Peter Gill, playwright and theatre director
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Sin of omission

Unsung Peter Gill seems touched by the Sheffield accolade: 'It will give me great pleasure that they are all going to have to come to Sheffield.'

by Ian Soutar, Sheffield Telegraph, 24 May 2002

The Crucible Theatre's Peter Gill Festival celebrates one of the country's most influential playwrights and directors with the premiere of Original Sin, and four early works performed in repertory in the Crucible Studio.

It's an ambitious event, with 30 actors (and that's just the professionals) performing in Sheffield over the next four weeks, plus talks and workshops.

It has generated considerable interest in London, although there are many in Sheffield asking behind their hands exactly who Peter Gill is.

His name came to the fore this year when his play, The York Realist, which started out at the Lowry at the start of a modest UK tour, ended up as a West End hit, but it is obvious his significance is much wider.

He started as an actor in the Sixties, became a pioneering director at the Royal Court in the Seventies, founder-director of the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, an associate director at the National Theatre in the Eighties and Nineties, and founding director of the Royal National Theatre Studio.

But those facts do not capture how influential he has been on key figures in theatre. Gill is a model of modesty and attempting to discuss the significance of his career with him is futile.

"You'd have to ask other people," he said. So we did.

Michael Grandage, Sheffield Theatres associate director, who conceived the idea of the festival: "In his plays, Peter Gill has inspired many of us over the years with his rich use of language and his strong poetic voice.

"His contribution to theatre in this country is immeasurable. As a director he has inspired an entire generation of actors and theatre practioners to develop their craft."

Alison Chitty, designer of Original Sin, who has been working with Gill for 23 years: "The plays will affect you, and they'll change your life. They're incredibly moving."

Josie Rourke, director of Kick for Touch, worked as assistant director on Luther, directed by Gill at the National Theatre, and The York Realist.

"He's a fantastically well-kept secret as a playwright. His work is both simple and difficult. As a director he's brilliant at working with actors. He's more or less the same age as Trevor Nunn, and he emerged from the Royal Court which was pioneering new plays, and he went on to start the Riverside Studios and the National Theatre Studio, buildings that have led the way."

Claire Price, from the cast of Mean Tears: "My father, who was an actor (John Price), worked with him in the Seventies and thought he was the best director we have ever had. So I grew up being massively aware of him."

Alan Gilchrist, an actor in Mean Tears: "I have worked with him at the National Theatre Workshop. He has this great knack of making you say things. He doesn't tell you, but somehow he is able to lead you straight away to the key to a problem. They are difficult plays to work on, but that's what you're here as an actor to do."

The fact that Peter Gill is not as well known as some of his contemporaries could have something to do with the fact that he's a writer and a director.

"More people do more things, but I think in a way being both a writer and a director was a problem," he concedes. "You hear them say, oh the director has written a play."

He is clearly faintly amused by being "re-discovered" through The York Realist (which happened after the Crucible festival was planned). "When you get older it keeps happening to you. It's about what London journalists are preoccupied with and about what's thought to be fashionable.

"I think they believe people must have died because Michael Billington has not written about them. I have been working through the whole period.

"Then suddenly there is a fuss about The York Realist and I think, 'What have I done wrong that they didn't go to see my plays before, and what have I done that's pleased this lot?' The fact is, I have always been in work."


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