Associate Director – Blithe Spirit – Duke of York’s Theatre, London
I was associate director on ‘Blithe Spirit’ during its initial run at the Theatre Royal Bath and its subsequent tour and west end transfer. I was responsible for running rehearsals with Richard Eyre and rehearsing the understudies in. The show has some mildly technical elements such flying and a intricately timed final sequence including some magic tricks, so perfecting this was also a part of my role. Once the show was up, my daily/weekly responsibilities involved show watches and notes with the main cast and weekly on-stage understudy rehearsals. I would also be there to support stage management or the main cast in any on-going technical issues or changes needed once the production was running and we understood its demands. I was also opening my own show ‘One Jewish boy’ at Trafalgar Studios, so was sharing my time between both productions in The West End.
I remember two days before the theatres officially shut and I went to watch a matinee – with a predominantly older audience – of ONE JEWISH BOY at Trafalgar and felt very uncomfortable and was by that point willing the industry to make the decision itself, despite woolly government guidelines. I could feel things changing in that moment and knew how big this was going to be in the history of the theatre industry.
I recall the day the theatre shut down. The directive came just as stage management were beginning to prepare for the show. I was not due to do a show watch at BLITHE SPIRIT and my assistant director attended ONE JEWISH BOY so I wasn’t in town but I remember being sent pictures from both casts and the entire West End descended on the local pubs for one last drink.
The actors said they sat and drank with the cast of WAITRESS amongst others and there was a very strange, ‘last supper’ feel in the air while they all imagined what was to be faced ahead. I was at home with my then seven month old baby and was feeling the loss of my two west end shows that had just opened and there was also the fear of what was to come and questions of how we will survive this.
I hope this provides us with a chance to rethink how we work and connect with new audiences properly: making theatres the civic spaces they should be and inspiring collaboration between buildings and freelancers on how to we make shows as we will have to make them differently now. I hope that shows considered a ‘risk’ will now be seen as the work that need to be put on. It is no coincidence that we are witnessing a civil rights movement at the same time as this pandemic. It is all entwined and theatres more than ever need to progressively reflect these changes. Society has changed and theatre must be a leader for society.