Past/Present/Future for … Terry Hands
Director Terry Hands was co-founder of the Liverpool Everyman Theatre in 1964 before joining the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1966 as director of Theatregoround, then an associate. He was the RSC’s joint artistic director (1976-86) with Trevor Nunn and he was sole artistic director from 1986, handing over to Adrian Noble in 1991 and working freelance in theatre and opera at home and abroad. He has been director of Clwyd Theatre Cymru (formerly Theatr Clwyd) in North Wales since 1997. His production of Memory by Welsh playwright Jonathan Lichtenstein, visiting the Pleasance Theatre in Islington this month, is his first to be seen in London since Tamburlaine the Great starring Antony Sher for the RSC won an Evening Standard Award in 1993.
PAST: I went to Woking Grammar School and Birmingham University, so I suppose you could say I’ve never been part of that brilliant Cambridge mafia (Peter Hall, Trevor Nunn, Richard Eyre, Nicholas Hytner) that has run our theatre for so long. But I like to think I played my part! And I was a consultant director at the Comedie Francaise in Paris, too, in the late 1970s.
I came to Clwyd because the theatre was closing and they asked me to help out, and then they asked me to stay. I fell in love with Wales and Welsh actors, so I’ve built up another company, just as I did at the RSC. Some actors have been here ten years with me, and we do have an associate system, as at the RSC.
I have done lots of things I could never do, or didn’t get round to doing, at the RSC: Stoppard and Ayckbourn, for instance, and Noel Coward. I do think that Ayckbourn is the English Chekhov and that The Norman Conquests is an absolute masterpiece. We have been the de facto National Theatre of Wales for some time. The Welsh Arts Council wants to set up another touring company in the English language, and they are looking at the National Theatre of Scotland as a model.
PRESENT: Memory is the best of several new Welsh plays we have done recently. It’s an intimate exploration of how we choose to remember events and their consequences, and starts in a rehearsal room, moving to East Berlin in 1990 just as the wall comes down. Jonathan’s father came to Wales on the kindertransport.
You note I now speak with a slight Welsh lilt. Well, my grandmother was Welsh, so I could play football for the country if required!
We strive to be the best, and the most productive, house in Wales. Memory played in the Brits-Off Broadway season in New York and currently we have Barry Kyle, who was with me at the RSC, rehearsing Nikolai Erdman’s The Suicide, and my regular colleague Tim Baker directing Drowned Out, a new play about the controversial requisition of a Welsh valley 50 years ago as a reservoir for Liverpool.
I love the new plan for developing the old RSC house at Stratford, and I think what Michael Boyd and Gregory Doran are doing is wonderful. I’ve always believed you need two people running the show there, and it always flourishes more when you do. So I’m still very much a believer in companies. It’s fundamental to my work.
FUTURE: I’m on an open-ended contract here and we have great support from the Flintshire County Council; we really are embedded in our community. I have a daughter who’s 30, one boy who’s off to university and another who’s at the GCSE stage. And a dog, a cat and a wife, though not in that order, I hope.
Our next phase is to be more regularly seen elsewhere as well as in Wales, and Memory is the first tentative dipping of the toe in that water. The Cherry Orchard we did really should have been seen in London, and we have plans for the recent Macbeth I did with Owen Teale – Owen is an actor who came into his kingdom with that role, and he’s hit that point when he’s become a star. There’s a lot of interest in America.
I’m sure the RSC will go from strength to strength now. I did advise Michael Boyd, when he asked me, that they absolutely must keep the fly tower in the new theatre, so that although you have a big thrust stage, you can still fly scenery. After all, the Swan was often extremely minimalist in the design, but there were astonishing possibilities that could be opened up. And you can always take a show from that style of theatre into a proscenium arch; it’s much harder to do it the other way round.
- Terry Hands was speaking to Michael Coveney
Following its original run in Wales and a regional tour, Memory transfers to London’s Pleasance Theatre for a limited run from 1 October to 2 November 2008 (previews from 30 September).