Peter Gill, playwright and theatre director
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Introduction by Peter Hall

The British Theatre has little regard for research and development. We often seem to stumble on innovation by chance. Perhaps the British Theatre has always had too little time, too little resources and, above all, insufficient money to do what all other makers and creators would consider the most important part of their work: to research in order to develop new techniques to ensure their creativity in the future.

We live in a society where our Arts Minister, who seems keen to bring the arts into a simple supply and demand economy, says that the first objective of the artist is to 'please the customer'. But the first objective of the artist is to give the public new worlds to discover. Innovation is the stuff of genuine creativity. This is why Harrison Birtwistle and Tony Harrison have been so important to the National Theatre during the last twelve years.

It was seeing a performance of Down By The Greenwood Side that first prompted me to invite Harrison Birtwistle to be Director of Music at the NT. His influence on the musical life of our plays was evident to everybody. Less evident was the enormous contribution he made to the inner life of the National Theatre — to its debates and its policy making. His vision has had a complex and long lasting effect. He also brought another fine originator, Dominic Muldowney, into the building.

Tony Harrison's verse texts of Phaedra Britannica, The Misanthrope, The Oresteia and finally, The Mysteries were landmarks in bringing living poetry back to the theatre.

Bow Down itself was, of course, the innovative piece created by Birtwistle and Harrison in the Cottesloe in 1977 and it was very much on the road to The Oresteia which we did in 1981. Tony Harrison's translation and Harrison Birtwistle's extraordinary rhythmic score made something which was neither play, nor opera, nor music theatre. It was a total piece of drama which transformed our idea of how to represent the Greek classics to a modern society.

Now these two extraordinary questing talents have in this production joined with Peter Gill in the National Theatre Studio. The Studio is the place where the National Theatre researches and develops. It provides an experimental workshop for the National Theatre company. And in particular it encourages new writing and new techniques. Give someone the freedom to make a doodle, and they may end up creating a masterpiece. The Studio's record of work, both private and public, is extraordinary. I believe much more can come out of this collaboration.


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Last modified: 2012-03-15