Interview with Tim Supple, Theatre Director

Tim Supple, Director talks about his work and critically acclaimed production of ‘As You Like It’ for Curve in Leicester, UK.

You have a reputation for originality. What are you bringing to this production?

TS: It’s not really for me to claim any radicalism. I just try to understand the plays and do them in a reality. Getting away from any traditional thinking and just see the plays for what they are if you know what I mean. I think probably the most striking thing about this production is the casting because the cast are very noticeably taken from the fantastic range of immigrant communities that we have in this country and I think that’s unusual with Shakespeare. So you have actors whose backgrounds are from different parts of Africa, Greece, Europe and North America. So you are going to hear a range of accents and see a range of faces and personalities on stage that is still rare with Shakespeare. It shouldn’t be rare, I don’t think it’s that radical, but it is radical, so I think that is one of the major things. Then of course there is the way we design it, dress the characters and we try to do it in a strong and clear way, free from habit and tradition. So that’s all I try to do, really.

What attracts you to Shakespeare and ‘As You Like It’?

TS: Well Shakespeare you know is a major challenge for any director. He is a great story teller who combines the ancient traditions with modern ways of doing theatre. He took these old myths and stories and made them into the first strong statements of modern theatre really. His characters have psychology, thought, development and dialogue, all the attributes. He really invented the modern theatre but he also straddled the ancient world. As a story teller and as a director there is no better work that you can do. There are no plays that are as interesting as Shakespeare. ‘As You Like It’ is an intriguing and mysterious riddle really and it is one of a number that have been in my heart and mind for years.
I love the radical, surreal and experimental character building of ‘As You Like It’. Great characters set in an almost surreal set of circumstances together. It deals with the profound questions of life and that’s what I love about it. Big questions about how we choose to exist and how we cope with our knowledge about the cruelty of life and it does it in a totally beautiful, poised, comic and penetrating way. As such it’s a fascinating piece. I find it a difficult and intriguing play and I feel am learning about what this play is all about.

To what extent is the production influenced by your experiences of taking Shakespeare across India?

TS: Well, of course. ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ across India was a hugely influential experience for me and will be for many years. So, I think my understanding of Shakespeare and my understanding of the freedom, of the imagination that you need with Shakespeare was greatly enhanced by my experience in India.

Having successfully directed Shakespeare in spartan Indian venues what are your feelings about working in Curve which is one of the most technically advanced theatres?

TS: Well, you know, I have been around for 25 years or so. I am no spring chicken and have worked in theatres that are every bit as technically well provided for as Curve. I have worked in all kinds of theatres, big theatres, little studio theatres and big opera theatres and more modern theatres like the Lyttelton. I get most inspired by working in more spartan conditions. I am not that interested in technology as an aspect of theatre. I think you have to be careful not letting the technology becomes the point.
For example, I think one the great curses of modern theatre are moving and scrolling lights because they make such a loud noise and it drives me mad. You create a delicate piece of work, put it on the stage and there is this enormous noise coming from the rig which audiences can’t generally notice, but I think it affects the atmosphere because there is no silence. The Curve has got that problem, like all modern theatres. So, I think technology brings its own problems and I all I would say is that it’s wonderful to work on a stage that gives you facilities, its great, and we have used those facilities to fly the planks of wood and you couldn’t do that in a more spartan situation. So it’s there to be used but you just have to be careful not to let it dictate the character of what you do.

Can you describe how you approach bringing the play to life from being asked to direct it?

TS: The process is very simple. You spend a long time reading the show, understanding the play on the page. I then go through a process of casting it. As you cast it you really begin to understand what you think the characters should be because you’re trying to find the right people to do it. Then, I start working with the designers and envisaging the set, and again you take a step towards how you see things and that’s how I understand the play.  So, then you get to rehearsal and you’ve cast it and sketched out a design and you’re beginning to see the play. It’s only through rehearsing it that you really begin to understand it if you see what I mean. By the time you have put it on the stage you are beginning to understand it and hopefully you have understood it in the right way because you can’t turn back then. So for me it’s a gradual process as I go along.

What are you most proud of about this production?

TS: I think it’s well crafted and I am proud of the way it is crafted. It’s well shaped and brought together well.

Finally would you recommend Curve to fellow Directors?

TS: Sure, yes of course. It’s a lovely open, good facilitated theatre with great staff. You can do good work there, for sure.

Thank you for your time and good luck with following productions.

TS: Thank you.

Martin Westall

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