Lyn Gardner Interview with Julian Bird (UK Theatre Awards 2017)


So Lyn, welcome! The UK Theatre Awards and Outstanding Contribution to British Theatre You’re the first, I think, you’re the first journalist, critic ever to receive the award. Well I suppose in some ways that’s not perhaps that surprising I think it’s kind
of thinking outside of the box the fact that you have given it to me and of
course I just feel so enormously humbled that the industry are so
appreciative. Well I mean many congratulations and how did you get
started as a journalist in the arts? I think I’d probably be quite typical in terms of the fact of somebody who became an arts journalism
particularly somebody who became a theatre critic. I certainly didn’t shoot
out of my mother’s womb with a small notepad thinking I must be a theatre
critic. My journey was a different one as a child I thought that I might act. I
didn’t get into drama school my parents said “oh go to university”. I went to
university and I directed a lot but I didn’t really know how you then set out
to be a theatre director but I did know how you set out to do journalism to some
extent so in a way I fell into it a bit by accident. I joined the magazine city
city limits where I eventually became Theatre Editor and then I freelanced for
a while before I joined The Guardian in 1995. I guess one of the things
people would talk about with you is you’re not just a critic you’re someone
who is sort of fascinated by, I guess, the mechanics of how theatre is made and
actually not just in the capital not just in London the whole breadth of the
country. So where does that kind of great interest, that’s beyond criticizing or
commenting, on what’s on the stage but looking at beyond that where does that
great interest come from? I think it just comes from the fact that.
I’m always interested in how things work in kind of nuts and bolts of things and
I think that quite early on in my career and certainly when I went to The
Guardian and I started getting the opportunity to
travel quite widely, it seemed to me that actually that there was a lot of really
interesting work that was going on out of London
that was often overlooked and I also think that you know what I do, I think
I’ve been in a hugely privileged position because actually I’ve been
handed the opportunity to sort of think out loud really about theatre and the
other thing that’s just been great partly I think because I do travel is
them often when you travel people are very pleased to see you. You often have a
cup of tea with them and actually of course over a period of 20 years or so I’ve gained a lot of expertise and knowledge and and people
didn’t have been quite willing and very generous in the time. I guess given
these are the UK Theatre Awards as opposed to awards geared to London you are a great champion aren’t you of of theatre the length and
breadth of this amazing country? Well because there’s so much good stuff
really going on. I mean I really don’t agree with people who say that there is
a gap between what is happening in London and what is happening in the
rest of the UK and in fact as London becomes more and more expensive and
difficult, particularly for young artists to live in, what we’re actually seeing I
think is a talent drain out to the regions, where it is possible to hook up
perhaps with your local theatre and to run an independent company and survive in a way that it’s increasingly difficult for young artists
in London. You only have to look at the nominations actually for the actual
Awards this year to see. I mean it literally covers the whole of the UK and
there and that’s just the small number that were able to make the shortlist. and I have to say I mean I am sort of worried about the future. I think there’s
criticism is under threat, then actually it is out of London, it is those
young companies who I think will be most affected. Harder for them to kind of get
profile you think because there isn’t the writing about them?
Yes quite simply that you know it’s that and
but I have to say I mean I am sort of old, perhaps a cliche, but that idea that
if a tree falls in a forest and nobody is there and nobody hears it, you
know did it actually happen and I think one of the roles of
criticism is not actually necessarily to sell tickets and say this is good and
bad, I think one of our functions is to spot talent and to spear out the future. Yes and actually you know we always talk about this in terms of theater PLC if
you like but the number of famous directors and actors and back-of-house
kind of creative stuff you’ve come through regional theatre, not
just a theatre in London but to movies in Hollywood and everything I mean it’s
extraordinary over the years isn’t it? It must be something you’ve noticed a lot? Yeah I mean completely you know the West End and indeed the British film industry,
Hollywood, the BBC – all are the beneficiaries of what goes on in
regional theatre and in independent theatre outside of London. It’s also
really important to remember it’s not as if the route is back to London or
eventually to London. There are enormous numbers of absolutely world-class
artists making world-class work who are choosing to do that in the regions and not in London. So what makes, what still keeps you excited? You know take Edinburgh, you’re infamous for sort of doing three or four weeks
and six/seven shows a day. What keeps you excited still after so many years of doing this work? What’s the thing that kind of gets you out of bed in the morning? Well quite simply the possibility of seeing just that little
spark of something that will make you go “oh that’s really interesting” or simply
that you go “I just love that” and one of the things that I think is just so
fantastic about my job you see a lot of I see a lot of theatre and some of it is
not so good but when you see something and it is just fantastic, it’s just like
falling in love all over again and you get that kind of rush of hormones
you just go I know why I really love doing this. Yeah fantastic.
so where, funny question, where’s the next Lyn Gardner coming from? I think that there are a lot of people out there who have realised that actually
that the future may not be in the mainstream press and it may be through
blogging through different sites. I think there’s been a whole shift in culture
that has both facilitated that and in fact of course has also caused the
difficulties that are recurring for the mainstream press. Actually I’m really
optimistic because one of the things that I would say is that when I started
out writing about theatre, basically on the whole there were about fourteen
white Oxbridge-educated men writing about theatre and now there are huge
numbers writing and they come from all sorts of different backgrounds and I think that
when people are thinking, talking and writing about theatre that can only be
good for theatre itself. Absolutely. Well look, on behalf of UK Theatre and the
Board of UK Theatre, congratulations and we look forward to
presenting you with your award in a couple of weeks time Thank you very much.

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