150 former pupils and staff gathered at the Royal Institute of British Architects on Wednesday for a drinks reception and an exclusive Q&A with Old Stopfordian and award-winning National Theatre director Marianne Elliott (OS 1985).
Deputy Headmaster David Howson led the conversation with Marianne who is renowned for her critically acclaimed productions, including War Horse and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. His thought-provoking questions led into a lively discussion followed by questions from the audience.
Headmaster Andrew Chicken and Sarah Johnson (OS 1994), the president of the Old Stopfordians’ Association, opened the event and welcomed attendees before David Howson took to the stage to introduce Marianne.
Before getting into his list of questions, David reminded Marianne of some of her early reviews when she played Maggie Hobson in Hobson’s Choice in the sixth form.
Her reviewer wrote in the Stopfordian publication of that year that Marianne “communicates great warmth and her big eyes sent out waves of emotion and tenderness.”
Memories of SGS
David asked Marianne about her memories of Stockport Grammar when she joined the school in the sixth form in 1983 as one of the first girls following the school’s move to co-education:
“What I remember about Stockport Grammar very, very fondly is that it was like a kind of opening of the door and a broadening of the mind. I had some amazing teachers.”
Though she did point out that at the time it felt like she was “one of the first girls that year had ever seen!”
The directing process
When the conversation moved to Marianne’s directing, David brought her onto the subject of her process and how this begins with the text:
Marianne admitted that first she sits “with the text for hours and hours and weeks and months” trying to get to know characters and staging the play in her head.
She then goes on to the design and casting which are both very prolonged and thought out progressions.
Though, she did admit that “all of this can go out of the window in the rehearsal process.”
Despite that fact, she confessed: “I love the rehearsal process, I’m the happiest I ever am in the rehearsal room. I love it.”, citing that it was “the buzz” that she loved.
When asked by David where that buzz came from she replied poetically, “because when everybody’s together and it’s all working it’s like the most beautiful piece of jazz music and everybody’s jamming.”
Keeping a balance
Marianne also spoke about the difficulties of balancing work on a production with family life.
She talked about how it was important to her to do something challenging, saying “it’s so emotionally expensive to do a show…so why do another run-of-the-mill production?”
She also said of David asking if she would like to run the National Theatre that “I don’t want it to take over my life entirely. I think you have to be married to the building to do it and I’ve got a child and I really want to spend time with her and with my husband.”
Below are some more great quotes from Marianne that we couldn’t quite fit in our article!
I do feel like I want to keep pushing myself. I want to be excited.
I was never a very articulate child. I have always had very strong feelings and emotions and I think the shows are an articulation or some form where I don’t speak but the shows do.
I think if you’re going to do a play like Much Ado About Nothing […] then you have to show why. Why is it relevant now and what is your take on it and what’s exciting to you about it, otherwise it’s just any old production.
I like to have female stories on stage, which is quite rare when you think about it. Not many female stories hit our stages.
I was really keen with Curious Incident that we showed that he can feel emotion. He does feel emotion, he just doesn’t know how to channel it or to recognise it or to express it appropriately.
The whole process is so brilliant but also painful, because it means so much and it’s so important in a ridiculous way.
After it’s over and after the press night, it’s a little bit like childbirth.
The evening continued the new tradition of London receptions which commenced with the 525th anniversary celebration at Goldsmiths’ Hall and we hope that it will lead the way for further Old Stops events in the capital.
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