We were delighted to welcome the legendary theatre director Max Stafford-Clark to The Abbey last week to work with Drama students and those interested in the theatre. It is fair to say that Max is a titan of the post-war British theatre scene, having started his career in 1966 at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh, and working ever since. He was, and remains, the longest-serving Artistic Director of the Royal Court theatre in London, having served from 1979 – 1993, as well as directing for the RSC, The Abbey Theatre in Dublin, Joseph Papp’s Public Theatre in New York and the Sydney Theatre Company. As well as this, he has founded and led two of the most influential touring theatre companies of the past fifty years, creating Join Stock in 1974 and Out of Joint in 1993, which he continues to run today.
Although Max has directed Shakespeare, Chekhov and a plethora of Restoration comedies for a variety of those companies, he is best known for his work with new writing and new writers. During the course of his career he has directed plays by such contemporary theatre luminaries as Caryl Churchill, David Hare, Howard Brenton, Mark Ravenhill, Andrea Dunbar, Sue Townsend, Timberlake Wertenbaker and April de Angelis, and many of the plays he has nurtured with those writers have gone on to join the theatrical canon of Western Theatre, not least of all Churchill’s ‘Top Girls’, which featured heavily in the workshop that our Upper V GCSE Drama students took part in.
Max started the afternoon by participating in a Q and A session with Head of Drama, Mr Martin, and a lively audience of girls and staff. There was much laughter at many of the stories and anecdotes he told, particularly at the series of mishaps and disasters that led to his starting a career as a director, and his comparing classic plays to classic cars (“They both do all the work for you”). However, he also spoke eloquently and movingly about the importance of political curiosity in the arts, the place of the theatre in British culture and identity, and the need to balance entertainment and education within the theatre. There were certainly approving nods from the assembled throng when he reaffirmed his commitment to an equal representation of male and female writers at Out of Joint (up from an already impressive 42% over the past two decades), and recent work from Rebecca Lenkiewicz, Stella Feehily and Nina Raine only serves to confirm the obvious benefits of giving voice to women as readily as we do men. It was truly enlightening to hear so many decades of wisdom imparted with such wit and energy.
Max and actor Gina Abolins then spent the afternoon working with our Upper V GCSE students on approaches to a text, providing them a range of tools that they can apply to their own rehearsal process. Working with ‘Top Girls’, students were given ideas for exploring status within character relationships, experimenting with scales of commitment to their objective and particularly forensic work on applying transitive verbs to each line in the scene to influence vocal delivery, a technique known as ‘actioning’ that Max has pioneered over the years. The girls were left buzzing after the workshop, keen to apply what they had learned to their own scenes.
It was a real honour and privilege to welcome Max Stafford-Clark to The Abbey and we look forward to working with him again.