Interview with Brigid Larmour, director of Much Ado About Nothing
6 September 2018
Much Ado About Nothing’s all female cast is inspired by the all-female company The Osiris Players, can you tell us about the history of that company?
The company was set up in 1923 by a remarkable woman called Nancy Hewins. She was a lighting designer and a bit of a jack of all trades. They toured in a Rolls Royce (very reliable!) but often slept on camp beds in the village halls where they played. They made their own sets and costumes, and went in for serious facial hair when playing the male parts.. During the war they toured up and down the country, including to the mining communities in the Rhondda valley, where apparently the miners believed they were real men.
Can you tell us about the training you did with the RSC early in your career?
I directed a student production of a Jacobean play called THE ROARING GIRL at the Edinburgh Festival. It attracted a lot of interest, and led to the RSC doing its own production, and me getting an Assistant Director job. I learned a massive amount from watching experienced actors, directors and designers working in a big theatre space, and particularly from watching how a production can be developed through previews. I love Shakespeare, and I learned a lot about how to work with voice and text, and began a life-long collaboration with voice coach Patsy Rodenburg.
Being set during World War II can you tell us what audiences can expect from Much Ado About Nothing?
I want the audience to feel very involved with and connected to the show. Like most theatres, the Palace stayed open during the War. When you come into the theatre, the whole building should have a wartime ‘keep calm and carry on’ feel, from sandbags to air raid warning notices to rhubarb gin! The actor playing Dogberry will be recruiting audience members for the Home Guard, to come up on stage in the night watchmen scene..
Throughout your career you’ve championed diversity and gender equality, can you tell us how you think this issue has been addressed and how you’d like to see it go further?
It’s exciting that this feels like a time of real change, though sad we’re still having to talk about this. When I started my career I was considered a ‘Woman Director’, and there were precious few of us running buildings. Here at the Palace now I’m just a Director: I never feel I have to change the way I am, or the way I see the world, in order to be accepted. I hope that very soon we can say the same about ethnic minority directors, and artists from all diverse backgrounds. I’m hoping the younger generation will look back in perplexity and disbelief at how it all took so long.
Watford Palace Theatre is 110 this year, what is the key to keeping the theatre relevant and at the heart of its whole community?
It’s an attitude of mind. We’re acknowledged as one of the top three theatres in the country for the way our audiences match our community, and that’s not an accident. We programme a range of excellent work on our stage to appeal to a wide range of people – and bring everyone together for the pantomime! We produce an exciting annual festival of free outdoor performances, Imagine Watford, reaching audiences who might not have thought of coming to the theatre. We celebrate the creativity of local people through drama workshops, youth theatre productions, Cultural Celebrations, and our partnerships with local companies, and invite groups like the Chinese Elders and the Satsang Singing Ladies to use our foyers in the daytime.
The last major birthday for the theatre was 10 years ago, do you have any highlights from the last 10 years?
I’d never done a pantomime before, and sitting for the first time in an audience of 600 schoolchildren yelling ‘behind you’, singing along with the pop songs, and sitting in rapt silence at the moments of magic, is something so fantastic it should be prescribed on the NHS. I’m also especially proud of our ambitious world premiere production of Timberlake Wertenbaker’s epic play Jefferson’s Garden, about how African Americans were betrayed by the American Revolution. It had its first US production in Washington this year. And I’ll never forget the joy of the audience getting to its feet at the finale of Britain’s Got Bhangra, our first collaboration with Rifco.
Much Ado About Nothing - THU 4 - SAT 27 October