Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Katie Mitchell

To the Cottesloe to see 'Some Trace of Her,' Katie Mitchell's adaptation of Dostoevsky's The Idiot. Katie's work is always bold and very often contentious, but I've been following her developmental approach to directing ever since Nick Hytner gave her a regular berth at the National.

This production furthers her experiment at fusing live and visual media performance with a text, a process she began with an adaptation of Virginia Woolf's - 'The Waves,' two years ago and followed up, less successfully in a larger space, with Martin Crimp's 'Attempts on her Life,' last year.

Our focus for the production is split. On the stage actors dressed in black rush around fixing video cameras, manipulating angle poise lamps, delivering text into microphones and creating simple stage effects, whilst above a screen translates out the chaos below in a seamless film noir version of the story. Extreme close up means that if only a gloved hand is appearing in the film, the actor's costume will just be the glove, so that we gain a brutal understanding of the artifice as well as the art involved in creating the visual narrative of the story.

It's akin to watching a swan glide majestically along whilst also being aware of the turbulence underneath.

For my money Katie's the most cerebral director we've got at working in Britain at the minute and her new book The Director's Craft gives some indication to her precision and investment. Her thesis that Directors are generally under trained in our system is spelt out clearly both through her own Stanislavski inspired methodology and also her refusal to place a parameter on her and her actors pre-rehearsal research. It's not enough to guess the objectives for your character at any given moment - everything about the play must be known - past memories, as well as future desires. The actor mustn't think as an actor in 2008, but as the character in situ in his or her own context and that takes an awful lot of work to even get close.

Most directors, she suggests, fall into directing without understanding the work. They may achieve short term fashionable brilliance, but never spend time refining or questioning their craft in the way actors must. Nobody seems to divides audiences (or fellow directors) as she does and whether you love or are hostile to her work Katie is a positive provocation in our theatre. The bottom line is that more than anybody currently working in the mainstream she has a diligent, scientific approach and respect for her craft.

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