The director: Stephen Unwin
The playwright: Ibsen
The plays: A Doll’s House (touring, 1994); Hedda Gabler (touring and
Donmar, 1996); The Master Builder (touring, 1999); Ghosts (touring,
2002); John Gabriel Borkman (touring, 2003).
What’s the attraction? Ibsen wrote 12 great plays that make one great cycle, and my dream is to do them all. One play so informs another. Nora from A Doll’s House effectively reappears as Mrs Elvsted in Hedda Gabler. I went to Norway when I was directing A Doll’s House and realised at once that the world Ibsen was writing about wasn’t Victorian London, as people often mistakenly assume. It is frontier country.
When I was in my 20s, I hated Ibsen. I thought it was just a lot of bourgeois people being unhappy. I was so wrong. He is the great grown-up writer. Directing Ibsen, you discover yourself and discover that you can’t live a lie. He makes you face up to the truth and whether we are telling the truth to ourselves and to the world.
What Ibsen has done for me: I love the subtlety it demands. It is like an iceberg. There is the realism on the surface and underneath the subconscious is at play. That’s the hard thing as a director – not just to show the tip of the iceberg but also to create the great seething mass underneath, to show the hidden present in everyday actions. You take the lesson into your other work. I am directing Hamlet at the moment. I’ve done it before, but I know I’ll do it better this time because of everything I’ve learned from Ibsen.
The director: Lindsay Posner
The playwright: David Mamet
The plays: American Buffalo (Young Vic, 1997); Sexual Perversity in
Chicago (Comedy, 2003); Oleanna (Garrick, 2004); A Life in the
Theatre (Apollo, 2005). Upcoming: Romance (Almeida, Sept 2005).
What’s the attraction? I felt drawn to his work because I felt I understood its sense of humour. My aesthetic is quite minimal and Mamet never writes more than is necessary; his form is very influenced by musical structure. You never really find out about a play until you start to rehearse it, but I’ve done so much Mamet that I’ve become attuned to his work. The style of Romance, which I am working on now, is different from Buffalo, but there is a link: they both address the unaddressable – the things people don’t want to hear.
What Mamet has done for me: I don’t think I’ve yet made a complete mess of a Mamet play. He is not an intransigent auteur, but a down-to-earth working writer. If you need a bridging scene, he’ll write it. But, more than any other writer, he has made me understand that when you are working on any play, all you need to realise is that which is absolutely essential to the action. Any embellishment is a mistake. Whether it is Mamet, Wesker or Shakespeare, it is about doing the bare bones.