The director talks about her production of Terence Rattigan’s After the Dance and the joy of working with Derek Jacobi
Aged 24, Thea Sharrock became the youngest artistic director in British theatre when, in 2001, she took over the Southwark Playhouse. Since then, she has run London’s Gate theatre, directed plays at the National, the Globe and the Almeida and staged several West End productions, including The Misanthrope, starring Keira Knightley, A Voyage Round My Father, with Derek Jacobi, and Equus, with Daniel Radcliffe. Her latest production, Terence Rattigan‘s After the Dance, runs at the National theatre from Tuesday to 11 August.
- What made you want to direct it?
When I directed The Deep Blue Sea (2003) I fell hook, line and sinker for Rattigan. I had also seen After the Dance and loved it. Last year, I was looking at my shelves and spotted After the Dance and wondered whether it could be as good as I remembered – it was. I didn’t even know Rattigan’s centenary year was coming up. The book must have been signalling to me.
- What is Rattigan’s quality?
He has something of Coward and of Chekhov, too. Rattigan’s portraits of human beings are exquisite – and his understanding of human behaviour… if Coward was an entertainer, Rattigan is an appreciator.
- You and Rattigan both left Oxford before graduating to pursue careers in theatre. Do you feel an affinity with him?
Gosh, I hadn’t thought of that [laughs]. I’d like to think I have an affinity with him. His clarity. There is – I hope – a clarity about the way I tell stories.
- Is it difficult being a female director with children?
I can’t put a number on how many times more complicated it is with children. And yet I do feel that the wind has shifted; artistic directors are more open now and do not see my kids as a barrier. Take Michael Grandage – I was pregnant when he offered me a job and he didn’t bat an eyelid.
- What do you think your skills as a mother give to your theatre direction?
Being a mother rocks your world in a way nothing else can. You stop being the centre of your life. You bring that into the workplace. I hope it means that you have a wider and more encompassing generosity. It brings new focus and the need to work within a set time because when I leave the room, I have somewhere far more important to go, even though when I am working there is nowhere more important than the rehearsal room.
- When you are directing big names – Daniel Radcliffe, Derek Jacobi – how much is ego an issue in rehearsals?
With the best actors, there is no ego in the room. And, my God, they are on to their lines. Derek Jacobi and Penelope Keith are exemplary pros. You would never spot Jacobi’s ego – he is early and prepared. You spot ego when the work is not being done because an ego needs to fill the space.
- What qualities are essential as a director?
You need to create a room of trust – or people are never going to abandon themselves. I wear my heart on my sleeve because that is what I am asking the actors to do. You must be honest. And you have to have a laugh.