Ahead of his return to the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds this September we spoke to Colin Blumenau, former Artistic Director about his return to the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds with his new play.
How would you describe Lady Anna All At Sea in five words?
Witty, stylish, provocative, smart and articulate
What is the play about?
Anthony Trollope, a prolific novelist of 19th C, is travelling with his wife to Australia on the SS Great Britain. En route he writes his novel LADY ANNA that tells of a mother’s struggle for her daughter to be recognised as a member of the aristocracy. Much against the young woman’s will she is to be forbidden to continue her relationship with the working class man she loves. The play highlights those issues of class distinction and prejudice that dominated the era.
Do you think Lady Anna was a feminist novel?
Not in the way we think of feminism nowadays but it certainly points out the inherent inequality of women in the late 19th Century man’s world. It is not a radical novel to our way of thinking but it upset the Victorian reading public because it dared to suggest that the world was changing and that that change might well be for the better. Trollope had a sense of fairness and understood that society was structured in such a way that it militated against women having equal status. He left the campaigning to others but was certainly not shy of pointing out that the world was not a woman’s world.
What do you think of when you think of Trollope?
Firstly his beard, which was enormous. Then the extent of his lexicon. In common with so many of the great literary figures of the 19th and other centuries his grasp of language and his use of it is extensive and enjoyably invigorating. There is also a lovely sardonic edge to him that I enjoy thoroughly. He is not a cruel satirist but he loves to poke fun and is not above holding a few excesses up to public ridicule.
Is it a political play?
Yes. Small ‘p’ politics is prevalent. People, position, power, poverty, posturing – any ‘p’ you care to mention. The politics is definitely there if you want it. Victorian England was riddled with inequality and injustice. Trollope perceived it and highlighted it. Craig Baxter has taken the basis of the social critique offered by the novel’s author and highlighted it by referencing more directly the society in which Trollope lived and worked.There is a lot of debate surrounding Anthony Trollope and his perceived ‘radicalism’, do you think he was a radical? Not in the sense that he was a flag-waving advocate for revolutionary reform, but in his own quiet way he worked from inside the Establishment. He gently offered criticism or proffered alternatives to the status quo. If that’s radical then he was. He certainly didn’t believe that change was anathema.
Are you excited to bring Lady Anna All At Sea to the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds?
Of course. The Theatre Royal was my artistic home. It is the inspirational source of so much of what I have achieved in my career, my joy and the place where I spent 16 very happy and productive years as Artistic Director. I am so proud of what we all achieved together during my time there – a vibrant and diverse programme of work, the building’s restoration, the training of an early-career workforce and the rediscovery of a repertoire. I still believe the Theatre Royal to be one of the most important theatre buildings in the country. Lady Anna will sit perfectly on the stage as well as reuniting the building with some of the actors who have been familiar faces over the years. Jonathan Keeble [Shylock in Merchant of Venice, Guildenstern in R+G Are Dead, Holmes in Sherlock Holmes and the Athenaeum Ghoul and Sir Henry Irving in Stagefright], Maggie O’Brien [He’s Much to Blame], Julie Teal [Mansfield Park] are all familiar faces to those with memories of those productions.
Tell us about your work with The Production Exchange.
With Emily Slack [a trainee from my time at the Theatre Royal] we have developed this new organisation that places early career practitioners at the centre of everything we do. We produce work, we develop work, we represent actors, directors, writers. Our whole raison d’etre is to provide opportunity and support for those people at those critical early stages of their careers. Our cv to date, other than Lady Anna, includes some 30 projects as widely diverse as Pantomime at the Key Theatre in Peterborough to the development of a new musical called The Lighthouse based on an 18th Century story of slavery and racial prejudice.
Where else is the production touring to?
Bath, Cambridge, Windsor, Winchester, Greenwich, Salisbury and Malvern.
Why should audiences flock to see Lady Anna All At Sea?
Because it’s funny, provocative, enjoyable. Because it is award nominated. Because it’s directed by someone who loves the theatre in Bury. Because it’s got great acting, a beautiful design by Libby Watson [who designed many shows in Bury including that wonderful tent-panto Aladdin in 2006] and because it’s lit by Prema Mehta who worked very early in her career at Bury on The Massacre. But first a foremost because it is a mightily enjoyable couple of hours in the theatre, even though I say it myself.
Benjamin Willmott, Press and Communications Officer