As the artistic director of innovative theatre company Wilderness of Tigers, Alasdair Hunter is intent on bringing classical plays to a new audience. I talked to him about his approach to theatre, the universal appeal of Shakespeare and his upcoming production of The Brothers Karamazov at the Tron Theatre.
Can you explain a bit about what Wilderness of Tigers is and the sort of theatre it creates?
Our aim is to do exciting and adventurous things with classical works and bring them up to the 21st century. One good example of what we do is our ‘ambushes’ – we advertise them on social media and ask people to turn up to random locations to see a random play. So we did Romeo and Juliet in Govanhill Baths, and Macbeth in the cloisters. We try to break down barriers and stage theatre in big spaces that aren’t traditional theatre spaces.
What do you think a theatre company like yours brings to Scottish theatre?
There’s not a lot of work for actors in Scotland and there’s not much opportunity to continue training in the same way as there is for musicians and dancers. So we want to create spaces for actors to continue their training –to work on their craft outside an audition or rehearsal room, and hopefully book more jobs. We do this thing called ‘Shakespeare Forum’ – actors work on monologues, and get feedback from other actors. We started that in August and it’s going really well; it’s great to create a community of actors.
Why do you think it’s important to bring the ‘great playwrights’ to a modern audience?
I think there’s a reason those stories have survived so long. They tap into archetypes that recur through time and it’s interesting that certain plays have a resonance at certain times.. It’s interesting to look at how much humanity hasn’t really changed – I think that everyone has experienced love, and jealousy, and rage, and the plays speak to those key themes.
You’re also directing an adaptation of Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov. How’s that been going?
It’s going well. It’s tricky to keep the essential components of the novel and compress it into a two and a half hour product – it’s a 900 page novel after all! We only started staging it on Monday and it’s been great to delve into a really old narrative in detail. Another thing we’ve discovered in the past week is how strong the female characters are, and how horrendous the men are – we only realised this week that one character is just like Donald Trump.
Is there a particular style of theatre that you like working on – anything that brings more challenges or benefits?
I really like making work that isn’t in traditional theatre spaces, that have a character you can draw on. In these spaces you can look the audience in the eye, and it feels like the audience have to be there to experience it – with big flashy musicals, the shows happen like clockwork and don’t change at all from night to night. I also feel like I learn more when it’s important that the story is told.
You worked at the Globe for a while. What was that like?
It’s a really exciting place. The space feels quite magical because it’s so unique. The Globe is a world centre for Shakespeare experts – it’s a really rich place to work, being surrounded by inspiring people who are at the top of their game in movement, voice, and textual studies. It’s also cheap, which makes it really accessible – if I had it my way, going to a theatre would be as simple as getting out your library card to borrow a book.
Any advice for anyone hoping to be a director, or work in theatre more generally? How did you first get into directing?
I actually first got into directing through STAG (Student Theatre At Glasgow). So go to the theatre societies or even make your own company! Use your spare time to pursue what you want to do. Feel free to send emails to people who are doing your ideal jobs and see if they need any help. In my third year, I worked at the Tron’s box office. I went to their assistant director and I told him I really wanted to be a director. He opened his diary and said ‘pick a play’. It’s important to ask, and just be bold.
Was there any particular play or performance that inspired you to get into directing?
An important one was Liz Lochhead’s version of Medea, which was staged by Theatre Babel in 2001 – they were a classical theatre company in Scotland. For me, it was really exciting to see classical work which was very, very Scottish and very stylish and slick. But I would love to direct another Chekhov play as well – I directed Three Sisters a couple of years ago and I’d really like to do the Cherry Orchard.
You were QMU president from 2008-09. What were your experiences of the QM?
I met all of my best friends here. It was a home for five years of my life. I spent every waking hour in this building. I got incredibly fat on beer and Food Factory food but I wouldn’t change it for the world. It’s a special place, and it’s a real cultural and social hub, and I just hope that the university continues to recognise that. Increase the block grant!
Anything else you’d like to say?
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Feature Image: Jamie McHale