The quiet man of British theatre
You're always influenced by things you like yourself... I love Lawrence's work
As the Crucible plays host to a Peter Gill Festival, the playwright and director explains what inspires him to Kate Joyner, Metro Yorkshire, 21 May 2002
Despite penning 20 plays and adaptations, wowing the Royal Court, the RSC and the National Theatre, Peter Gill remains an enigma.
Thespians whisper his name in awe, praise comes in spades from critics and directors alike, and yet his work has been branded one of theatre's best kept secrets.
Until now. Starting on Thursday, Sheffield's Crucible is hosting a month-long festival in honour of the man and his work. The brainchild of Sheffield Theatres' associate director, Michael Grandage, the festival includes the staging of five of Gill's plays, including the premiere of Original Sin, which the playwright also directs, as well as a series of post-show talks and workshops.
Now in his early 60s, Gill's fame may seem to have come a little late. But it's not a problem for the softly spoken son of a Welsh docker. 'I haven't thought about it,' he says, with trademark modesty. 'I suppose it's because I became known as a director and I didn't write in the early days. I didn't churn out the annual play.' The end of that phrase '... like some people ...' is left unsaid.
With a career that includes a 17-year stint as associate director at the National Theatre and being the founding director of the Royal National Theatre Studio (1984-90), it was Gill who championed the staging of DH Lawrence at The Royal Court in the 1960s. His own writing encompasses the same complex, interwoven family relationships and working-class emotions: Kick For Touch and Small Change (both being staged in Sheffield) are set in the Cardiff that Gill grew up in.
'You're always influenced by things you like yourself,' he muses, pondering the links between his writing and that of Lawrence. 'I do love his work.' A big fan of the celebrated American choreographer Merce Cunningham, Gill acknowledges that there may be elements of Cunningham's style somewhere in his thoughts, but is quick to draw the line between 'influences and copying'.
Gill's original introduction to the world of theatre was part of the general escapism from post-war Cardiff. 'My father liked Variety, my mother liked to listen to the plays on the radio,' he recalls. 'I remember, at school, if you put the seats out in the school hall for the amateur dramatic group, you could watch the performance. I saw Tartuffe at the age of 11, and the table scene [when Elmire hides her husband under the table while she fools Tartuffe that she is enamoured by him] just made me laugh so much."
It's such simple emotion that drives most of Gill's own writing. Small Change focuses on the relationship between two mothers and their sons; Kick For Touch is about the love triangle between two brothers and a wife and Original Sin, written two years ago, is a departure from the contemporary plays, set in London in the 1890s.
I wanted to write about a different period and I was interested in using the story of two plays by Wedekind — Earth Spirit and Pandora's Box,' explains Gill. The result is the tale of an 18-year-old boy, Angel, who falls in love with older men and appeals to manipulate them, but is also perhaps a victim of his own beauty.
Following Gill's smash-hit The York Realist (premiered at The Royal Court in January), which tells of a Yorkshire farm labourer who falls in love with an assistant director when acting in the amateur production of The Mysteries at York Minster, Gill again takes on the topic of gay relationships, with a gentle yet striking prose.
This is not a writer trying to create a soapbox stance, however. His subject is the whole human condition, rather than any particular facet of it. Perhaps that explains the devotion of an ever-increasing army of admirers.
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