I work for Adrian Noble
Wednesday 04 March 1998
I was bitten by amateur dramatics at an early age, but as a drama student I discovered that I didn't have the talent to be an actress. However, I did have the ability to administrate, which led me to work in fringe theatres, including the Roundhouse in its heyday. Before coming here I worked as PA to Richard Eyre, Director of the National Theatre. A healthy competition exists between the National and the RSC and Adrian was worried that I might not be able to shift my loyalty. I admit it took me a while to forget that I didn't work at the National any more, but being in a PA's position you take a back seat, your boss is centre stage, while you are both flexible and chameleon-like.
Moving between Stratford-upon-Avon and the Barbican in London took some getting used to. Life is completely different at each end and there are times when I build a whole week around Adrian's being in London and then something immovable happens in Stratford and all the dates collapse. Like a snail I carry my office with me at all times in the form of a palm-top computer containing my diary, Adrian's diary, names and addresses, notebooks. Of course living in two places is a sacrifice, but the RSC is very supportive.
I'm very much office-bound, my job has nothing to do with the rehearsal rooms. In Stratford one gets a strong sense of the theatre and the number of famous actors who have passed through, whereas at the Barbican one can forget that the stage is there. I like to remind myself where I am by popping out into the corridor to listen to rehearsals or performances on the tannoy.
In a position like this it's essential to know one's place. I see myself as a conduit between Adrian and the public, actors, members of staff, heads of department, etc. It's a humble role to a degree and I don't see the job as a stepping stone because I am good at being a secretary. Adrian is a very expansive man, he's good at asking for an opinion and sharing things, including great stories about actors. As "my man" I need to protect him from all the stuff he doesn't need to know, but I don't like to keep people away from him. If for example another RSC director's show isn't going well, Adrian needs to know straight away before it's too late. He is wonderful at smoothing things over and at reassuring directors who might suddenly get scared by the scale of an RSC production.
At Stratford, where the theatre is very much at the heart of the town, the company feel is very strong. But after a few months the novelty might wear off and the actors can become stir crazy. Without actors the RSC wouldn't exist so it is important that their welfare is taken care of. They can be tricky, but when you consider how they have to expose their very souls you realise that it would be impossible for them not to be cranky at times. Generally speaking, the bigger the stars, the nicer they are. Judi Dench and Daniel Day Lewis, for example, were always wonderful to work with. Some of the less experienced actors can feel frustrated at not having bigger roles, but with a bit of research and tact I can often deal with their problems myself. Situations can get volatile and hysterical but Adrian is such a theatrical person that he can calm people down.
I may sound a bit like a Jewish mother when I say that I don't see Adrian as often as I want to, but when he is in Stratford submerged in rehearsal and I am based in London, it's like working with a spirit because I have to communicate with him through others. His job is enormous; in addition to directing and overseeing all RSC productions, auditioning shows, planning the forthcoming season plus the events for the year 2000 and discussing issues like refurbishment, each of the many departments needs him as a figurehead. So it's Adrian who will soon travel to the States with Cymbeline - no one else will do.
I like to think that I have a role in all of this, certainly I can't afford to take my eye off the ball for one minute, if I screw up, I screw up big time.
For a job like this you need to be a combination of a bit boring and a little eccentric. Like any relationship, if you find that your loyalty is drifting you have to move on, it does no good to feel resentful. You aren't joined at the hip and you have to be a separate person in order to do your job well, stand up for yourself when you are screamed at and be resolute about not working all hours that God sends.
I often try to imagine the kinds of conversations I would be having with my colleagues if I worked in a bank, they certainly couldn't be as interesting as discussions on how long Cyrano de Bergerac's nose should be or where to get the best wooden legs. This job was made for me, and having worked for the two top people in the business, I'm tempted to write a book about them called Twin Peaks, but I think it would be a very boring read because I would be so discreet.
Interview by Katie Sampson
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