Words by Austin Frape
Very recently, I was given an opportunity to do an interview with Angela Short, the director of the newest Adelaide University Theatre Guild production, Lettice and Lovage. We discussed her inspirations for wanting to do the play, her background in directing and the process of making such a production and what makes theatre a unique experience. Angela gave very detailed and insightful answers and it was a pleasure having her as my first interviewee.
To start off the interview, let’s begin with what it was that inspired you to do Lettice and Lovage?
AS: I lived in the UK in the late 80’s and I had an opportunity to go see Maggie Smith in Lettice and Lovage. I didn’t know anything about the play before I went, but I knew she was in it and thought it would be good to see. I really loved the play and I loved the flamboyance of her and the flawed character that she played. I directed Two Gentleman of Verona with Gary George at the Little Theatre and I really wanted to direct there again. I put forward a number of plays and Lettice and Lovage was the one the Theatre Guild picked. I think this play particularly works in the Little Theatre because it’s intimate and homely and cosy; performing in a bigger theatre would have gotten the story lost.
I have become fascinated in the process of directing a theatre production as obviously a lot work and effort comes from the actors, the production designers, lighting etc. Could you please describe the process of making a production such as Lettice and Lovage?
AS: You do a lot of preparation before hand; you read and become familiar with the play and you have pictures come into your head of how you want to do it. Then you start with the audition process. Fortunately, Adelaide has a huge talent pot, but a lot of them are in demand because there are a lot of community theatre companies and since a lot of people are involved in a number of different productions, we had to work around their availability. I had in mind a number of actresses because it’s important to make the two leading ladies a good combination. Watching Sharon and Tracey — who never worked together beforehand — grow and become familiar with each other and grow to be friends through this process is, I think, a gift from the play. Also, rehearsing during winter was not ideal as the nasty bugs come around and the actors got quite ill and we had to work through that as well.
This is only the second time I’ve directed at the Little Theatre and Melanie, the administrator, has been great support and a great frame of reference if I was ever like “Oh, what can we do about this?” or “I can’t have music, how does that work?” because there are laws where you can’t play music without paying royalties. Through the process, Three Tall Women was playing, so with our production being on straight after, we mapped out a rehearsal room to be the same size as the Little Theatre so everyone could get a good idea of how to move and the space they would have available. When we moved into the theatre, we had the wonderful, wonderful, wonderful Richard Parkhill, who does the lighting design, who brings with him so much knowledge of experience of not just lighting, but theatre in general. He helped discuss ideas I had about the set and he asked questions like “Really, why do you want that?” and I would respond, but in the end, I shouldn’t have done that (laughs).
Through the journey, we would sit down and discuss the characters and what we imagine them to be from reading. Even as a director, as much as I would read the play over and over, seeing the characters come to life, you realise that what you thought of in the beginning doesn’t always follow on to the end process. Coming from an acting background, I very much like to hear what the actors have to say, I always like to hear their opinion as mine isn’t always set in stone and we come to an agreement of making changes to the play, so it’s important be vocal about making suggestions. Thankfully, all of the actors are talkers and would let me know if they feel that “She wouldn’t do that” or “Why I am moving here?” and we’d find a reason.
Lastly, what do you feel makes theatre a unique experience, both on and off stage, as opposed to film or television?
AS: When I was about five or six, my family and I very rarely went to the theatre, but around Christmas it would be a tradition to go to the pantomime and having gone to them for a couple of years, my mum said one year “Come on, let’s go and see The Sound of Music” and I responded “Is that the one with the real people?” I’ve come to realise that even from childhood, I liked when I saw real people performing on a real stage rather than the virtual world of film or television.
In theatre, there is nowhere to hide, if something falls off a set or an actor trips over the end of a carpet, you can’t retake it, that’s real. One of the things we were working on most recently is that if something like that happens on the night, the actors need to deal with that in character. I find that most actors find that a little bit scary, but also a little bit exciting because it can go wrong and as much as you rehearse, rehearse, rehearse, there will always be a distraction that could throw you off and that makes it quite exciting. However, when you see something in a film or on the television, you know that they’ve done thirty three takes to get the scene polished, whereas in the theatre, the experience isn’t necessarily raw, but it’s very honest and as real as it can get.