Three productions from Euphonia Studio play over this week. Daniel Perks catches up with director Alisdair Kitchen to dissect La Bohème, The Duchess of Malfi and Hedda Gabler:

Euphonia Studio has three productions playing over the course of the next three weeks, a tall order for any company. These are all directed and conceived by Alisdair Kitchen, a director, musician and scenographer. I caught up with him ahead of his two latest plays, reinventions of The Duchess of Malfi and Hedda Gabler opening in rep at the Drayton Arms Theatre:

Three productions running simultaneously, are you alive? How are they going?

Alisdair: It’s been good, mainly a scheduling issue. I had dates booked at the Drayton Arms that got postponed, so it just happened that they ended up overlapping with the La Bohème project. The next opportunity I could move them to would be into 2018.

I knew I had to get ahead with the plays – we rehearsed Hedda Gabler in August and brushed it up on weekends. We did a couple of performances of The Duchess of Malfi at The Cockpit in June to test out the new version. That’s a bit easier to re-rehearse, we have one new actor playing Antonio and The Cockpit was in the round, so we had to rearrange it for a black box. 

The productions all appear to be adaptations, or rewrites of script. Is that an intrinsic mission for Euphonia Studio?

Alisdair: It’s more of a coincidence. I’m only recently getting into plays, I have a background of classical music and opera. I love the classics, so thought why not make an adaptation that suits our smaller budgets?

Hedda Gabler for example is a faultless script. Taking it apart and creating our modernised version has taught me a lot about such a play works, which has been really helpful. I knew we were going to have to remove two minor characters, Aunt Juliana and Bertha, but I also knew that it was important to keep Juliana in the play – she’s still the fabric of the family.

With this excision, I wondered if there was a different way of starting the play, overlapping dialogue that goes on in two separate rooms. I started down that road. But as I got deeper into the text, I realised how much I was slowly the play and had to revert to what Ibsen had done. It’s that kind of deconstruction that puts great playwrights into perspective.

La Bohème is also essentially bulletproof, it’s written so well that it stands even a bad production. The flipside of that is it makes it harder to produce an inspired production – so many versions have been done before. It’s also quite a descriptive piece – you don’t have to come up with something novel to make it into a drama.

I’ve done something far more radical in The Duchess of Malfi – I’ve cut a cast of 15 down to four. In the original draft, I tried taking The Cardinal out of the picture – a bit alternative, but I thought that if I got to the end and had missed what I consider to be the core of the story then I can go back and think again. The Cardinal belongs to an extended subplot that can be excised from the body of the play without affecting the overall trajectory.

Human culture is the only sort in which cultural objects change over time

Birds have been making their nests in the same way for the majority of their evolution, but human artefacts become relevant in different ways. But certain plays translate so well from one time to another – so contemporary back in the day that they suit a tasteful update, without there being too much incongruity.

The Duchess of Malfi

Both The Duchess of Malfi and Hedda Gabler play at the Drayton Arms later this month. Have you put much on at this venue before?

Alisdair: This is my fifth (I think!) outing there, but with the exception of one it’s always been opera. I did a trilogy of Chekhov shorts, my first theatre, with a cast of all singers – my experiment to get them to do some straight acting, with encouraging results. There is the assumption that opera singers can’t act, the idea behind their gestures and how that creates reality. One of the tropes of bad opera acting is to do things that don’t look natural, but that is an interpretation of the music more than anything and it tends to be slower and more artificial. It’s really difficult to break that sense of pace.

La Boheme

Tell me more about Euphonia Studio, how the company came into being originally.

Alisdair: Euphonia is mainly a representation of my own artistic practice. I’m quite against being pigeonholed into things, I certainly like working in a lot of different genres. I started off as a pianist, but I always did a lot of work with singers. I took a last-minute course in Italy on opera where David Syrus worked with us on conducting.

I’ve tried to diversify and tend to design my own productions, both out of interest and for budgetary reasons. Last year we did The Turn of the Screw by Benjamin Brittain at the Rye Arts Festival, a place we keep returning to. For me that whole work was unlocked by the design – an abstract shape and style. I couldn’t find a way into it otherwise.

Theatre is a wonderful conglomeration of all different art forms, certain elements becoming more prominent than others over the course of a production

What would the dream be?

Alisdair: I want to continue down the road that I’m on, keep on doing a range of things. I would like to have the foundation to bring the work we’re doing to a wider audience and be asked by other companies to direct things. It’s wonderful to have artistic freedom, but the collaboration would be wonderful too. There are a few theatres such as The Vaults or Park Theatre that represent the next level up. Then who knows, maybe The Globe?

The best stage space is a blank stage space – it leaves the imagination to do all the work

Where or from whom do you take inspiration?

Alisdair: The biggest inspiration in terms of a director would be Jonathan Miller. I’m inspired by different types of artistic endeavour and different genres of art, for example William Kentridge’s work. But also, the people that I work with give me energy. Until they’re in the room, you don’t know where your vision is going to go and you have to make the most of their talent.

Hedda Gabler

What advice would you give to someone earlier in their career that is looking to move in a direction to yourself?

Alisdair: Be entrepreneurial. The world is getting narrower in the sense of the opportunities open to new graduates, even compared to when I was an undergraduate. I realised that no one was going to ask me to do something – the catch 22 of needing experience but having no one to give you the opportunity. So, the only way to do it is to put it on yourself.

Listen – so much of directing and producing is about listening, seeking out those stories and giving them a voice.

 

To read more about Euphonia Studio, follow the company on Twitter (@alisdairkitchen) or visit the theatre website – www.euphoniastudio.com

La Boheme plays Rye Arts Festival on 30 September 2017. To book tickets, visit the festival website – www.ryeartsfestival.co.uk

The Duchess of Malfi and Hedda Gabler play Drayton Arms Theatre from 26 September – 14 October 2017. To book tickets, visit the theatre website – www.thedraytonarmssw5.co.uk