The only interview (so far) to feature the phrase ‘horse race sex scene’, have a read of Ross McGregor’s 10 questions for 10 years
Frankenstein to The White Rose to Taro to The Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde. Trying to pick my favourite Arrows & Traps show is like picking your favourite child (always the middle one!) and naturally in choosing Anna Karenina with its waltzing romanticism, I went wrong 😉 In any case, I enjoyed getting to know their artistic director Ross McGregor a little better here.
“Your favourite?! Well, thank you very much. The one I didn’t write, haha. My favourite memory is the look on my movement director’s face (Will Pinchin) when I told him I needed him to choreograph a horse race at a derby, that was simultaneously a sex scene. And watching him slowly make a note that read: “horse race sex scene”, and underline it, and not ask me why. In my defence, it was in the script. And thanks to Will’s enormous talent, and the cast’s incredible efforts, the scene was an absolute highlight of the piece, and I was very proud of the team when they showed it to me.”
Where were you 10 years ago?
I was in Norwich, working for a different theatre company that specialised in regional touring. We did classics and more than our fair share of seat-filler fodder (Godber, Coward, Aykbourn, etc.). Looking back at that time is strange as we were touring nationally but didn’t really have much of a sense of planning or patience. We definitely tried to run before we could walk, which is why the theatre company ultimately failed to flourish. It seemed an easier time, but I guess everything does when you’re in your twenties. I remember the Norfolk winds though, eeesh that place is cold.
Best show you’ve seen in the last 10 years?
Probably Made In Dagenham, in terms of feel-good, whooping-along, great experience-type pieces. Must have seen that show a dozen times. I loved every moment of it, and was heartbroken when it closed early. On the smaller scale I saw a one-man show called SID at the Upstairs at the Arts which was mesmorising. Really educated me on what a one-hander could be, as previously I hadn’t been a fan of the form. More recently I saw The Hunt at the Almeida – which is superb, as was Preludes at the Southwark. My all time favourite show was Festen, many years ago, when it was in London. What a play.
What has been your professional highlight of the last 10 years?
Being the Artistic Director of a 15-time Off West End Award-nominated theatre company, but that’s been a slow-burn process of a lot of work, and a lot of highs and lows. For Arrows & Traps recently – I think it’s been booking our new venture into regional touring – and being able to take plays that I’ve written into some amazing spaces for 2020. But again, that’s an event that is yet to actually happen, so perhaps in terms of what we have actually achieved, it’s been being made the official associate company for the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre this year.
Top flavour of interval ice-cream?
I don’t really like sweet things, and try to avoid dairy, so I think my interval snack of choice would be a gin and tonic. I assume that’s not a flavour? It should be. Cam Mac, if you’re listening, make it happen. The people have spoken.
What show do you wish theatres would give a rest for a few years?
I could do without seeing another Shakespeare set in a post-apocalyptic dystopia. I don’t really see how Mad Max and Macbeth go together – he writes about people, he writes about humanity – does iambic pentameter really need so much pleather?
Name someone who you think is a really underappreciated talent (in the world of theatre)?
I’m biased here, obviously, but my instant first choice would be Kate Bannister at the Jack Studio. Her and Karl Swinyard are two of the most dedicated and supportive people you could meet in the business, and she should really be running a West End venue – she’s absolutely fantastic, and we wouldn’t be where we are without her and Karl. Such a sharp, patient and generous mind, she clearly loves her theatre and her community, and does so much for local theatre. I’m in awe of her, a little, still – even after the last four years of working with her.
Elphaba or Glinda?
Pardon? I don’t know these people are. Are they from Wicked? Ummm – the green one, then, whichever that is.
What is one thing that you think would help theatre survive and/or thrive the next ten years?
State funding, obviously. Unilateral support of performance arts and culture from the government, similar to countries like Germany or Austria. The cuts to the arts are crippling, and everyone is struggling to survive. I don’t know how going into something like theatre can be held as a recommended career as it stands, I’m a teacher, and every time I have a student that wants to go into drama or acting, a part of me dies when I have to say “make sure you have a day job”. It shouldn’t be this hard. There’s so little support out there, and every single venue, company and artist is having to fight to survive. And I don’t mean earn £40,000 a year, I mean earn anything. And I think theatre journalists have it almost as bad, if not worse. So many theatre critics are doing it for nothing now, purely for the love – audiences are brilliant, but without a salary, or at least a workable day rate, it’s nothing more than a hobby. We’re all in this together, but the government clearly doesn’t care for us, and what we do. I feel like television, movies and theatre provide something, a comfort, a educational tool, an entertainment, a connection with someone, to say you’re not alone, we’re here, we feel the same – and that’s in real danger of being lost if it’s not nurtured.
Which is your favourite theatre?
I love the intimacy of the Almeida, I think it can’t be beat in terms of London. Regionally, I absolutely adore the Buxton Opera House. What a space. And what a privilege it is to bring shows there.
Can you say anything about what’s to come for you, (in the next ten years or otherwise)?
I’m currently writing a biopic about Charlie Chaplin, which opens in London, at the Brockley Jack in February 2020 – it’s called Chaplin: Birth of a Tramp, and deals with his childhood and upbringing, and seeks to perhaps try and explain how he came to create the iconic character of the Tramp – possibly the most famous figure in cinematic history. That’s on sale now, you can get tickets here.
After that, we bring our previous production of Jekyll & Hyde back, as part of a national tour, running from Feb-April 2020, and then we tour with Chaplin through until June. All tour dates for both shows can be found here.
After that, we’re going to do another two adaptations of two classic novels, moving away from the gothic for the moment, we’re looking at an Orwell, and a Fitzgerald – I assume you can probably guess which. That’ll be late 2020, and early 2021, respectively.