As the Hope Theatre’s outgoing AD prepares for his final season and new adventures, Matthew Parker takes a little time to answer Ten Questions for Ten Years
It is no mean feat to transform a fringe theatre into a must-see venue but that’s what Mr Parker has done so successfully over the last few years at the Hope. Both as a director (Her Aching Heart and Steel Magnolias being particular highlights) and as an artistic director (his programming really has been reliably delightful), he has flourished and consequently, I’ve kept on going back even on Arsenal matchdays…
Where were you 10 years ago?
Just about to begin rehearsals for my graduation production (A Perfect Ganesh by Terence McNally – stunning play) as I hurtled towards graduating from the Postgrad Directing Course at Drama Studio London. I trained as a Director pretty late – I was 33. But it’s never too late to pursue your dream.
Best show you’ve seen in the last 10 years?
Fun Home on Broadway. The Young Vic version was wonderful too as it’s such a good show. But the original version on Broadway, set in the round was completely and utterly breathtaking – we were so connected to every moment, thought and feeling. I can recall and relive so much of it – every single moment was perfect – it affected my breath, my heartbeat, my smile and my tear ducts. I bloody LOVED it and have been obsessed with it since. Total theatre.
In this country it was Jeremy Herrin’s astonishing People, Places and Things. I cried with joy at the whole brilliance of it from the start to the end. If I ever get anywhere to directing something that theatrically ALIVE in my lifetime I will be a very happy man. I love anything that celebrates the joy, imagination and connection capable in live theatre. I’m not really a naturalism kind of chap. I want it theatrical and magical and full of imagination and JOY.
What has been your professional highlight of the last 10 years?
I’ve been very lucky and have had some amazing things happen to me. My first ever show Ward No.6 (an adaptation of a Chekhov short story done with a cast of 4 multi-roling in a combination of text, physical theatre and music) was nominated as Best Ensemble at the 2009 Stage Awards in Edinburgh. So that was a huge moment and really got my career off to a wonderful start as it no doubt opened doors for me and got me in to meet with Fringe Artistic Directors about staging my work in London.. Taking over The Hope Theatre in 2014, after only 5 years of being a full time theatre creative, was a landmark move – I was not expecting to become an Artistic Director so quickly and I feel it’s when my voice and confidence as a Director really took hold as suddenly I had a space in which I felt TOTALLY at home and ALIVE and able to do whatever I wanted to. How lucky is that?! My directing work really did change from that moment on – my voice became clearer I think. Plus I started getting brilliant reviews so that helps too, right?! Winning the Off West End Award for Best Artistic Director was also huge moment – so shocked. Still am! But there are also other less public moments which make me incredibly proud. Two of my shows have resulted in marriages. Two of the Ward No.6 cast married each other a wee while ago. And two dear friends who met on a Hope show I directed are also now readying themselves for wedded bliss. That feels super special, I gotta say. See! Theatre CAN change lives.
Top flavour of interval ice-cream?
Well my favourite ice cream flavour is pistachio but theatres very rarely have that so it’d have be chocolate.
What show do you wish theatres would give a rest for a few years?
A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s brilliant – obviously – my favourite Shakespeare. But I don’t feel the need to see it again right now. There are so many other wonderful and forgotten classics out there. As well as so much brilliant new writing. I prefer to shine a light on and/or spend my ticket money on those
Name someone who you think is a really underappreciated talent (in the world of theatre)?
Anyone who stage manages any show anywhere in any theatre, school hall, car park, abandoned warehouse, wherever!. COULD. NOT. DO. WHAT. I. DO. WITHOUT. THEM. Stage Managers are everything and I never fail to be bowled over by their skills.
Elphaba or Glinda?
Oh Elphaba all the way. What a story arc. And she’s a witch. OBSSESED with witches. Although if we are talking in terms of home karaoke then I’m a Glinda as I bloody love those low harmonies in ‘For Good’.
What is one thing that you think would help theatre survive and/or thrive the next ten years?
Access to theatre training for all, no matter what your financial or social background. I am working class but I only got to drama school through a whopping loan and a lot of generosity of friends and my in-laws. I spent over 10 years avoiding theatre and just thinking I basically wasn’t good enough coz I was poor! I’ve couch surfed. I’ve hustled multiple jobs. I’ve done everything I could to pursue my dream. But EFF ME it was not easy. I’ve been lucky in that I landed on my feet eventually and found a “family” of friends, supporters and husband who would help me take that final massive leap into the world I wanted to be in. But I never forget how lucky I am and how many other people there are out there who long for this dream. If you’d have told a 14yr old Matthew he would one day be running a theatre in That Big London he’d stare open mouthed in shock (but also probably say “Yeah I know” coz I was a cocky, precocious little sod with a ridiculous amount of determination to succeed)
Which is your favourite theatre?
Royal Exchange in my home town of Manchester. That place makes my heart pound.
Can you say anything about what’s to come for you, (in the next ten years or otherwise)?
I simply have no idea. I’m no spring chicken so I gotta move fast. I am moving on from The Hope later this year as I want to focus more on my freelance directing work and develop my work into bigger spaces for larger audiences both in and outside of London. Easy, right? *hollow laugh*. Look, leaving The Hope is a big risk – I know that. I could easily stay there another 10 years and revel in my lucky safety net. But that is not who I am. I’ve always taken risks and I’m not going to stop now, just because I’m knocking on!. I just hope that wherever it is I am thriving artistically and emotionally. My ambition is to one day run a large arts venue with a couple of theatre spaces, cafe, community outreach. All that jazz. A place where people from all walks of life can gather under one roof for art, theatre and JOY. Oh and I would like my back to hurt less and to be generally more fit than I currently am. Running The Hope has DESTROYED my body!! Ha ha.
Matthew is a freelance theatre director and Artistic Director of The Hope Theatre. He has a passion for bringing his visual imagination and physical style to classic stories, with a penchant for emotionally raw, visually beautiful work.
He won the Best Artistic Director award at the 2017 Off West End Awards for his work at The Hope in 2016 and has received 5 Best Director Offie nominations: The Lesson (2018), Her Aching Heart and Sea Life (both 2016), Thark (2017) and Lovesong of the Electric Bear (2015). His adaptation of Chekhov’s Ward No.6 gained a Best Ensemble nomination at The Stage Awards and Time Out Critic’s Choice upon its transfer to London.
He is represented by Jean Diamond at Diamond Management. For more info on Matthew’s work please visit www.matthewparker.net