THEATRE / Production Notes: Howard Barker on directing his own plays

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The Independent Culture
I didn't find any aspect of directing Hated Nightfall (which opens at the Royal Court, London, on 11 April) particularly difficult - you could reverse that and say I didn't find any of it particularly easy. I suppose much of it is in the casting. I wrote a leading part specifically for Ian McDiarmid because I know his style, his originality and uniqueness. Actors have to have a very good voice to do my work, because it is so densely written. Looks are important. The play is about the Romanovs, and I decided the family should all be dark-haired with dark eyes - it's fortuitous that they do all look like a family.

If in rehearsals I saw a reverence towards me as Howard Barker the writer I'd be most likely to stop it very quickly. I did keep rehearsals very open. You'd have to ask the cast, but I think people spoke out very willingly about what they thought the play meant. I'd invite them to draw their own conclusions and present their different versions, which might be more useful than my own. Even if I were not directing I'd still be invited to make those contributions.

The Wrestling School has built up an ensemble, which is about cutting down time by working with people who share your ideas and aesthetics. I always produce sketches and watercolour paintings when I'm writing, so there is that aesthetic background available for Johan (Engels, the designer). Usually the sketches represent the whole stage picture for particular scenes, with the position of the actors, which is vaguely pre-ordained. I like raked stages for the rather obvious reason that they disclaim any kind of realistic environment. In this case I needed to have a raked stage because there is a presentation of a chorus, and choruses are hard to stage. It was a little directorial decision on my part to have them popping their heads up through the stage to make it odder. The production team was able to help me produce that effect practically. That's the case with every stage of the production. The play is about the Romanovs, but I didn't want a firing squad on stage because that is a conventional image of world history. I decided to have hands holding revolvers thrust through the floor to give an indication of execution, which is not carried out. There's no point trying to make theatre like cinema.

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