Edinburgh International Book Festival
On 17 August 2013
Review by David Chadderton
Acclaimed director Michael Bogdanov, most famous for directing Shakespeare and for being prosecuted by Mary Whitehouse for his production of Howard Brenton's Romans in Britain in 1980, visited the Edinburgh International Book Festival to speak about his new book Theatre the Director's Cue as well as a reissue of his previous books on directing Shakespeare in a single volume as Shakespeare, the Director's Cut.
Interviewed on stage by Steven Gale, Bogdanov mixed anecdotes with opinions, much as he has done in the books he was here to promote. He spoke of joining the theatre group at Trinity College, Dublin as an undergraduate where he wrote for review and did some directing, a period working in television, especially in Ireland at RTE, through to his time at Deutsches Schauspielhaus in Hamburg, the largest national theatre in Germany.
He said that after he acted as Peter Brook's assistant director on Brook's world-famous production of A Midsummer Night's Dream—Bogdanov rehearsed the cast for London, New York and the world tour—and other productions, he became a clone of Brook, speaking just like him.
On directing a tour, he said that every new venue has a fresh first night and that it takes a couple of performances to get back to where it should be. He said that he comes back after three weeks to take out the "improvements".
On rehearsals, he said that with short rehearsal periods, like most productions in the UK have, what should be explored in rehearsals ends up being explored in performance. In Germany, the usual rehearsal period is three months, which means that if he comes back after a year he can have it back to where it was with a quick notes session.
As co-founder, with Michael Pennington, of the English Shakespeare Company, Bogdanov is best-known now as a director of Shakespeare. He said that verse should not be intoned as poetry; the rhythm should be preserved but it should sound like the speech of normal people. The style of Olivier, Wolfit and others does, he claims, "hang over in some of our knights", but doesn't resonate with a modern audience.
He said of Shakespeare on film that Baz Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet brought Shakespeare to a new audience, even though he doesn't agree with about a third of the director's decisions. In his opinion, Branagh's filmed Shakespeare shores up the status quo with an artificiality that makes you aware that they are acting. Trevor Nunn's Shakespeare films, he said, have never succeeded.
On being asked a question about how Shakespeare should be taught in schools to preserve his legacy and inspire a new generation, his answer was to "get rid of Gove" (Education Secretary Michael Gove).
Both Shakespeare The Director's Cut and Theatre The Director's Cue were released on 8 August 2013 by Capercaillie Books.