Life is full of uncertainties but one unshakeable 2016 fact is that the Old Red Lion Theatre is leading the pack with exciting and original drama.
Last year saw ORL premiere Arthur Miller’s lost debut play.
Stewart has just won ‘Best Artistic Director’ at the Offie Awards.
Here’s the chat in which we hear all about how he juggles his role as an Artistic Director and a critic, as well as his favourite Annie Lennox song.
1. Congratulations on the Offie Award! 2015 was a very good year for ORL wasn’t it.
Thanks! I was delighted with the shows, yeah, though I don’t know how much credit I can take for them. We got to work with some fantastically ambitious and talented companies and artists, and really stretch the possibilities of that space, which has always been my hope for my time here.
2. You’ve just relaunched your Literary department. What’s the score?
Our literary department had sort of dwindled a bit over the past year, basically because I had my eyes on other things and probably didn’t give it the time it deserved, but then last year while he was directing Sparks at the space the brilliant Clive Judd offered his services. We’ve always talked a lot about new writing, and there are very few people whose taste or judgement I respect as much as Clive’s, so he’s assembled a new team of readers (who are all insanely talented and successful artists in their own right) and we’re really kicking things back off. We’re also looking at new and better ways we can facilitate the shows that come to us via that route making it onto the stage here. If you’re looking to get excellent feedback on your work, now is the time to send it in to us.
3. What are you most excited about this year?
Gosh, everything really. It’s hard to pick. I have a very personal relationship with Radioman, in a way, because I saw and loved and actually reviewed it when it had its first try-outs a year ago, so getting that here is a joy. But honestly, I’ve got so many amazing people coming in over the next few months, it’s not possible to pick a favourite. But I will say one thing, keep your eye out for Christmas. There is something extremely special and rare on the cards.
4. Do you believe in the phrase ‘give the public what they want’?
I don’t think so. I mean, does the public know what it wants? I’m a member of the public and I have absolutely no idea. I look to theatre, and fringe theatre in particular, to open me up to new possibilities.
5. Fair enough. Do you find that most of the people you meet in the world of theatre have quite bad taste?
No, I don’t think so. Most of the people I meet in the theatre world think very carefully about it because they love it, and they talk intelligently and passionately, so even if I don’t agree with them, I can usually appreciate how they feel about things. I mean there are some people like Quentin Letts who’re just sort of rivers of shit and broken shopping trolleys, but they’re few and far between. And actually I don’t think Letts is in the theatre world anyway, he’s in the troll-tertainment world, or whatever you call that.
6. How do you balance your role as an Artistic Director and Critic?
It’s a similar sort of job really. You go and see things and decide what you think about them, and engage with them and decide whether to pursue them, whether that means following that company’s work or trying to bring them in to the theatre. It’s all about getting out there, seeing the work, existing within an appreciative community. On a practical level it can be a little tricky just because there are only so many hours in the day (or rather the evening) but I just about get by.
7. What is your favourite song by Annie Lennox?
I like the cover of ‘Put a Little Love In Your Heart’ that she recorded with Al Green for the soundtrack to Scrooged, where Bill Murray is Scrooge and tries to staple antlers onto a mouse.
8. Is there anything else you’d like to discuss or address?
Maybe only to say how wonderfully supportive people have been since I started here. People like Matt Parker from the Hope just up the road, and David Byrne from the New Diorama just down the road, and Will Young and Ben Monks from the Tristan Bates: they’re worth their weight in gold. It can be a bit of a lonely job, this, in a way, so knowing that there are other people out there fighting the same kinds of fights and things like that, well that’s just very comforting. Islington AD’s unite, is what Matt always says, and I just think, well, that’s the spirit, isn’t it?