During the course of A-Level Theatre Studies, we study a variety of plays, including: ‘Hedda Gabler’ by Henrik Ibsen, ‘A View from the Bridge’ written by Arthur Miller and ‘Two’ and ‘The Rise and Fall of Little Voice’ by Jim Cartwright. We are required to have contextual, social and cultural knowledge of each playwright and their individual writing style as this influences the way the piece can be designed, directed and performed and provides an insight into the meaning of play.
When tasked to find this information about local Farnworth born playwright Jim Cartwright, this proved difficult as there was limited information available.
After discovering that he had received an honorary doctorate from Bolton University, I decided to contact them to see if they could impart any relevant, contextual insight into his life and plays. I was placed in contact with the university’s head professor of Theatre, David Thacker, a highly esteemed theatre practitioner who has directed more plays by Arthur Miller than any other director in the world, including ‘Death Of A Salesman’,’ A View From The Bridge’, ‘Broken Glass’ and ‘The Crucible’ to name a few. Thacker has also worked closely with Cartwright on several occasions, directing many of his plays.
David Thacker was the Artistic Director of the Duke’s Playhouse, Lancaster from 1980-84, Director of the Young Vic from 1984-93, Director in Residence at the Royal Shakespeare Company from 1994-5 and Artistic Director at Bolton Octagon Theatre from 2008-14, all to high acclaim. Thacker has received awards including the Olivier Award for Best Director and the Olivier Play of the Year Award for ‘Broken Glass’ (Royal National Theatre, 1994), twice Best Director in the Bass Charrington London Fringe Awards for ‘Ghosts’ (1987) and ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’ (1988). In 2016, Thacker directed Arthur Miller's version of Ibsen's ‘An Enemy of the People’ which won two Manchester Theatre Awards for Best Supporting Actor and Best Production.
Thacker kindly agreed to come to school last week to talk with year 12 and 13 Drama and Theatre Studies students about Miller and Cartwright. During his visit, David gave us lots of useful information about the playwrights and outlined the key similarities between their writing styles- as they both write in poetic, witty language, (even during heart-wrenching scenes) rich in embedded metaphors and similes. However, both playwrights still manage to retain a naturalistic sounding dialogue due to the prose structure, which helps the audience establish the realistic style of the plays. Thacker told us that Arthur Miller was one of the first playwrights that features ‘real people’ at the heart of his dramas. Both Miller and Cartwright place heavy emphasis on the everyday, particularly unassuming working- class people and place them at the forefront of their pieces. As Cartwright grew up in Bolton, all of his plays are based in the north, using regional dialogue and colloquialisms that he has noticed that people use in everyday life. This gives his plays the additional sense of realism.
As a director, David expressed his personal beliefs about what makes a play great; the piece must have a beneficial impact on the audience and evoke strong emotions in order for it to be effective, the play must also have a meaning that is relevant to the audience and the wider world. This advice was particularly helpful to me as I am directing for my A-level, not performing so first-hand insight from an award winning director was greatly appreciated. Also, as a component of the Theatre Studies course, we have to devise our own piece of theatre, so constantly considering these questions and ideas will be extremely helpful to us when creating a successful piece of drama.
After a one hour and thirty-minute discussion that went incredibly quickly, we headed to the Roger Kay hall and we had a photograph taken underneath the portrait of Headmistress Miss Lester for David’s wife a famous actress Margot Leicester who was an old girl at Bury Grammar School and a student when the headmistress governed. This was a very enjoyable end to a great day. Before he left, David generously offered to come back and tell us more information about the playwrights and workshop practical theatre techniques with us. This was an incredible opportunity that we were very fortunate to receive and thankful for all the future help Mr Thacker will be able to offer to us.
Written by Molly, Year 12 Drama and Theatre Studies student