Continuing from last week’s best female auteur theatre directors post, here is the second half of the list: Phyllida Lloyd, Deborah Warner, Katie Mitchell, Marianne Elliot and Emma Rice.
6. Phyllida Lloyd
Lloyd (CBE) is an English director of theatre, opera and film, best known for her films Mamma Mia! (2008) and The Iron Lady (2011), and more recently, for her all-female Shakespeare trilogy of Julius Caesar, Henry IV and The Tempest. Born and raised in Bristol, Lloyd became interested in theatre at a young age and went on to study English and Drama at the University of Birmingham. After graduation, she worked for five years in BBC Television Drama before being an awarded an Arts Council grant to train as a director. In the next few years, she worked as a director at the Cheltenham Everyman Theatre, the Bristol Old Vic, Manchester Royal Exchange, the RSC, Royal Court, Donmar Warehouse and the National Theatre. She then was noticed by Nicholas Paine who at the time was head of Opera North, and he invited her to direct L’Etoile by Chabrier.
Lloyd very successfully transitioned into the opera world, and would go on to direct at Opera North, English National Opera, Welsh National Opera, Bastille Opera, ENO and the Royal Opera House Convent Garden. In 1998, Lloyd was given the opportunity to direct the ABBA musical Mamma Mia! which became a smash-hit worldwide. She then went on to direct the film version in 2008, which became the largest -grossing British film of all time. In 2011, Lloyd directed the biopic of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, with Meryl Streep in the title role.
In recent years she has directed the groundbreaking all-female Shakespeare trilogy of Julius Caesar, Henry IV and The Tempest. All three productions had runs at both the Donmar Warehouse in London and at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn. Lloyd, whose creative collaborators tend to be women, is widely recognized as a “political artist” whose works center on the female experience.
7. Deborah Warner
Also a British director of theatre and opera, Warner (CBE) is famous for radical and highly controversial interpretations of Shakespeare, Ibsen, Brecht and Beckett. Born and raised in Oxfordshire, she grew up watching her father, who ran a local antiques shop, plying his wares in a highly theatrical way, where each item became the subject of a fascinating story. Warner’s first impulse was to train as a stage manager, which she did at London’s Central School of Speech and Drama. Upon graduation, at the tender age of 21, she founded The KICK Theatre Company, which brought a Shakespeare production to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival every year.
Her big break came seven years later in 1987, when she was invited to direct Titus Andronicus at the Royal Shakespeare Company. It was Brian Cox in the title role, who suggested her based on her work with KICK. The success of this production then paved the way for an invitation from the RSC to direct Electra, a production that proved particularly fortuitous in that she met her longtime-collaborator actress Fiona Shaw. The two have worked together on countless productions together since Electra, includingThe Good Person of Szechuan, Richard II, PowerBook, Happy Days and Mother Courage and Her Children (The National Theatre); Hedda Gabler (The Abbey Theatre); Julius Caesar (Barbican Centre and European tour); T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (Wilton’s Music Hall and world tour) and the highly controversial staging of Samuel Beckett’s Footfalls (The Garrick).
Warner’s longtime battle with the Samuel Beckett Estate has been a subject of great controversy among the theatre community. When she first staged Beckett’s Footfalls in 1994, the estate was so infuriated by her apparent disregard of the playwright’s infamous stage directions that they forced the closing of the production in the middle of its run. The estate vowed to refuse all further applications from Warner to stage Beckett’s work, which they stuck to for over ten years until, to use Warner’s phrase they “finally lifted the fatwa” and granted permission for her to stage Happy Days in 2007 at the National Theatre starring Fiona Shaw, of course.
In addition to theatre, Warner has had a major career as an opera director, working with such companies as English National Opera, Glyndebourne, Opera North, Les Arts Florissants, La Scala and the Metropolitan Opera. She has won two Laurence Olivier Awards for Best Director for Titus Andronicus (1988) and Hedda Gabler (1992), and in 1992 was awarded the Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France.
Cover photo displays Fiona Shaw in HEDDA GEBLER by Henrik Ibsen, directed by Deborah Warner, in the Abbey Stage, 1991. Photograph by Fergus Bourke.
8. Katie Mitchell
Katie Mitchell (OBE), born in 1964, is an English director of theatre and opera. Mitchell’s highly unique visual style, her penchant for irreverence of classical texts and her uncompromising radical feminist worldview have sparked fierce debates among both audiences and critics. Born in Berkshire, Mitchell studied English Literature at Magdalen College, Oxford. After graduation, she sent a hand-written letter to British theatre god Peter Brook, got a response, and was invited to meet him in Paris, where he was working as (and still is) the artistic director of Bouffes du Nord.
While her hopes of becoming Brook’s assistant were not realized, she did manage to catch Pina Bausch’s famous dance-theatre piece Nelken (Carnations) at the Chatelet Theatre–an event which changed her life, not only because of the staggering ingenuity of the work itself, but because of the fact that it was created by a woman. Back in England, Mitchell officially embarked on her career in theatre in 1986 when she was hired to work as a production assistant at the King’s Head Theatre. She then spent time assistant directing at Paines Plough and the RSC, and in 1989, she traveled through Poland, Georgia, Lithuania and Russia to learn from artists of the recently dissolved Soviet Union. She landed in St. Petersburg where she observed Lev Dodin training young directors at the Maly Drama Theatre, where he has served as artistic director since 1982. Her travels through Eastern Europe greatly influenced her directing style, and furthermore exposed her to the acting techniques of Constantin Stanislavski, which she would use to great effect in her work with actors.
In 1990 after having returned to London, Mitchell founded her own company, Classics on a Shoestring which premiered inventive mashups of classics such as Women of Troy and The House of Bernarda Alba. In the following decades, she worked as a director at the Royal Court Theatre, The Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre, and as an opera director at The Royal Opera House and English National Opera. In England, an extremely theatre-literate population, Mitchell arouses intense criticism for what is often seen as a blatant disregard for classical texts. (Mitchell once even admitted to having an “aversion” to Shakespeare). A case in point is her 2006 production of The Seagull at the National Theatre which seemed to many to be unrecognizable as Chekhov’s play. That same year, Mitchell further ruffled feathers in her stage version of Virginia Woolf’s Waves which employed the use of live-feed video projections on stage. In recent years, Mitchell has worked primarily in Europe, prompting The Guardian’s chief culture writer Charlotte Higgins to dub her “British Theatre’s queen in exile.”
There is no doubt that countries like Germany and France who have a long tradition of the avant-garde in theatre would be more accepting of Mitchell’s vision, and she seems to have been flourishing there, and has found a home for pursuing her most ambitious works yet. In 2009, Mitchell was awarded the OBE for services to drama.
9. Marianne Elliott
Elliott is an English theatre director who is known for directing the West End and Broadway productions of War Horse (2011) and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime (2014). Born in 1966, Elliott, who was raised in Manchester, is the daughter of Michael Elliott, a theatre director and co-founder of Manchester Royal Exchange. She studied drama at the University of Hall, an upon graduation, worked a number of jobs including casting director and drama secretary at Granada Television. In 1995, she began working at the Royal Exchange and was appointed its artistic director in 1998. In 2002 she left the company and became associate artistic director at the Royal Court and in 2006 joined the National Theatre.
In her ten-year career as an associate director the the National Theatre, Elliott directed such productions as War Horse (Also West End and Broadway) which won the Tony Award for best direction, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime (also West End and Broadway) which won the Olivier Award for Best Director, The Light Princess, Port, Season’s Greetings, Women Beware Women, All’s Well That Ends Well, Mrs. Affleck, Harper Regan, Saint Joan, Therese Raquin and Pillars of the Community which won the Evening Standard’s Best Director Award. In November 2016, it was announced that Elliott would be leaving the National Theatre and teaming up with producer Chris Harper to form her own theatre company, Elliot Harper Productions.
10. Emma Rice
Born in 1967, Emma Rice is an English actor and director of theatre who is the currently the artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe. Rice, who grew up in Nottingham, initially trained as an actor at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Upon graduation, after a period of the initial struggle that most actors face, she became involved with the Exeter-based Alibi Theatre whose repertoire centered on children’s and community theatre. While at Alibi Theatre, Rice trained at Gardzienice, Poland’s center for theatre practices. After returning to the UK, Rice worked as an actor and choreographer with Katie Mitchell’s company Classics on a Shoestring in such productions as The Arden of Faversham, Women of Troy, The House of Bernarda Alba. In 1994, Rice began performing at the Knee-high Theatre in Cornwall, a secluded bohemian theatre haven, reminiscent of her time spent in Poland, where the company members behaved like a family.
After a few years not only acting, but leading rehearsals and devising pieces, she was invited to try directing by Kneehigh’s then artistic directors Bill Mitchell and Mike Shepherd. Her big breakthrough came with the Red Shoes (2003), based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, which became a smashing success, went on tour, and ran for ten years. After The Red Shoes, Rice became a Joint Artistic Director at Kneehigh and her manifold boldy imaginative productions include 946–The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips, The Wooden Frock, The Bacchae, Tristan & Yseult, Cymbeline, A Matter of Life and Death, apunzel, Brief Encounter, Don John, Midnight’s Pukin, The Wild Bride, Wah! Was! Girls and Steptoe and Son, many of which toured throughout the UK and across the world.
Rice’s next big break came in April 2016 when she took over as the first female artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe, with a mission to get a 50/50 gender balance on stage. However just 6 months after her tenure, it was announced that she would be stepping down in 2018. The decision, taken by the Globe’s board, was ostensibly connected to her use of electric lighting and sound in a theatre that was built specifically as a reconstruction of Shakespeare’s original Globe theatre of 1599. Rice’s use of technology aside, it is more likely that it was her radical interpretation of Shakespeare’s classics–featuring modern dress as opposed to period costumes, electric guitars as opposed to Renaissance lutes, and Cockney rhyming slang as opposed to the Queen’s English–was at the root of her dismissal.
Rice’s imaginative storytelling however, proved to be extremely popular with the London public, especially the younger generations. Her uproarious production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was a sold-out success, so it’s no question that Rice will land on her feet after her tenure at The Globe ends in 2018.