Sir Travor Nunn is one of the most sucessful directors in the world.
Starlight Express Credits
Broadway - 1987 - Director
Apart from Starlight Express, he very successfully directed Cats, as well as the musicals Chess, Sunset Boulevard, The Baker, Aspects Of Love and Les Misérables.
He recieved several Tony awards for his work in musicals.
But he did not only direct musicals. He was the Creative Director of the English Royal Shakespeare Company until 1986.
From 1997 to 2003 he was director of the National Theatre in London. While working for the Theatre, he was responsible for the production of Oklahoma!, South Pacific and My Fair Lady to name just a few.
He also directed the film production of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night with Ben Kingsley.
Sir Trevor Nunn - Wikipedia
Follies And Grandeur - 1984
I have a name for you. Several in fact. I could call you the Punter, or the Man In The Street, or one of the Great British. When Terence Rattigan was the arbiter of taste, I would have called you Aunt Edna. But these days I know you mostly as Joe. Joe Public. It's not really surprising that the professional theatre has always had a familiar name for the audience - if only to encourage the feeling that we know who we are playing to - but it's double think of course. Newspapers constantly inform us of "What the public wants" when in fact they are describing what a handful of powerful magnates want the general public to want. And in the theatre we talk a good deal about what Joe Public wants when half the time we mean what we hope we can get you to accept. But what about the other half? Rave reviews never kept a show running if there was no demand at the box office, and in England at least, a critical drubbing can't prevent a show getting years of packed houses if Joe decides it's what he wants. What does Joe look like these days? Younger than he used to, much less inclined to dress up for the big night out, and from a background more difficult to define than was once the case; it might be America or Japan, or one of the EEC countries; English may not be his first language, and he might have never been to the theatre before. But having been brought up on television, he takes it for granted the highest standards of technical accomplishment in entertainment. Television provides him with a ceaseless flow of social realistic drama, and so when Joe pays the high price of a theatre ticket, he is looking for something completely different. something to stir his imagination.
I don't think a show can be successful if the creators are thinking only of the public appeal they want to make, but in these days of burgeoning production costs, it would be foolish to attempt anything ambitious without a strong sense of why a lot of people might want to make the effort to see it. A great theatre capital like London boasts a comprehensively varied annual programme, but there has always been a place within it for circuses, spectacles, pantomimes, operettas, vaudeville - every age has found its response to the public appetite for shows that are exuberant, light-hearted, eye-popping fun.
When I first heard the music of Starlight Express sung at Andrew Lloyd Webber's private festival at Sydmonton, I found myself thinking that what he and Richard Stilgoe had written was a work in this centuries-old tradition of popular entertainment - undemanding in content, novel in theme, inventive in composition and full of opportunity for spectacle and theatre magic. Starlight Express has about the same level of intellectual difficulty as operas by Handel, masques by Ben Johnson or follies by Ziegfeld.
Andrew doesn't set plays to music. He needs "a musical" to be first and foremost a collection of theatrical ideas that have no particular form or meaning until they are given musical expression. He insists that the musical is a separate genre, and so his collaborators are encouraged to find new methods of presentation, in design, dance, light and sound. We are all concerned, in a phrase, with the pursuit of total theatre, with all the elements coalescing in an experience which is involving, and above all, live - like a sporting event.
The problem I had been handed, then, was how to make people portray railway trains. I don't know exactly what led me to the solution of roller skates (I can introduce you to a lot of people who wish I had been led almost anywhere else). But it wasn't until the story of our show was changed to include the idea of trains and coaches racing, that we had the vital ingredients of competition, speed and danger. From then on I knew Starlight Express would be like no other show before. I should have realised we would encounter problems along the way, which would be suitably unique.
There are certain addresses which I cannot pass these days without a feeling of anxiety. For example there is the Notre Dame Hall, off Leicester Square, where Arlene and I first auditioned for actor / singer / dancer / skaters. We saw a ceaseless procession of people lurching out of control, heading straight for our table or at the pianist, unable to stop until they had become a crumpled heap on the floor. The first time we saw someone skating with style and skill, we hugged each other. Then he opened his mouth. He was tone deaf. Painfully slowly over hundreds of hours, a cast for a workshop experiment of Starlight was chosen and more painfully, more slowly for the next five weeks, Arlene Phillips and I made a rough staging of about half the material. What took us so long?
staging a play allows a fair degree of freedom, but musical staging must be utterly disciplined and accurate; each artist is required to be on precisely the right square inch of stage at precisely the right count in the music. With our artists on roller skates we felt absurdly lucky if someone was in the right half of the stage in the right half of the number.
Although because of the workshop the level of skill had risen unrecognisably, most of the company had spirit-crushing difficulty in skating in a restricted space and with the necessary dexterity. Even the ones who were doing well could be felled without warning by a flailing colleague.
About this time, and more so during the main rehearsal period, I developed a new directorial function - cradling the injured. A foot, a knee, an elbow, a wrist, sometimes a body in shock, sometimes a deeply hurt pride; in the stalls, on the track,in big rooms and small I would provide a sort of spiritual Red Cross, with the unenviable responsibility of having to persuade the fallen to get up and try it again. Never has a theatre company come from so many diverse backgrounds and levels of experience; and never has a company been required to possess such a formidable degree of courage. They always found it, in themselves, and more important, in each other.
Next in the Starlight address book is The Inter Action Centre in Kentish Town, where many of our final auditions took place. Not only did I see some of our amazing cast there for the first time, but also, we discovered - unknown to us when we hired the place - a kids' skating park just behind the building, in the form of an undulating bowl... a bowl which was to become central to John Napier's amazing design.
Pineapple West in Paddington Street was the address of our pre-work period, when Arlene further experimented with a small group of the most agile performers we had engaged. As well as being excited by the results of the new work, we were secretly encouraged by the crowds of faces that would gather, pressed to the glass panelled doors of the studio, first of all curious and then agape at the daring of what was happening inside.
And so on to an address that might well be found to be written on my heart like Calais; the Tropical Palace, Kensal Rise. It was the unlikeliest rehearsal room in the unlikeliest district, and for the coldest space anywhere in the Western Hemisphere, it had the unlikeliest name. But the Tropical Palace became, for all of us, a way of life; it began with a drab journey to this one time cinema - latterly night club; then a morning warm up (aptly named) followed by exhausting skate training on a huge sprung hardboard floor we had specially provided.
Then rehearsals, there and in a warren of rooms which contained residual evidence of previous ownership, like stuffed jungle animals, and hymn books and furniture broken by riot or time... and then lunch in the canteen which featured a daily special which was invariably, though unbelievably, curried goat. Then distressed queueing at the single toilet to which we had been reduced.
The work went on until 9pm most evenings; it was rigorous, draining and elusive. It's harder to sing in skates than with your feet on terra firma, harder to get your feet to remember steps, harder to listen, harder to feel. And yet each time we finally mastered a section, however small, the exhilaration was contagious. It was only the results that made the anguish of getting them worthwhile.
The last address is where we came to rest - here, beside Victoria Station. Wisely we had provided for a long rehearsal time in the theatre, and as it happened, we needed every second of it. We left the rehearsal room an accomplished group, able to run through the show with zest and confidence. That was on a flat floor. We arrived at the theatre, thrilled as we were to be finally inhabiting our environment, we had to start training all over again. The gradients of the set defeated just about everybody to begin with, and the company had to dig in and master a whole new set of skills of balance and tenacity. If the Milk Marketing Board are looking for a new angle for the "lotta bottle" advertisement, they could feature the cast of Starlight Express, who fell on this set until they were black and blue, but who would not give up until they had conquered it.
Which leads me to formulate a Parkinson's law of the theatre. The better we master a skill to the point where there in no longer any evidence of difficulty, the less the public are impressed.
We we have performers dancing complicated choreography, counting bars, listening for beats, singing multiple harmonies, watching a televised conductor without appearing to, using the intricacies of radio microphone technique, wearing bulky, oddly weighted costume and headgear, at high speeds on treacherous ball-bearinged wheels that at the slightest imbalance will bring them crashing to the floor. And what do they do? They make it look easy. Their professionalism dictates that they must disguise difficulty. So clenched teeth, grimaces, looks of pain, frustration, intense concentration and most of all fear, must all be banished. And in that act of disguise they attempt to convert skill into art. I am in awe of these people.
There was a time when to be in a show meant you were either a singer or a dancer. That world is no longer with us. Musicals have demanded for many years that performers are all-rounders, and the demands get more extreme as the years go by. Perhaps next year will see a show on pogo sticks, or trampolines, or under water - of course the pursuit of novelty can become absurd, and it is not to be confused with originality.
But the theatre, particularly the musical theatre, will always be trying to do what hasn't been done before, because of an unshakable belief that it's what Joe Public wants. What do you mean, you think an underwater musical sounds like a great idea........ - Trevor Nunn