

And there's about to be a mini-festival of Arnold Wesker at the King's Head, including the operatic version of his play Caritas,with music by Robert Saxton, that has hardly been seen before. The designer Pamela Howard is directing that one but not, I think, because the real director has fallen off the stage. She's the latest in a long line of designers who've felt they can do the other job as well.

I suspect Peter Gill may not agree with that. Even the best of directors can be trumped by a colleague in the fate of a new play, though not always; Gill's production of Making Noise Quietly is superb, but it doesn't improve on John Dove's original, and it still hasn't solved the trickiness of the title piece in the triptych, which is not always convincing.
A Donmar play that failed in 1993, Michael Frayn's Here, directed by Michael Blakemore, crops up later this week, too, in a revival starring Alison Steadman (in the Brenda Bruce role) at the Rose in Kingston (Surrey, not Jamaica).

Frayn had lately had a flop with Look Look and was at least cheered by the fact that Here raised his total of good notices from one to four. But a proposed New York revival by the director Jason Buzas put forward, he says, a number of shrewd new ideas that he incorporated in the printed text; the production never happened, but the revised version has been performed in several European countries.

Here there has so far done a lot better than Here here, says Frayn. It will be interesting to see how Lisa Spirling's revival stands up on Friday. As long as she herself hasn't fallen down, of course. 







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