the directors 2. Katie Mitchell

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The Independent Culture
Early work: Her company, Classics on a Shoestring, specialised in staging unusual classics in tiny venues like the Gate and Old Red Lion. Productions were given brilliant reviews, including Arden of Faversham (1990), Vassa Zheleznova (1990), Women of Troy (1991).

Background: Oxford: contemporary of Patrick Marber; President of OUDS.

The obsession: She was soon brought under the wing of the RSC (assistant director 1988-89), where her passion for obscure classics continued unabated (she turned down Romeo and Juliet for Henry VI Part 3). Likewise at the National (Githa Sowerby's 1911 "lost masterpiece", Rutherford and Son proved unexpectedly popular in 1994).

The Mitchell trademark: Renowned for meticulous research and study around her subject: a trip to Norway to study the light for Ibsen's Ghosts, to the Ukraine to record local patois for The Dybbuk, to industrial museums in Nottingham to find out how looms work for The Machine Wreckers, to Sweden to search out Strindberg's photography for Easter.

Influences: Eastern Europe. Early in her career she won a scholarship and travelled to Russia, Georgia, Poland and Lithuania. She encountered the legendary Polish director Tadeuz Kantor, and the fabled Polish company Gardzienice, whose work exerted a powerful influence, especially in the search for traditional folk songs and dances (A Woman Killed

with Kindness, 1991).

Eccentricity: She loves to work with darkness and, where possible, natural lighting. She reputedly rehearsed most of The Dybbuk for the RSC in complete black-out, illuminated only by candles. She also uses startlingly evocative sound-effects (birdsong, rain) and live music.

Design: She often works with Vicki Mortimer, whose austere designs use wood, earth and a few well-chosen props with authentic but plain period costume. Lighting designer Tina McHugh is also a frequent collaborator, providing minimal life-like effects (weak spring sunlight, moonlight, firelight).

Greatest omission: She has rarely directed a contemporary play, except the 1993 revival of John Arden's 1958 Live Like Pigs, and almost never a first production of a new play. This is typical of Mitchell's generation of directors who are split between classical specialists and new writing enthusiasts to their own, and our, detriment.

Next project: Ernst Toller's 1923 The Machine Wreckers at the National in August, with Brid Brennan whose performance in Rutherford and Son was highly praised.

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