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An Interview with Ricky Dukes, Artistic Director of Lazarus Theatre

Published by: Carolin Kopplin on 4th Mar 2016 | View all blogs by Carolin Kopplin

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Lazarus is a theatre company that is committed to investigating, reimagining and retelling the classics for a contemporary audience. I have been intrigued by their work ever since I saw my first Lazarus production at the Blue Elephant Theatre, where the company will also present The Bacchae in April. Their repertoire ranges from Shakespeare and Euripides to fascinating discoveries such as the Australian muscial The Hatpin or The Tragedy of Mariam by Elizabeth Cary.

Their new season about revolution and rebellion has already begun with Brecht's epic and revolutionary play, The Caucasian Chalk Circle in a translation by Frank McGuinness at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre, directed by Artistic Director, Ricky Dukes, which has opened to critical acclaim.  

1. Why did you choose this play to launch your new season?

We wanted to kick off 2016 with something a little bit different, after last year  of all late Elizabethan and Jacobean work and the previous seasons of all Shakespeare plays. For a long time, we have discussed the work of Brecht and without really realising or acknowledging his technique, we frequently use them in our productions. 

In 2017 we will become a charity which will open up many new opportunities and possibilities, so we thought why don’t we rebel, mix things up a bit in 2016 in anticipation of this new chapter in the history of Lazarus. Brecht was the obvious choice, he is the father of political theatre as we know it, and a man who led a revolution in theatre. 

Choosing the play was a rather strange affair, it came out during the tech period for The Revenger’s Tragedy at The Jack Studio. I remarked ‘wouldn’t it be great to do a play with just a chalk circle and light?’ In theory, yes, but when I began to investigate the play it became clear that Caucasian Chalk Circle needed a bit more than that.

2. Do Brecht's ideas influence your work? Do you think the audience should keep a critical distance from what is going on on stage instead of empathising with the characters? 

Throughout this process I have been surprised and excited about discovering a practitioner, that apart from a lecture or two at University, I hadn’t really engaged with. As the play unfolded, a lot of Brecht’s techniques seemed to flow quite simply for us, something familiar to us also. The plays we pick often do break the fourth wall, acknowledging the role of the audience, whether that be them taking a biscuit and listening or joining a political party. A critical distance, or not emoting with a character, is something I think Brecht was telling his actors, ‘let the audience decide’. We have tried to ensure we don’t manipulate the audience; we give them the situation, the choices, the facts, and give it to the 11th character, the audience, and let them do with it as they please. I have been surprised by how many tears are shed during the last scene. 

3. Do you think theatre should be political?

There are no “should’s” in theatre. However, this is influenced by choices,  by choosing a play to put on, in what theatre, at what time of year is a choice, as well as casting and creative decisions. In my mind, drama is about dilemma, conflict and choices, all human qualities and challenges. So inherently all theatre has politics in it; to what scale and extent is something else. Early on in the process, I knew that we would not have placards with modern political statements on it. My political views are not automatically those featured in the play, but Brecht’s point is let’s ask those questions, engage in the world around us, and ask what would we do? 

4. Do you think theatre can change anything?

Yes. Whether that be from youth theatre activities, to matinees for senior citizens, from a jolly musical evening, to a hard hitting political stand point, all of which act as a shared experience, a cathartic process of involvement. In today’s world, with communication relying less on the physical interaction, we need that moment where we collectively come together to experience, to listen, to engage and to respond. Theatre changes, informs, provokes, entertains, excites, communicates, educates, illustrates, and challenges all people across diverse ages, ethnicities and gender.  

5. What would you like people to take away from watching this production?

Ultimately – a smile on their face at the end would be wonderful. In the previews, we saw audiences with a smile on their face but with tears in their eyes, a fantastic antithesis. If we have informed, provoked or challenged anyone then that’s a bonus, and I really hope we have Brecht in a good production to a new audience.

Interview conducted by Carolin Kopplin

The Caucasian Chalk Circle plays from the 23rd February until the 12th March 2016 at The Jack Studio Theatre. 

See my review of The Caucasian Chalk Circle here

More information on Lazarus: http://www.lazarustheatrecompany.com/ 

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