between the lines

As a student in Paris, director James Macdonald fell under the spell of Ariane Mnouchkine
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The Independent Culture
For two and a half wonderful years in the early Eighties, I was in Paris. I studied mime and movement at the Lecoq School. I worked as a butler at the British Embassy. I was poor. But I had access to so much good theatre in a way I never did in London: Peter Brook, Giorgio Strehler, Robert Wilson and - most memorably - Ariane Mnouchkine.

Her productions of Shakespeare had a power that you usually experience in the theatre only as a child. They were overtly theatrical. You were aware of the actors making up as you came in. Her Richard II took place in a converted munitions factory, so that from the start you were disoriented and excited by the space.

And there was a freedom in the way she treated Shakespeare which was very liberating to someone brought up on English period productions done in a realistic, psychological manner. There was a visual flamboyance, and yet the relationship between actor and audience was still primary. That's something I hope I've absorbed.

Working on new plays at the Royal Court, as I now do, seems at first a million miles away from Mnouchkine's work and my time in Paris. I don't use a lot of the techniques I learnt at Lecoq when I rehearse. But what my time in France developed in me was an interest in the kind of theatre that goes beyond naturalism and the everyday; theatre that, to quote Walter Pater, aspires to the condition of poetry.

n James Macdonald directs 'The Changing Room', Duke of York's, London WC2 (0171-836 5122) from 1 Feb

Interview by Adrian Turpin

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