Ben Whishaw treading West End boards - Stan speculates
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Grandage talks Donmar tenure and Tyzack telling off

36_Michael-Grandage-by-Hugo-Glendinning_570Popped along to the National Theatre platform with Michael Grandage this evening. He's got a book to promote except its not quite ready yet. Whoops. Anyhow, the book is about his 10 years at the Donmar so it was lots of talk about that and some other stuff. 

How he became artistic director at the Donmar:

Fell in love with space as different from three spaces at Sheffield where was already working as artistic director. Had two years left to run on contract at Sheffield and said 'didn't know what possessed me to apply'.

Was determined to see out his contract at Sheffield and asked to do both jobs but initially Donmar said no, later changed their minds so spent a lot of time on trains between Sheffield and London.

His plans when he started out:

He had got interested and excited by the European repertoire of plays while working at the Almeida and wanted to explore that further, particularly plays that hadn't been staged in London before.

Changes made at the Donmar:

Brought with him things he'd learnt about running a theatre while in Sheffield for example, Sheffield toured productions but Donmar didn't, neither did it have an education programme. 

He said there were a lot of producing theatres already in London but had a policy 'if we liked a new play we would do it'.

How the Wyndhams season came about:

Wyndhams season came about because Othello was sold out and tickets were changing hands on the internet for 'silly money'. Run couldn't be extended the because of the actors commitments. Around that time the term 'boutique theatre' was being banded about and  'I was accused of being one'. Didn't like that label so made 10% of seats available on the day and capped advance sales.

Talked to a lot of actors who wanted to come to the Donmar but thought about fact that only 250 people a night would see them. Donmar production in the West End with Donmar ticket prices came as a result.

"At one period we had productions in four continents so definitely playing to more than 250 people a night"

Directing style:

Initially asked to describe his style in a sentence and said something along the lines of create an atmosphere where everyone can comfortably work.

But then went on to say that one of things he'd done as he got more experienced as a director is to get rid of the initial read through. He felt it wasn't a level playing field for the actors who have different processes. Some would come very prepared knowing exactly what they wanted to do, while others like to use the rehearsal period to work it through. He'd seen actors in the latter category lose confidence as a result of a read through with one or two actors who were already prepared and subsequently spent time having to rebuild their confidence. 

On working on the Chalk Garden (the interviewers favourite, for some reason)

Was in a production as a teenager in Cornwall, playing the butler, and didn't have a clue what the play was about but 'something stuck and I've never left it'.

Bought the rights but didn't do anything with it for 2/3 years. Then had a meeting with James McDonald and asked him which play he'd most like to direct and he said The Chalk Garden. Didn't manage to work with James but set the ball rolling.

Penelope Wilton was the first call and she said 'yes'. Called Maggie Smith who contemplated but then said 'no'. Then called Margaret Tyzack who said 'yes' within two hours.

Said Wilton and Tyzack were marvels at structuring the piece so it was ready for the funny moments.

Working with Tyzack

'She's an expert at telling you off without actually telling you off'. She was rehearsing one day for The Chalk Garden and she said 'I didn't make that line funny. I'm sure Maggie Smith would have made it funny'.

Before her death from cancer, to which she succumbed quickly, she rang Grandage up and said 'I'm ringing you because you don't ring me very often and the next time you call I'll be dead.'

Leaving the Donmar and the future

Got up one morning and didn't know what else wanted to do at the Donmar so started devising an exit strategy. Described it at his 'burning bush' moment.

He was asked by someone in the audience about his future plans and he mentioned directing Red in LA with Jonathan Groff and Alfred Molina which opens at the beginning of August, then he is directing an opera at Glyndebourne. 

Now if you've been following the Dench/Whishaw/Grandage West End rumours this week you may be curious to know that he said that Red and the opera would take him up to the end of the year. I doubt that, as Glyndebourne only runs until late August... I did try very hard to get chosen to ask a question so I could quiz him about the rumour but sadly no luck.

Some random comments: 

  • Derek Jacobi likes a prop and both went through process of reducing the number.
  • Satellite dish on top of Donmar for live broadcast of King Lear moved because of strong winds and they lost live feed so had halt the performance so it could be fixed and was actually held in place for the rest of the performance.
  • Would like to direct a film