theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013…
Lynne Harvey interviews Marcus Romer, artistic director of Pilot Theatre Company, about his production of Jim Cartwright’s Road, the tour of which is being greeted with great acclaim.
Pilot is described as a theatre company for young people, yet the productions chosen are attractive to all ages. In what aspect beside the youth programme that most theatre companies seem to have now, does it cater for young people?
We really use the term new audiences more freely now. These include young people. Some of our work is unsuitable for younger age groups e.g. Road is 13 and upwards. We never set an upper limit. Also we have just produced a piece for a younger age range, The Tale of Teeka from 4 up. We hope that our work is age appropriate in terms of publicity/design/content/music/web.
If I’d seen Road at fifteen, I’d have thought I’d died and gone to heaven. What would you like to achieve through the work of Pilot and productions such as Road? The next generation of theatre practitioners, theatre lovers, freedom through creativity, or all three?
Inspire the next generation of theatre makers/practitioners/attenders. Our mission statement is ‘to inspire creativity’ … in all who come into contact with our work. The plays chosen by Pilot are not one issue, tub thumping rhetoric, they’re plays that work on many levels and that will mean something to just about everyone in an audience.
Who chooses the plays you take on and what criteria do they have to fill?
I do it in conjunction with our whole team. We look at work that will fit into our remit/policy and take us out of our comfort zone. This is important if you want to develop as an organisation and push and extend the boundaries of how and for whom we create the work. We focus very sharply on the changing and growing needs of our audiences.
I’ve noticed a hard core of actors in Pilot’s productions, almost harping back to the old rep days – not that I’m old enough to remember… Is this deliberate and what are the reasons for doing this?
We work with new actors on every show, but include some who have worked with us before. The ensemble feel for this is very valuable and provides a useful ‘shorthand’ in rehearsal. They know, we know the style we are working towards and this is great as we can extend this rather than starting from scratch each time. For example our use of music/images and terms like punctuation/underscore/ work well as we don’t need to reinvent these each time. It’s about growth.
Are there open auditions or are key actors in mind when a show is being cast?
We always hold auditions, and even actors who have worked with us in the past re-audition along with new actors. It is about putting a team together that is most important. We use casting directors sometimes and I use Spotlight online, which is great.
Roughly what percentage of your audience with this production would be described as young?
Euro definition is up to 35, others up to 30, for UK it is 26 (can’t get a young person’s railcard after this age here!) Percentage, I would say 75%.
Now onto Road. When was the first time you saw Road and which TC did it?
Royal Court on tour in Bradford, 1987.
Did you see the TV version of Road?
Yep, loved it even more.
Some of the script is updated to take in contemporary references. Other plays, such as Bouncers, have had the same treatment e.g. I can understand the reasoning behind this, and I fully understand the policy of keeping theatre live, vital and relevant. But keeping the original contemporary references would surely only highlight the fact that Road was written 15 years ago and nothing really has changed?
Yeah, but the music mix of the Otis [Redding] track would be impossible if we set it in 1986. And you know, we only changed a few music/people references. Interestingly, 16 year olds who come and see it were not born when it was first produced. Also the music was crap then and so were the clothes. Wanted to connect with now, and also with visuals to set it ‘round the corner’ from the theatre we are in for the show. This means it is not an arm’s length away. It is close and between the eyes, rather than in a museum glass case of ‘its grim up north’ … it’s grim most places some of the time.
How far would you go in bringing a production up to date? Would you change something to be politically correct, for example? I saw a production of one of Joe Orton’s plays that had script changes ‘so as not to offend’.
I would never censor or sanitize a writer’s work. This dilutes it and makes it anodyne. Changing the name of a band from Black Lace and Hot Chocolate to Pop Idol and Shaggy doesn’t distort a writer’s vision. It was written to be contemporary, so it should still have that feel, that edge.
I’m sure this has been said many times, but the set design for Road is very clever, interpreting the play perfectly. How did the set design originate? Did you have an idea of what you wanted and translate this to the set designer [Dawn Allsop] or was it completely the idea of the designer? Whatever, it was stunning.
Bit of both and some happy accidents. I am always quite clear about what I want. I wanted a revolve and for the actors to push it — to allow for the endless circles (roundabouts) and to end in the same place. The action called for a full circle structure of day to night to day, and of interiors and exteriors. We also wanted surfaces on which we could project images and reinforce the peeling back of layers of the characters to their true grit.
There’s something distinctly northern and bleak about Road. Coming from Derby, I know it can be grim up north, bleak, grim and lovely. Not wishing to add to the north/south divide, a comment often said about Road and other plays portraying this aspect of northern life is that this is how people ‘up north’ are now perceived: permanently broke, drunk, on the dole, on drugs and ‘whinging’. I’ve been defending this and other plays like it, for years against these comments, what’s your take on this?
We use a variety of accents in the play: Mancunian, Leeds, Liverpool, Oldham, South London, Blackburn. The characters have more movement as people do these days. Also it is not an all-white cast, this is multicultural Britain and the stories have a universal truth about them. Hence the images that change for each venue, the local pubs names. It is important this is made for the people who see it in their local venue. It’s not about Geography. It is about Class.
Jim Cartwright also wrote the best thing to hit the BBC in many a long year — Strumpet. Any plans or hopes to produce this or any more of his work?
In discussion with him at the moment. Watch this space.
Lynne Harvey © 2002
Originally published on R&V on 28-11-02
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