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Barrie Rutter

Barrie Rutter - I Didn't Want to Play in Velvet Theatres

Peter Lathan relays snippets from Barrie Rutter's C.P. Taylor Lecture at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle.

"I didn't want to play in velvet theatres so I started my own company," said Barrie Rutter, director of Northern Broadsides as he began the 2005 C.P. Taylor Lecture at Newcastle's Theatre Royal. Then he looked round the plush interior of the hundred year old theatre and smiled.

His reason for setting up Northern Broadsides was to play Shakespeare and other classic theatre with a northern voice in non-theatrical venues, he added. Since the company began in 1992, with what Rutter calls a northern production of Richard III, it has performed in cattle markets, castles, churches, Victorian mills, indoor riding stables and even the Tower of London.

On becoming an actor

Rutter was born and brought up in the dock area of Hull, so how did he come to be involved in theatre? "I wasn't happy at home," he said, "and so when I got to grammar school I joined nearly every society going, just to avoid going home."

Everything except Drama. "I was too busy with everything else: football, rugby, sports of all kinds, even the stamp club!" Then one day his English teacher said to him, "You've got a big gob in class, Rutter. Why not put it to use?" So he joined the drama club, played the Mayor in The Government Inspector, and was hooked.

On language

He eventually joined the National Youth Theatre and fell in love with the "rock 'n' roll" of Shakespeare's text. We are brought up with rhythm, he said. As children we have nursery rhymes and, as we become adult, form our own rhythm. He took to Shakespeare's iambic pentameter straightaway: it is, he says, the "formal heartbeat" of classical theatre.

Shakespeare's language had to be spellbinding, he argues. Excavations at the Rose have shown that the are in which the groundlings stood was covered with a layer of nutshells (to minimise the mud!): "Verse and spellbinding language was the best way of telling the story in that house!"

On founding his own company

He'd worked for the RSC and the National Theatre - "I learned a lot from Terry Hands and Peter Hall" - and it was while working with the national that he realised he needed to set up his own company. "I was in Tony Harrison's The Trackers of Oxyrhyncus and the intention was to tour it, but the tour never got off the ground because there were far too many people wanting to travel. It was then I realised I wanted to do my own work."

On playing Lear

"You should play Lear twice: once when you can and once when you should!"

On acting

There are three kinds of acting he hates: pronoun acting, which sounds hopelessly artificial; "and" acting, which is due to TV adverts; and adjectival acting, which hammers every adjective. In fact, any kind of over-emphasis is anthema to him. "You hear someone say, 'Oh for a Muse of fire' - instead of 'a tiddlywink of fire?'"

He recommends every actor to take note of a line from Alan Plater's Sweet William, which Northern Broadsides is currently touring: "Look inside the words and you will find the music."

Never change Shakespeare's words. Cut lines, by all means, but don't change the words. The northern voice, he believes, is well suited to Shakespeare: "iron conontants and short vowels."

On political correctness

"I hate it!" A white man can't play Othello, unless, like Patrick Stewart, you do a complete reversal with everyone else black, but any other colour or any gender can play any Shakespeare character.

"The bookburners," he said, "are in the wings everywhere you look."

And he believes firmly in the disestablishment of the Church of England.

On actors

"I love to be with actors. They have such joie de vivre. They just want to have fun!"

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©Peter Lathan 2005