Answer The Questions! Richard Jones

The theatre's always had a vampiric effect on me...
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Richard Jones is an iconoclastic theatre and opera director. His most famous productions, Wagner's 'Ring' for the Royal Opera House and 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' for the RSC, have pleased and appalled audiences and critics in equal measure. His latest project is an Asian version of 'Hobson's Choice'

Your recent reworking of Berlioz's The Trojans made overt reference to 11 September and the war in Iraq. Is it important for you to make a political statement with your work and if so, what point are you hoping to make with Hobson's Choice?

There are political statements and aesthetic statements in anyone's work, whether they are conscious or subliminal - but they're all there for a director or an audience to mine. You're asking me are they pitched at a self-conscious level? Well, on various levels, as with any artist I'm sure... There are politics and aesthetics in any piece of work aren't there?

Yes, but sometimes they're more overt than in others...

Exactly. That's all there is to say about that. And that's all there is to say about that production of The Trojans.

You've been on the receiving end of some harsh reviews over the years. What's your usual reaction - that everyone's missed the point or that you've been barking up the wrong tree?

I'd applaud anyone's margin for an opinion. But often these things get turned around, don't they?... When I was younger, I suppose, I used to be bruised, but I honestly am not now.

Your work does seem to inspire both good and bad reactions every time...

Well, good. It's good there's nothing definitive in theatre, nor should there be. But I don't feel foolish if I have a bad review. And I don't glow from the toes upwards if I get a good one.

You apparently received a letter from a woman who came to see your Midsummer Night's Dream and accused you of putting her kids off Shakespeare for life. Did you reply?

Most letters I do reply to but I didn't reply to that one because frankly it was so hostile and out of control that I imagined anything I said couldn't placate the person behind that letter. But I have received fantastic letters. I remember one that said, "I talked about a production of yours in my therapy for four sessions", and that really did please me.

Are the Brits stuffy about their culture do you think?

I think they can be interested in heritage in a way that could preclude them from walking round things in new ways. People often confuse a cultural experience with a sentimental experience. But I think that's much more true of Americans, because irony saves us, doesn't it?

You once described watching The Trojans in the Seventies and it having a vampiric effect on you. Was there a defining moment in your youth when, say, you were watching a play or opera and thought, I'm going to do that?

No, I was always very compulsed by theatre and opera when I was small. I suppose theatricality had quite a vampiric effect on me - I found theatricality alluring. And I suppose that's what's made me a theatre director rather than a film director.

So films never had that pull on you?

No. I've always been more interested in live performance. I've always been interested in looking at one picture all evening and looking at that picture modulate within one frame.

What's next?

I'm directing Tales from the Vienna Woods at the National. It's a folk play with music by an Austrian dramatist called Ödön von Horvath. And then I'm doing Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk by Shostakovich at Covent Garden. After that I'm working abroad.

Would you ever be tempted to run an organisation like the ENO or the National?

I've never been asked. And at the moment, it doesn't appeal.