On his return to Wimbledon School of Art following the building of the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, Richard Negri began a series of projects working with students as a director/tutor. This was the first time in his teaching career that he had attempted to work in this way and proved to be particulalrly fruitful and memorable for the students at the time.

The work as a director/tutor began with an interesting experiment called 'Clocks' with second year design students in 1974. The project centred around a series of improvisations in a virtually empty space apart from a few chairs and a clock. There were several clocks, each painted a different colour, and each with their own pre-recorded 'tick'. There was also an ambient light added, the same colour as the clock. There were thus a series of atmospheres created, quite archetypal in feel, and a spectrum of dynamics precipitated onstage between the different human presences of the students. For example the 'green' clock/time/mood was very relaxed and Chekovian in 'feel' as opposed to the white clock with its rather insistent and staccato 'tick' which generated a rather tense and aggressive situation between the participants. Different students performed in a range of combinations as suited their individual personas. It resulted in a curious, but satisfying, final performance without words.

Some students, like Alan (Reggie) Perrin went on to become professional actors encouraged by Richard's guidance and support. This is what Reggie emailed to David Burrows about that experience when rehearsing either for 'A Picnic On The Battlefield' by Fernando Arrabal or for scenes from 'The Cocktail Party' by TS Eliot.


In 1974 Michael Elliott and Richard Negri co-produced the opera 'The Story of Vasco' for English Opera at the London Coliseum. This was their first, and only, opera production. Richard Pilbrow joined the creative team once more as lighting designer.

Negri also went on to direct professionally at the Royal Exchange Theatre itself: firstly working with co-director James Maxwell on Thornton Wilder's 'The Skin Of Our Teeth' in 1977 (with Marsha Hunt as Sabina), then 'A Golden Country' by Shusako Endo also in 1977, Ionesco's 'The Chairs' in 1980 and Pinter's 'The Caretaker' with Charlie Drake in 1983.

There was possibly a feeling that Richard shouldn't have attempted directing and that his poetic, metaphorical means of expression was just baffling to many actors, thus making him more of a liability than an asset to a production. However, in spite of any reservations about Negri's ability as a director, it would seem that the loyalty and sense of obligation to him stemming from those relationships formed in the 50s led to him enjoying several opportunities to direct shows. George Hall articulating the view of Negri's unsuitability as a director and the clip from the interview that touches on this follows:

647 kb, 1 minute 17 seconds - George Hall comments on Negri's personal 'language' which he thought only served to confuse actors. However, he then suggests that Negri was a "genius" as a teacher.

However, it is of course unwise to accept one single view that Negri was 'not' a director. Those productions that he directed enjoyed some critical success and for many of the audiences were memorable and affecting theatrical experiences. Following the first night of 'The Skin of our Teeth' in January 1977, Marsha Hunt, who played Sabina, sent Negri a note (see below) which said: "Dear Richard, You talk in images which are sometimes difficult to understand, but in "translation" you are always brilliant and always right. Thank you for helping me find Sabina in myself. You're a very special person and it has been a joy working with you. Love, Marsha."

Marsha Hunt's first night card for 'Skin of our Teeth'

Quoted below are two letters from members of the audience for 'The Golden Country':

 

Dear Mr Negri,

After a second visit to see 'The Golden Country' may I offer you and the company our gratitude and congratulations on an enthralling production. On both occasions my husband and myself have been deeply moved by the sensitivity of the acting and production.

The play itself has provoked a great deal of thought and discussion as well as delight as a drama. We presume, regretfully, that it is not possible to obtain the script for reading - there is so much to absorb, that hearing and watching cannot entirely satisfy us.

'The Golden Country' has proved to us the value of being season ticket holders for the Royal Exchange as we know several people who have not seen it on the grounds that it was something unknown - and therefore suspect of course. We have done our best to convince them of its excellence as we might ourselves have been equally suspicious. There is a great thrill, however, from seeing a 'different' play, especially this one.

Once again, our congratulations to everyone concerned, and may the Royal Exchange Theatre Company continue to satisfy at least some of your customers.

Yours sincerely,

(Name and address on file)
________________________________________________

Dear Richard,

[name witheld for ethical reasons] and I came yesterday to see the 4.30 performance of The Golden Country, and were overwhelmed: by the play (which both of us had read) and by the performance. Your production seemed to us to be totally true to the play, and immensely powerful in its economy and precision; and every member of the cast gave this feeling of truth to his or her part and to the ensemble. It is impossible to thank you and them adequately.

I hope the audiences will build; they should, when word gets round and if the timid ones are encouraged by being made aware of the good notices in the London press.

With deep admiration and all good wishes,

(Name and address on file)

 


1.2 mb, 2 minutes 28 seconds - George Hall describes what it was like to work with Negri and gives the opening night of Maria Marten for the Piccolo Theatre Company as an example of the good company atmosphere that existed.


 
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