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Interview: Kristine Landon-Smith on directing the 'understated' and 'pricelessly funny' The Orchestra, Omnibus Theatre

Kristine Landon-Smith headshot
Director Kristine Landon-Smith

Jean Anouilh’s play The Orchestra tells the story of a third-rate orchestra in France just after the second world war and it is a play that made a big impression on director Kristine Landon-Smith.

"I had never seen anything quite like it: a play set in France just after the war where the musicians between arrangements try to work out who had "collaborated".

"Understated yet pricelessly funny, I knew I wanted to direct this classic gem," she says.

Landon-Smith, who was founder member and artistic director of Tamasha for 22 years and a senior lecturer in acting at The National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) Australia, got her wish 10 years later. 

However, she's now been drawn back to the play a second time.

I asked her what has changed and whether she thinks the landscape is changing for the better for women theatre-makers.

The Orchestra obviously had a big impact when you first saw it but watching is different from directing - what did you want to explore in directing it?

I was a young actress when I first saw it and just making a foray into directing.

There was this beautiful mix of understated throw away comic delivery and then these heightened moments where the actors mime the musical numbers.

I could see it required great skill and precision to play well and I was very drawn to this aspect of it.

And now you are revisiting it a second time, what has changed?

Everything has changed. I have changed and the world has changed so you do come to things with that experience behind you and also with a sensibility of how you are feeling at the moment.

The play does look at human relationships and there is a vulnerability and fragility in how the characters play out the narrative - many feel vulnerable and exposed today.

Orchestra poster image

You’ve worked in Australia, how does the theatre scene compare?

The Australian arts scene is smaller than here but in the past ten years or so I sense an explosion of work particularly in the independent sector.

There are many people doing extraordinary things in the independent sector, insisting on telling narratives from their own cultural contexts and this is very healthy. The sector is under-resourced however but artists are still finding a way.

The mainstream is also beginning to embrace the idea that there are so many different stories to tell and that the theatre is the place to provide that platform for a whole range of perspectives. This is starting to happen and its a great development.

Last year saw a number of women appointed as artistic directors of London theatres, do you think it is getting any easier for women theatre makers?

I think with these latest appointments it certainly does make things easier - it just does become easier when you see people in decision making roles and they reflect your own background and experience.

And it absolutely reflects on programming - who is making the work and what type of work. It's a great development.

If you had one New Year’s resolution for London’s theatre scene in 2019 what would it be?

More investment from the government.

The Orchestra is at the Omnibus Theatre in Clapham from 29 Jan to 17 Feb.

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West End opinion: Cate Blanchett play has an audience member fainting. When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other is at the National Theatre until 2 Mar.

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