Greg Doran - the Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company recalls his Northern roots
PUBLISHED: 09:54 15 October 2012 | UPDATED: 22:05 20 February 2013
Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company recalls his Northern roots
This has been an incredible year for Lancashire-born Greg Doran. In September he officially became the new Artistic Director of the prestigious Royal Shakespeare Company, in the face of fierce competition. Hes also directed the RSCs latest production of Julius Caesar, which is winning rave reviews recently showed at The Lowry. If thats not enough, hes also been filming it at the same time!
As Greg fondly describes his time with the RSC, he looks every bit the swashbuckling Elizabethan with his beard and long hair. Ive been with this company for 25 years first as an actor, then assistant director and eventually as Chief Associate, he says. So I guess my new appointment represents my long-term commitment to the disciplines and craftsmanship required to do justice to the astonishing plays of our Star of Poets William Shakespeare.
On the night I saw Gregs latest production, guest of honour was Prince Charles. Like me, he is also passionate about Shakespeare and for this production, part of the World Shakespeare Festival, Ive set it in a contemporary African state where, as one tyrant is deposed with machetes and guns, the question remains wholl replace him?
I wanted to make it accessible and thats why I gave it that setting because if you think about it weve seen Mugabe as well as other dictators like Gaddafi suffer the same fate. Prince Charles thoroughly enjoyed it and congratulated the cast as well as all the back-stage staff - so it was a great night.
Greg has won many accolades over the years for his theatre work and his films include Macbeth and David Tennants Hamlet. But along the way hes also directed ground-breaking productions both in this country and abroad winning an Olivier for his Jacobean Season and taking Shakepeare from Boston to Trinidad to Johannesburg.
As we chat about him bringing Julius Caesar to the north west, I asked when his passion for Shakespeare began? I was born in Preston, one of twins and Shakespeare had twins. My sisters a nurse and were from a very down-to-earth, science-based but staunchly Roman Catholic family.
My dad worked for the Atomic Energy Company and when we were six months old he moved us up to beautiful Cumbria where he worked for whats now Sellafield. Hardly an arty background although my mum, apart from a being a great cook, had also been a member of the Preston WI Drama Club.
We lived in an ordinary semi-detached near Longton and I went to St Oswalds where, luckily for me, a teacher called Arthur Malone, got me interested in Shakespeare and because it was a boys college I ended up wearing a frock playing Lady Anne in Richard III.
I do remember taking the dog for long walks so I could learn my lines because I thought the language was so beautiful and I felt empowered speaking it out loud. Later on at University Id hitch down to Stratford to see as many plays as I could.
With a group of friends, we set up the Poor Players Theatre Company and, like Shakespeare, we toured all the stately homes in the region from Smithills to Holker Hall performing Twelfth Night and Comedy of Errors with money from Chorley District Council.
Looking back, I realise how lucky I was to have parents who encouraged me to see theatre at the Dukes Playhouse in Lancaster, the Bolton Octagon and the RSC when it toured to Manchester, Liverpool and Southport.
Then, a friend pointed out to Greg that Century Theatre wanted a new Artistic Director in Keswick and that proved his next job. It was the last season before Century moved into its new venue and, as my parents were in Cockermouth, it also meant I could see them. It was the most inspirational place to work surrounded by all that beautiful scenery.
I loved directing but thought I still wanted to act, so did a few telly dramas, spent some time directing at Nottingham Playhouse and eventually got a job with the Royal Shakespeare Company which was and still is very exciting. I love the fact that you can walk down the streets and see buildings Will would have recognised and you can sense his presence is still here. In my first season I appeared in a small role in Julius Caesar, promptly forgot my lines and knew then I should stick to directing! I was delighted when they offered me a job doing just that.
What about the theory that Shakespeare had travelled north? It would be reasonable to think he did because this is a relatively small country and certainly theres a legend around the Catholic stronghold of Hoghton Tower that a tutor called William Shakeshaft. Could be a coincidence but Im not sure.
Although Greg visits his 90-year-old father and other relatives as often as possible, life is now divided between Stratford and London. Indeed, it was in one of his first plays in Stratford, the Merchant of Venice, that he met his long-term partner actor Anthony Sher who was born in South Africa and the pair have made several trips there since. One trip especially stands out for Greg.
Travelling through Lagos we were told that on no condition must we open the car windows because hawkers would try to sell us things and indeed they were pressing things against the car window.
I was shocked to see, pressed against the window, an old copy of the Lancashire Womens Cookbook and I remembered my mother had a recipe in that book. I immediately bought it and, unbelievably, thousands of miles from home, I found her recipe for a cheap seven layer dinner of carrots, peas, tinned tomatoes and the like. I was instantly transported back to my childhood. So I reckon my mothers is still looking after me.