A Listener's Theatrical Thoughts

26 February 2008

Having a conversation is more interesting by far than being lectured. A nice man in a grey scarf who asks questions and self-confessedly gets things wrong sometimes makes the very best company. The Artistic Director of Propeller Theatre Company, Ed Hall, packed out the Ramsden Room at Catz this Wednesday evening, which comes as a surprise since he tells us he is never sure and is not always right. We might wonder how someone with this sort of haphazard approach can make a good speaker but exploratory is his trademark and what makes his Shakespeare productions so appealing. Hall’s troupe of all-male performers is renowned for its unconventional but phenomenally successful interpretations.

On the freezing February evening Hall is happy to talk with a small room of warmly wrapped-up people and is fired up to let loose stories from his rehearsal room. He talks about mistakes, misfiring and the unexpected bull’s-eyes that enable him to ultimately pitch his production how he feels is right and in a way that makes Propeller such a hit. Notorious for his hairy and barrel-chested Titania in his 2003 version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and for his Henry V which controversially cut Falstaff, played the battle scenes outside, with umbrellas, and the ‘once more unto the breach’ speech from a bath. There are some who find these eccentric adaptations don’t wash but Hall’s Shakespeare is anything but ‘silly’. Hall takes his work extremely seriously. Propeller is perhaps a unique company in offering its actors permanent contracts in return for real commitment- a loose cannon maybe, but not a louche one- a disciplined outfit and well-oiled machine.

Hall may raise eyebrows and laughs but he is insistent it is not deliberately irreverent. He talks about grappling with ‘the beast that comedy is’ and considering laughter as a double-edged audience reaction, potentially ‘a whole other world of pain’, able to undermine points sincerely meant. He is most at ease taking questions. Hall tells us how he had to throw out the bawdy and winking laddishness which defined his early work in favour of subtler and more slippery acting to suit the nuances of Twelfth Night especially. Hall leaves you feeling bombarded, with thoughts and anecdotes, still in motion and discusses a career of just ‘trying things on’ to see what works- a ‘suck it and see’ approach which asks questions and invites probing. This is a man who is all for working out the beast and the bard, in dresses or trousers.