What We Have Been / What We May Be
Interview with Artistic Director, Gordon Barr
This is the first of a series of interviews with key Bard in the Botanics staff about their experiences of the Glasgow festival over the past 12 years - hope you enjoy revisiting some of our memories from years gone by and finding out a bit more about us all.
1. When, where and what was your first encounter with Bard in the Botanics?
Gordon: I was chaperoning for Scottish Opera with one of the founding members of Bard in the Botanics who told me that Scott Palmer was creating this festival so my first proper encounter with the company was helping to pour drinks at a fundraiser in the Kibble Palace at Glasgow's Botanic Gardens before the first season, which began a conversation with Scott about directing for the Glasgow theatre company and led to me being Bard’s very first Emerging Artist in 2002.
2. Who would you describe as an unsung hero of Bard in the Botanics?
Gordon: Definitely the Stage Management team and for a very specific reason – the fact that they are the other people involved in the decision to cancel a show in the event of rain, alongside me. And me on a cancellation night is not the easiest person to be around – it’s never a decision we want to make and it’s never an easy decision to make and the Stage Management are incredibly supportive of helping to make that decision with me or, occasionally, even over-ruling me when there are safety concerns. Not an easy task and one they do brilliantly.
3. Which individual performance by an actor has made a particularly lasting impression on you (it might be one that you saw, worked with or was in a production you were involved with)?
Gordon: Oh gosh, I could say any one of about a hundred but I’m deliberately going to choose a performance from a show I didn’t direct, one which made a huge impact on me just seeing it, rather than helping to shape it and it’s Nicole Cooper as Ophelia in 2011’s Hamlet. Nicole is an incredible actor and I could have picked any of her performances – Rosalind or Viola or Helena – but it was the way that she managed to take a role that can be a bit “wet” and turn it into someone who was an equal to Hamlet and who went on her own, very sad journey, paralleling his story rather than being subservient to it. Plus, she made me cry every time I saw her play it – which is not an easy thing to do.
4. Of your own work, what is the most fulfilling production you’ve been a part of?
Gordon: Aggghh! This is so difficult but I think I’m going to back in time a little bit for this one. I nearly answered my most recent production, Much Ado About Nothing, which was so personal to me and so joyous to create and connected so strongly to the audience, despite a central twist that could have put people off. But I’m going back to what I consider the first production of my “second phase” at Bard in the Botanics because for the first few years of running the company and directing shows, I was in a constant state of panic and I think the first time I really felt like I’d taken a show by the throat and taken it to somewhere unexpected was The Merchant of Venice in 2008. I had a brilliant cast who just wanted to dig deeper and deeper into that very complicated and thorny play and who wanted to make the characters real, even if that meant they were unlikeable and to follow me on a journey that took the play quite far away from comedy and into darker, very fulfilling territory. In fact it’s become a template for how I direct shows ever since.
5.Which Bard in the Botanics production or performance did you miss that you wish you’d seen?
Gordon: There are only 2 productions in the history of Bard in the Botanics which I never got to see, both because randomly in our early years I kept ending up on stage, despite not being an actor. One was Measure for Measure in 2003 and the other was Macbeth in 2004. Of those two, the one I definitely wish I’d seen was Macbeth because of the central pairing of David Ireland as Macbeth and Jennifer Dick as Lady Macbeth. It annoys me that I never got to see Jennifer’s Lady Macbeth because she is an incredibly powerful actor (as well as a brilliant director) and I’m sure it was an amazing performance. Also, David Ireland has always been a favourite actor of mine, even though he is now principally a playwright (and a fantastic one too) so I wish I had seen those two playing those particular roles.
6. Which costume (of yours or someone else’s) would you most like to have worn or is simply your favourite?
Gordon: This is another nightmare question for me because I love costume. Everyone who knows me knows that I’m obsessed with costumes, especially trying them on if I’m ever left alone in the wardrobe room – which I’m not allowed to do anymore. And our current costume designer, Carys Hobbs, has come up with so many amazing costumes in her time with Bard in the Botanics but I’m going to go for a real blast from the past here with what might have been the first costume ever made for Bard in the Botanics – Lavinia’s costume in Kabuki-Titus (a Kabuki theatre version of Titus Andronicus). It was a beautiful white kimono with incredible feather details and these red gloves that had hundreds of red ribbons sewn on to them so that when Lavinia loses her hands, the actor, Johanne Scoular, could throw her arms wide and these ribbons would pour out. It was stunning visual image, especially at 11.30 p.m. at night in the Kibble Palace where that show first played.
7. What is your favourite spot in the Botanics Gardens, known or unknown?
Gordon: I’m going to cheat a little bit on the answer to this. I will include a spot in the gardens as my answer but what makes this spot special is the particular time when I’m there. It’s the main path of the Botanic Gardens but especially being on that path at the end of the season, after the very last performance, when all the actors have headed over to Oran Mor for a celebratory pint and even the stage management have finished and left. So I’ll often be the last person to leave the Botanic Gardens and I love to stand on the path, in the pitch black since it’s usually about midnight, and have a quiet moment to reflect on the season and what we’ve achieved – and often the resident fox will pop out to say goodbye. It’s always a special moment.
8. Bard in the Botanics has staged 24 of Shakespeare’s plays. Which of the titles we haven’t yet produced are you most excited about being staged?
Gordon: I’m slightly wary about answering this question because, as Artistic Director, it slightly implies that my choice will happen soon which it may not – there are lots of factors involved in choosing when a play gets staged at Bard in the Botanics. But that said there is one title I’ve been saying I’ll do for about the past 10 years which is Love’s Labours Lost. I think the final scene of that play is one of the most beautiful pieces of writing he ever created – the shock of what happens in that scene always chokes me up. And it’s a perfect outdoor show – it’s set outdoors – the Botanic Gardens are an ideal setting for it. I just need to work out how to afford the ensemble cast of 18 it requires!