WHEN I arrive at the rehearsal room director Conrad Nelson is… well, directing. Not seated behind a table, but on his feet on the makeshift acting area telling two of the actors exactly how, where and why he wants them to move. That’s his method of directing.
He’s an actor and a musician as well, second in command to Northern Broadsides founder and top man Barrie Rutter.
“I like the acting process. I can’t direct any other way. I can’t do it from behind a desk. I find the movement of the piece important.
The geography of a page is important – how does it move, why is it there,” he says.
“When we get to the end of a play in rehearsal I feel we’ve done seven-tenths of it.
We’ll have done it to a particular degree so when we go back there’s a ground rule. We may not have got the detail but know it works that way.”
He directs regularly for the company, his latest project being Oliver Goldsmith’s 1773 comedy She Stoops To Conquer which, at first glance, might seem an unusual choice for a Halifax-based company founded on bringing Northern voices to the stage. But, as Nelson explains, there are sound reasons for choosing this comedy about a wealthy landowner trying to marry off his daughter to the son of a wealthy Londoner, who’s only happy around women from a lower class.
Potentially, there’s a whole swathe of play titles that aren’t right for the company. There are “absolutely fantastic” American dramas he’d love to do – David Mamet is a playwright he mentions – and would do well, but which aren’t right for the Broadsides remit. Classic drama, however, isn’t about class or accents.
There are several reasons for choosing She Stoops and he points out they’ve done another costume comedy School For Scandal with the same designer, Jessica Worrall, so there’s a continuity there.
“It fits a brief and is also a good title for Broadsides, a popular choice. Of late we’ve been doing little-known European classic adaptations. I love them because we start from scratch and find out how it works for an English audience and adapt it for that,” he says.
“So that process is extremely invigorating and exciting, but of course in a repertoire you can’t keep on doing that or the whole of marketing and publicity throw up their hands in despair . When you say you’re doing She Stoops, they go, ‘Oh good’.”
In many ways it’s like working on a new play because the text is fresh to a lot of those involved. He’s aware that a comedy like this can’t be flabby or unenergised, or it just becomes hours of people in big wigs (and they are very big in this show) talking.
“I can’t tell you how it’s going to end up, but I can tell you that if I step back on the first night and say we tried, we worked as hard as we could do and we understood it, then that would leave me satisfied,” says Nelson.
There are a number of newcomers to Broadsides in the cast, a result of Nelson trying to see 15 or 20 new people for auditions each production. “They’re not all Northerners by any means. Some of them are recommendations, some come through word of mouth. “It’s great to see them come into the room because, thankfully, there’s a number of people who want to come and work with the company. I can’t give everybody a job like I’d like to. There is a consistency of invite to work with Broadsides but even if you know them you’ve still got to cast them on the merit of the job. That’s the only fair way to do it.”
The play will be set in Yorkshire although Goldsmith set it in the West Country, complete with mummerset accents. Nelson didn’t want Kate Hardcastle, the girl being married off, to talk in an RP (received pronunciation or standard English) voice because the accent suggests class, certain sensibilities and privilege. Broadsides’ Kate has, as he puts it, one foot in the North and wants to travel to London. The RP voice in a Broadsides production would be the downfall of the character.
“So, I’ve tried to case women who are Northern, but are not ‘ey oop chuck’ and the generation from London, the young bucks if you will, are RP. The servants are from wherever you want. Northern, Scottish, wherever. They’re up for grabs and can play around with various voices,” says Nelson.
As a director, he also has to think of the variety of venues to which Broadsides productions tour. Two of them are in-theround which means redirecting the show for those dates. Broadsides have never made it easy for itself, taking in the 150-seat Richmond Theatre Royal with 17 in the cast, or the wide open space of West Yorkshire Playhouse, in Leeds. “That’s travelling players’ mentality and we’re a bit bullish in that way,” he says.
Tour dates: Harrogate Theatre, Sept 30-Oct 4. Box Office: 0143-502116 or harrogatetheatre.co.uk Scarborough Stephen Joseph Theatre, Oct 21-22 and 24-25. 01723-370541 or sjt.uk.com West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, Oct 28- Nov 1. 0113-2137700 or wyp.org.uk York Theatre Royal, Nov 25-29. 01904-