Rupert Goold is a director at the forefront of British theatre: as Artistic Director of the Headlong Theatre company, and an Associate Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, he has produced some of the most successful Shakespeare revivals of recent years.
He has also directed ground-breaking shows in the West End and beyond, often working with Britain’s most renowned actors (from directing Patrick Stewart as Macbeth to Pete Postlethwaite as King Lear).
Perhaps surprisingly for someone who has worked with so many famous names, the talent is the one thing he doesn’t credit for shaping his productions. “Having the writer right there in the room is the thing I enjoy most about theatre at the moment,” he says. “I feel the connection much more than with the actors – although I adore actors – but the richest one is with the writer.”
Despite being a student thesp at Cambridge in the early 90’s, he is the first to admit that it wasn’t a great success. “I wasn’t like a star of my year or anything like that. I don’t know what it’s like at Oxford, but when I was at Cambridge the whole thing was kind of cliquey… and when you arrive at any university, the third-years seem to run everything.”
For his first two years at Cambridge, he worked in small acting roles, and only reached the director’s chair in his third year, “even though I had wanted to be there all along.” Looking back on his experiences, he reflects that the environment of student theatre “is good in terms of teaching you, because nowhere is more ambitious and nowhere is more bitchy, so the real world isn’t as fevered.” That said, “you tend to get a lot of graduates from bigger universities, mostly blokes, who seem super confident and super-bright – they normally come unstuck pretty quickly!” With that in mind he says that the best way to learn about directing is “by going to see other work, and good work at that.”
He also warns against the trend of updating classical plays to the modern age. “There’s no point just setting something anywhere: I did a production of ‘Othello’ at university that was set in south L.A., and was a hip-hop reworking. Setting a Shakespeare play in a period because you think that it will map onto it well is normally reductive.”
Ultimately. though, “the social context is only half of the director’s job in classical work: you usually have to give it or create a poetic world. The best way to learn about staging, or acting, is by doing.”