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Brendan Deeds meets Replay's Artistic Director, Richard Croxford

Click to listen LISTEN to Brendan Deeds speak with Richard Croxford on getting started in directing, actors, and the pressure of delivering a top-class performance.
An interview with Richard Croxford is part of the October Podcast.

Richard Croxford is the artistic director of Replay Productions, the theatre group dedicated to providing high quality theatre that entertains and educates children and young adults.

Replay has featured work by such playwrights as Damien Gorman, Marie Jones and Gary Mitchell. His achievements there made Croxford an obvious choice to direct the Lyric's production of Bernard Shaw’s witty satirical comedy Arms and the Man.

The Irish playwright’s work revolutionised a Victorian stage monopolised by melodramas, and injected it with his own theatre of ideas.

His plays are distinguished by memorable characters, absorbing drama and a dazzling wit unmatched by any of his contemporaries, with the possible exception of Oscar Wilde.

The Lyric Theatre is the only theatre on the island to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the playwright’s birth.

Why has the Lyric chosen to produce the play Arms and the Man and not a better known Shaw play such as Pygmalion or Saint Joan?

‘I actually think it’s a better play. I don’t know if Saint Joan has ever been done here but it’s definitely one for somewhere down the line.

‘We were looking for something a bit lighter that a lot of people could relate to. With the way the world is at the moment we felt that it was a very pertinent play to do as there's an underlying anti-war message.

Arms and the Man, though, is also a romantic comedy with a brilliant storyline and brilliant characters.’

There are some wonderful comic creations in this play. What characters can audiences look forward to seeing?

‘We’ve kept it a period piece, but some of the characters people can relate to - such as Raina. She’s a bit like Nikki out of Big Brother.

'She’s spoiled, she behaves like a little child and she occasionally throws these whopping big tantrums. We all started giggling when we were rehearsing because she’s straight out of Big Brother, which is great.

‘Then there’s her mother, who’s a bit like Hyacinth Bucket from Keeping Up Appearances. She’s very entertaining. Then you get the bumbling father who’s a wee bit like Captain Mainwaring out of Dad’s Army. You have these fabulous creations.’

Do you have a favourite character?

‘I love the character of Sergius. He's a complete gentleman and he plays up the idea of being a soldier. He strives for ideals but can’t live up to them. He’s very interesting.'

They say that someone who wants to be an actor can learn their craft from drama classes, but to direct you just have to do it.  How did you learn your skills as a director?

‘When I was at university I acted in many plays and decided I’d like to try my hand at directing. I directed an Edward Albee play.

‘I loved the rehearsal period but when it came to the first night I freaked because you have absolutely no control once they’re up and running.

‘To get my Equity card, after I left drama school, I formed my own theatre company. I wrote and directed work with a friend of mine and that helped me get over the nightmarish part of directing because I was actually acting in it.

‘I’ve been living in NI for years and I’ve done a lot of acting here. People asked me to direct bits and pieces over the years and I did a lot of work for Replay. When the position came up for artistic director I was delighted to get it. I’ve been with Replay for six years now.’

You say that you can’t change a play once it’s on the stage. Do you ever tinker with it over the weeks of a run?

‘Oh yes! I pop in every week and a half to see how things are going. Performances develop and people like to try out new things. It’s wonderful to go back two weeks into a run and see how it’s progressing.

'Sometimes actors can go off completely in the wrong direction and you think, "Oh my God, what have they done?" and you have to pull them back into the right area.’

‘With Replay, we’d have an open dress rehearsal and get a group of school kids in and discuss what was working and what wasn’t. If things are going awry then you have to keep tinkering until it just sits exactly how you want it.’

Do you have themes or concerns as a director that you like to see reflected in the projects you choose?

‘Too many. That's why working with Replay has been fantastic. We’ve covered drugs issues, teenage sex and teenage relationships which was a huge one because there was no one talking about it.'

‘I love plays that entertain but that have an educational element. When I talk about Replay’s work or Arms and the Man and the war issue, it can sound like the plays are boring. But unless a play entertains, it’s not going to hook people in.

'That’s the way you educate people - subtly, so you’re not banging them over the head.’

What is your own personal technique as a director? Do you take advice from the actors or do you tell them what you want and expect them to obey?

‘I wouldn’t be as dictatorial as that. I create an atmosphere where the actors are relaxed enough to try to do anything. To put a new slant on a line or to try a different move changes how a scene plays.

‘Casting is crucial. Actors are very intuitive people. I like to hear their initial thoughts. Sometimes I have very specific ideas that I put out in the audition process so I can see who’s thinking in the same direction.

Is there more pressure to deliver when you’re directing a classic play like this than a play by a less established playwright?

‘Before we started rehearsals I thought ‘Oh my goodness!’ but in doing my research and in rehearsals I forgot about that. You know you’re working with good writing and that helps you hugely in directing the piece.

‘Shaw has many stage directions in there. Some of those we’ve used and some we haven’t. We have such a good cast and the way I’ve directed has given it, I feel, a bit of a modern edge.'