Extracts from Chi and I by acclaimed actor, director and playwright, David Wood : Part 5, My work with Children’s Theatre
In 1978 I was approached by Peter Dews, the newly appointed Artistic Director at Chichester Festival Theatre, with a view to providing a Christmas production.
Peter was a celebrated theatre and television director. As it turned out, thanks to Peter, Chichester Festival Theatre became the venue for the 10th anniversary production of The Owl and the Pussycat Went to See… based on the verses and stories of Edward Lear. This was the show, co-written with Sheila Ruskin, that had convinced me, when I saw a week of performances at the Swan Theatre in Worcester, that children’s theatre was something I wanted to concentrate on. The first production of Owl at Worcester was directed by Mick Hughes, who not only became a famous lighting designer, but supervised the lighting for many Chichester productions. He did a great job on Owl, and the audience reaction from the children was passionate and heart-warming.
A year after its premiere, I persuaded my colleagues John Gould and Bob Scott to let me use our small production company to produce OWL in London. It opened successfully at the Jeannetta Cochrane theatre, was snapped up for publication by Samuel French, and for a few years became a Christmas fixture in London and in repertory theatres up and down the country. Cameron Mackintosh became involved, and together we toured the production a couple of times. Continue reading “Chi and I… Part 5”→
Extracts from Chi and I by acclaimed actor, director and playwright, David Wood : Part 4, A Leading Role, 1980
In 1980, Peter Dews offered me the role of Birdie Bowers in Terra Nova, a play about Captain Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the Antarctic. This truly epic play was remarkable in that it was written for only seven actors. The playwright was a young Canadian called Ted Tally, who later achieved fame for his screenplay of the film Silence of the Lambs.
My agent, John Miller, told me, with a note of surprise in his voice, that I didn’t have to audition for the role of Birdie – it was an offer. I picked up the script from the Festival Theatre Londonoffice above the Queen’s Theatre and read it with increasing excitement. Birdie was an endearing character, arguably the most good-humoured of the five who reached the South Pole after an arduous journey, only to find that Amundsen had beaten them to it. The journey home proved impossible and all died tragically in their tent, apart from Oates, who had walked out with the immortal lines, ‘I may be some time’. Ted Tally had introduced some brilliant theatrical moments. At the beginning of the second act, we all celebrated our successful venture at a special London hotel dinner party which, of course, turned out to be imaginary. The journey itself was intercut with flashback scenes featuring Scott and his wife. Continue reading “Chi and I… Part 4”→
Extracts from Chi and I by acclaimed actor, director and playwright, David Wood : Part 3, Life off stage – 1963
Our dressing room was a small hut behind the theatre, also used as a store for crates of beer bottles, and also the headquarters of the wig department. We had regular enjoyable conversations with Rosemary Harris, who had taken over from Joan Greenwood in Uncle Vanya, which had proved so successful in the first season that Olivier revived it.
Few people realised at this time that Olivier was using, in the nicest possible way, Chichester to prepare for his subsequent directorship of the National Theatre. Apart from the major stars he attracted to Chichester were younger actors who were to become the nucleus of his National company. Derek Jacobi, Robert Lang and Robert Stephens were playing relatively small roles at Chichester, but would become stars of the Old Vic and eventually the brand new complex on the South Bank. To be amongst this rich array of talent, as well as familiar faces from television, was the most exciting experience I could have wished for. Being an extra was a magical opportunity to see these people working, and to feel part of it all. Even our costume fittings felt special, supervised by Ivan Alderman and his chief cutter Stephen Skaptason, who later both ran the National Theatre wardrobe. Continue reading “Chi and I… Part 3”→
Extracts from Chi and I by acclaimed actor, director and playwright, David Wood : Part 2, Life as an extra, 1963
Soon after I had gained a place at Worcester College, Oxford, I was asked to be an extra in the second season – a soldier in Saint Joan and a policeman in The Workhouse Donkey. As a summer job before going to university, this proved to be a fantastic and eye-opening experience.
As extras we were introduced into the productions in the final days of rehearsal. First, we were shown the set of Saint Joan with its two sets of steps descending from the back wall down into the Dauphin’s court scene. We five, plus professional John Rogers, came on three from each side, carrying a tall pike topped with a sharp-looking metal spear. The director, the no-nonsense, sharp-tongued John Dexter gave us the cues and told us where to stand absolutely still for much of the scene. Not long after, we were plunged into the first dress rehearsal. Wearing our breast-plates, helmets and woollen leggings, we made our entrance. Continue reading “Chi and I… Part 2”→
David Wood acclaimed playwright, actor, director has had an extensive relationship with Chichester and the Festival Theatre. Wood has documented this relationship in his memoir Chi and I…, which he has been kind enough to share with us at Pass It On through a series of extracts we will be posting as blogs.