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Re-designing theatre

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Why I enjoy theatre
Jonathan Miller Theatre director
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Well. I enjoy it because it’s easy.

[Q] Is it?

Yes, it’s absolutely dead easy, in a way that I know that most of the work in science is extremely difficult. I mean, that’s what makes me slightly uneasy about being in it. The originality that I bring to it is not achieved by anything that I would call hard work which is comparable to the hard work which has to be put in order to make a really major contribution to the development of science. I can go in, as I do each day, to rehearsal, really not knowing what I’m going to do that morning, I haven’t got plans or schemes.

I’ve got a rough idea before I start the whole thing where I’m going to set it and what I feel it might be about, in general, very general, but the actual process of rehearsing it is a question of just playing nursery games. I mean, not doing what some of my more pretentious contemporaries do, playing improvisionational games in order to find out, to loosen up people's... the actors' imaginations, but just simply finding different ways of saying the words which are written down opposite the character's names that they’re playing.  And I do it without any sort of complicated theories. It isn’t something about which you can be that theoretical compared to, say, you know, cosmology or physics.

[Q] But at the rehearsal how do you get the ideas for what you want done?

I don’t know. I’ve got no idea. I mean, by being familiar with social history, with social anthropology, which I’ve read all my life, by knowing what... by being interested in how people washed their clothes, the extent to which they did, the extent to which they washed their bodies, what they expected of succession, what they expected of monarchs.  But all this is simply being acquainted with social theory and social history, which I, you know, I sort of read about all the time, and as soon as you start... as soon as you get appointed to do a play, it becomes apparent what it’s about.

Initially studying medicine at Cambridge, Sir Jonathan Miller came to prominence with the production of the British comedy revue, Beyond the Fringe. Following on from this success he embarked on a career in the theatre, directing a 1970 West End production of “The Merchant of Venice” starring Laurence Olivier. He also started directing opera, famously producing a modern, Mafia-themed version of “Rigoletto”.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is a London-based television producer and director who has made a number of documentary films for BBC TV, Channel 4 and PBS.

Tags: theatre, science, originality, hard work, rehearsing, social history, social anthropology, social theory

Duration: 2 minutes, 40 seconds

Date story recorded: July 2008

Date story went live: 23 December 2008