This Question and Answer session gave us a fascinating insight into the experiences that shaped Chris’s development from Cambridge Footlights Review and concurrently working as a West End theatre usher, (a job he described as a masterclass for an aspiring actor or director). It was evident that Chris’s wealth of experience in repertory theatre and subsequent career as a director had given him a conviction that creating a new show is fundamentally a team effort. He believed that this was particularly true of comedy and his current project as the director of this season’s much lauded Love’s Labour’s Lost and Love’s Labour’s Won.
The audience were quick to pick up on Chris’s emphasis on the collaborative nature of comedy and what followed was an absorbing description of Chris’s style of ‘benign dictatorship’ and the creative tension that exists between giving actors room to develop their roles and the need for the director to be prescriptive about the parameters of the world they are creating to ensure, in Chris’s words, ‘that we all end up in the same show’.
Chris paid tribute to his talented, and extremely musical cast, his assistant directior, Guy Unsworth and his work with Nigel Hess, ‘the Rolls Royce of musical directors’. His empathy with actors was evident in his amusing description of the perils facing the understudy. The audience agreed with him that the RSC tradition of playing an understudy’s performance on a Friday afternoon was an admirable and hugely successful initiative appreciated by actors and audiences alike.
A Friends audience always impresses with its deep knowledge and appreciation of the plays and this was evident in questions about how Chris decided where to make cuts. There followed an in depth explanation of the reason why a line was cut and the constant reviewing that takes place as a result of this decision to ensure that the play as a whole retains its coherence. Similarly, the audience was intensely interested in Chris’s descriptions of how he works closely with actors to ensure that their focus, their movement around the stage, and their understanding of the language all contribute to the comedy.
A thoroughly enjoyable an engaging session.