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Stage director Donnellan works on new project in Russia, interested in politics

The interview with the director was timed to coincide with the Moscow Pushkin Drama Theatre’s debut in Washington with William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure directed by Donnellan
Stage director Declan Donnellan Alexey Filippov/ITAR-TASS/Archive
Stage director Declan Donnellan
© Alexey Filippov/ITAR-TASS/Archive

WASHINGTON, October 12. /TASS/. Acclaimed British film and stage director and author Declan Donnellan has interest in politics, prefers not to read too much news, keeps his sanity by escaping frequently to nature and works on a new project in Russia, Donnellan said on Thursday in an interview with TASS.

The interview was timed to coincide with the Moscow Pushkin Drama Theatre’s debut in Washington with William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure directed by Donnellan.

New production

Measure for Measure premiered in Moscow five years ago in the Russian language. Donnellan’s co-author Nick Ormerod designed the scenery for the production. In 1981, Donnellan and Ormerod co-founded London’s theatre Cheek by Jowl.

The Pushkin Theatre had earlier performed with success in London, Edinburgh, Paris, Madrid and Sydney. In January 2016, Russian actors performed Measure for Measure on the opening night of the Shakespeare festival in Chicago, Illinois. Now they have brought it to the US capital.

Donnellan assures us that cooperation between the Pushkin Theatre and Cheek by Jowl is ongoing.

"We are very excited to be working on The Knight of the Burning Pestle by Francis Beaumont. And with our regular actors, many of them in Measure for Measure. Just like Measure for Measure, it will be a co-production with the Pushkin Theatre, and we are starting the rehearsals in November to open the show in January in Paris," the British stage director said.

About previous co-production with Russians

Donnellan firmly rejected any interpretations appearing in the media outlets, in particular in the West, that the production transfers the time and venue from Shakespeare’s Vienna to contemporary Moscow as some sort of indictment of present-day Russia.

"We haven't set Measure in contemporary Moscow. The play takes place on a stage and that stage space suggests an imaginary modern world. It could be anywhere. The corruption in the play could happen anywhere and at any time," he said.

"When we did The Tempest in 1988, a woman played the Duke. In UK, it was often seen as a satire on Thatcher, and in Romania, we were nearly banned as the Bucharest audience responded with shocked whispers as they thought we intended to satirize Elena Ceaucescu. They believed we had spent weeks researching exactly how she snapped her bag shut," Donnellan added.

"I would never try to put a literal world or person on stage. Although I am more than happy for the audience to do that. It is their choice. I have no hidden meaning for them to unravel. My work conveys only itself. The rest is up to the audience," he said.

Wednesday’s opening night at the Kennedy Center in Washington drew the most favorable reviews from critics.

The Washington Post wrote: "Nevertheless, the production maintains a near-hypnotic hold on us, in its deft brandishing of the tools of storytelling: skillfully light applications of music and dance; a forceful rendering of the drama’s violent undercurrents; a keen handling of the timeless hypocrisies characterizing men’s sexual coercion of women. These are strengths that transcend words and on this occasion they have to."

Politics and nature

Asked about politics, Donnellan said he was interested in politics.

"I used to read everything but read less now. Oddly, the less news I read, the better I become at predicting election results! It seems to me that a lot of news actually distracts us from what is happening. We get swamped with entertaining detail. In general, I agree with Marcus Aureliusit’s important not to read too much," he said.

Asked by TASS what helps him keep his sanity, Donnellan answered: "This is very important."

"A good dinner and laughter with friends. Feeling close to people, of course. But I also need to get regularly out of the city and into nature - to feel my smallness is very calming," he explained.

"It’s difficult to see the stars any more. Light pollution is a means whereby the city manipulates us into thinking that only the city exists. But the stars make me feel my proper proportion. And so does the ocean. Awe relaxes," he added.

‘Close relationships’ with Russia

The British stage director disclosed the reason why he came to Russia for the first time long ago: "In the beginning it was the forbidden other - but also the most romantic destination for theatre. Chekhov, Stanislavski, Pushkin, snow blizzards. Of course, when I got there, it wasn't like that at all."

"But very slowly I formed close relationships (which endured through from the Soviet period) and also started slowly to learn. And gradually I became integrated in the world of their theatre," he said. "I felt a deep resonance and connection there and less need to justify myself, explain, or even speak. So it’s personal."

Due to a project in Italy, Donnellan could not accompany the Moscow Pushkin Theatre to Washington.

‘Russian Briton’

The director has been coming to Russia for quite a long time and frequently. He works with Russian actors and has been crowned with the Russian Golden Mask and Crystal Turandot theatrical awards.

In Russia, Donnellan directed Boris Godunov at the Gorky Moscow Art Theatre, Three Sisters and Twelfth Night at the Pushkin Theatre, ballets Romeo and Juliet, and Hamlet at Bolshoi. In 2011, his production The Tempest by Shakespeare unveiled the 10th Chekhov International Theater Festival.

This summer, Donnellan received an Order of Friendship at Russia’s embassy in London. He has won four Laurence Olivier Awards and was made a Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France.