The ridiculousness of being alive – David Lan on Richard Jones

Richard Jones in rehearsal for The Good Soul of Szechuan with Jane Horrocks and John Marquez

Richard Jones in rehearsal for The Good Soul of Szechuan with Jane Horrocks and John Marquez

I’ve known the director Richard Jones for more than twenty years.  I didn’t see his very early shows such as Too Clever by Half at the Old Vic which are now legendary, and now much imitated – though I have seen so many pictures of it that it has entered my dreams.  I saw the production of Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme that he directed at the National Theatre in the 1980s.  I remember it for many reasons (the grandiosity of the design, the deliberately grotesque performances) but mostly, in retrospect, because it expressed with such clarity Richard’s aversion to what he sees as the worst kind of theatre, described by him in an unforgettable phrase : ‘a classy snooze’.

Richard’s theatre wakes you up – like the most intense moments of your life do.  It’s a kind of crystalline mash-up.  There on stage is the play, fully explored, fully experienced, loved up and delighted.  And yet there’s something else as well – a sort of infectious mania for truth-telling.   Somehow through all the elegant clowning and the intensely disciplined choreography, there’s a voice insisting gently: this really is what it is like to be alive.

His production of The Love for Three Oranges by Prokofiev for the English National Opera at the Coliseum was a masterpiece of supreme courage and confidence by a very young director.  It was wacky, thrilling, funny, overblown, delightful in every way – and you believed that this was exactly as the composer (and as Gozzi, the writer of the play on which it is based) intended.

All of Richard’s work is a celebration of the horror and ridiculousness of being alive.  How can it be that we live in this ludicrous way?  But what fun, at times, and, at times, how bleak and ghastly.   His Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk at the Royal Opera House, like his more recent Tritico on the same stage, was so powerfully imagined, with such obsessive interest in the minute detail of social and psychological exchange, with such extravagantly bold staging ideas that you’re partly (inwardly) shouting ‘Enough! Enough!’ and ‘More! More!’ at the same time.

He has directed a show for me at the Young Vic once every two years: Six Characters Looking for an Author, Hobson’s Choice, Annie Get Your Gun, The Good Soul of Szechuan and Government Inspector.  Each has been the highlight of its season, a magical mystery tour not into a world of fantasy but into a world more comically, tragically and painfully real than real life could ever be.   It has been one of the great pleasures of my professional life to have the opportunity, time after time, to sit down with Richard and ask: ‘Where in the world shall we go next?’

David Lan
Artistic Director
Young Vic

Richard Jones’ production of Ibsen’s Public Enemy opens 4 May at the Young Vic – learn more and book tickets here.

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