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
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:
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
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."
Quoted below are two
letters from members of the audience for 'The Golden Country':
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.
and address on file)
[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)
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.