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On directing La Bête by David Hirson

Q&A with the Director, Helen Taylor of ElevenOne Theatre

Helen Taylor has performed in more than seventy plays in London, Edinburgh and Oxford. Locally she has performed with the OTG, Cakes & Ale, Class ACT and Tomahawk theatre companies. This is her second production as director of the new theatre group, following their highly successful production of Noel Coward’s Private Lives in April 2009.

Q: Not all will be as familiar with David Hirson’s play as they would Noel Coward’s. As a fledgling theatre group, what compelled you to perform La Bête and not a better known production?

A: Of course, I considered more commercial plays - we're a small company and we can't ignore the need to attract audiences. But I had to direct something which I found inspiring - and this was it. La Bête is funny, engaging, and brilliantly written. I just couldn't resist it!

I first saw the London production in 1992, and it's stayed in my mind ever since. What I remember it for primarily was the dazzling writing which is an incredible vehicle for the actors, and left the audience in open mouthed amazement.

The issues Hirson tackles in the play are a constant preoccupation for anyone interested in the arts: Should people pursue artistic integrity even if it means they are totally failing to reach an audience? Should we just accept the fact that entertainment is the be all and end all? Or is there a way that the two can co-exist? But this is no dry 'arty' discussion - it's a tour de force of comedy first and foremost.

Q: Private Lives was your first production. What challenges and opportunities has this second production presented that the first may not have?

A: This is a completely different play, requiring a different set of skills for the actors and for me. Where Coward's play called for naturalism and subtlety this play demands a blistering pace, larger-than-life characterisation, and split-second timing. It's set in seventeenth century France, and in some ways is a homage to Moliere, but it's not simply trying to recreate the theatre of the time - it has a very modern flavour.

Q: Private Lives was both a critical and commercial success. How much pressure do you feel to reproduce a similar success on your second time out and what do you think your audience’s reactions to the new production might be compared to the first?'

A: Every play I've ever done has been a fresh experience: as an actor I learned something from every performance, and hopefully carried the lessons with me - but one wouldn't try to 'reproduce' a role; in the same way a new directing project is a different journey.

Private Lives was a great success and an absolute delight - but it wouldn't induce me to choose the same kind of play - that would mean stagnation before we've even begun!

I am absolutely confident that this play will give the audience a terrific evening out, and a great laugh. But this is something really different, a unique and dazzling play, and just as I still remember my first experience of La Bête twenty years down the line, I hope that the audience will still be talking and thinking about this production in 2040!

Q: Is there a theme developing between your first and second productions in terms of what your audiences can expect from Eleven One Theatre in the future?

A: They can expect talented actors, a creative and dedicated production team, and great plays. But apart from that, who can say... come watch the play and watch this space!

About the play

Written by American dramatist, David Hirson, and produced by Stuart Ostrow and Andrew Lloyd Webber, La Bête opened on Broadway on 10th February 1991 and was followed by a very successful run in London in 1992. It received numerous accolades including:

  • 1991 Outer Critics Circle Award for Best New Playwright
  • 1992 Olivier Award for Best Comedy of the Year

  • Tony Award for Best Actor in Play (McGowan)
  • Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play (Baker)
  • Tony Award for Best Scenic Design
  • Tony Award for Best Lighting Design
  • Tony Award for Best Direction of a Play
  • Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New Play
  • Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actor in a Play (McGowan)
  • Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play (Baker)
  • Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Director of a Play
  • Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Costumes
  • Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Set Design
  • Olivier Award for Comedy Performance of the Year (Alan Cumming)

Posted by Mike Taylor, Mar 2, 2012