It’s sometimes a mystery how a director gets the reputation they do, but sometimes a throwaway remark says it all, and my thanks are due to the West End Whingers for spotting this treasurable remark, made by Maggie Smith to Kathleen Turner, when asked about what sort of director Anthony Page is: “Oh darling, he’s wonderful”, Maggie replied. “He does everything I tell him.” (Turner was being interviewed about being a director for the first time herself this month, staging Crimes of the Heart this month at Williamstown Theatre Festival).
Being able to handle stars, of course, is a not-to-be-underestimated talent, but some directors have a vanity that exceeds that of the stars they are working with. One of my favourite theatre stories concerns a director (who, interestingly, now works very little) who took home a friend of mine from a bar, and on the way there said to him, “Do you know that you’re going to f**k a director of genius?” When I passed this story on to Stephen Daldry, however, I told him that at least he might have a legitimate claim to being able to use the line if chose to.
I once interviewed another director of sometimes-genius, David Leveaux, and asked him if it’s true, as I heard said, that 90% of the job of directing is in the casting, and he replied, “Yes – but then there’s the other 90%”.
We live, of course, in an age of directors’ theatre – it is directors who programme and administer most of our theatres, as opposed to writers or producers – but it may well be that 90% of the reason why a show works or not may not, in fact, be down to them at all. I remember seeing a play in New York that was directed by someone whose work had never been particularly good – until now. I turned to my companion to express astonishment that it was being directed by this person. And as he trenchantly replied, “Even a blind squirrel finds the occasional nut.”