The Producer

ACTOR and director Tom Roberts is approaching his fifth year as Producer of the Lichfield Garrick Rep, five years which have seen both the reputation and status of the productions grow year on year.

Last autumn saw Matthew Kelly star in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? which earned rave reviews at the Garrick and then repeated the feat when it transferred to the West End for a season last spring.

This autumn the Rep has gone for John Osborne's The Entertainer which has been placed once again in the capable hands of director Andrew Hall.

Roberts said: “We do two styles of production. We do a lighter comedy in the spring and more classic works in the autumn, so this fits in with that pattern. It is trying to give a contrasting piece. It is generally more modern stuff in the spring – we just did Ladies' Day and things like Shirley Valentine, Jim Cartwright (Two) were in that slot and then we have the classic pieces like The Entertainer.

“This is the second one with Andrew Hall who directed Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? so it is great to have that same team back again – and it is the same team – we have the same backstage crew as well. It is exciting and we want to recreate that quality. At the end of the day though it is about getting an audience in.”


That is the rub for Lichfield Garrick Rep, balancing productions of landmark theatre against the more down to earth requirement of earning their keep. The works of the likes of August Strindberg may be worthy but are hardly going to have audiences packed in to the rafters.

Roberts said: “It has to be classically popular. We are not the Royal Court, we cannot be experimental. We have got to know the audience as much as we can and we do things which are still seen as entertaining.”

The Rep has had some surprises though. Roberts said: “We did Waiting for Godot and I was a little worried about getting audiences and how that would do but it went really well. Sometimes I am surprised by audiences and what they do want to see so we are trying to find a middle ground. You cannot go too heavy or too experimental.”

Ironically The Entertainer when it was first produced in 1957 at the Royal Court was itself regarded as experimental. Roberts said: “The Entertainer has elements of everything. Everyone knows about it. Even if they haven't seen it they know Olivier did it at some point. It is funny, it has comedy and it has a good title.

“You have to look at the names of plays and how they would look on the poster and it is a good title – it is even things as simple as that. It has a lot of ingredients which work within a play. It has got sadness, it has events which some people in the audience may remember, it is pertinent to the modern age and I think it has a broad appeal. While being historical it is relevant.


“Osborne started off the whole of the kitchen sink dramas; he is responsible in some ways for Coronation Street and EastEnders, that form of naturalistic acting. We have done Look Back in Anger here as well, another Osborne play. It is something which has been shown here which people seem to like.

The Rep is already mapping out its programme for next year and Roberts said: “Next spring we are doing The Things We Do for Love by Alan Ayckbourn, again fitting in with that lighter sort of play. We haven't done an Ayckbourn here so I think it is time we did one. We always have to find something that will fit in the Studio and this is a clever piece. It is set in an apartment and you see two thirds of one apartment and a third of the apartment above it, so you see people from the knee down until they come downstairs so it is quite a clever set.

“We are still looking at the classic piece for next year.”

The Rep is happy in the Studio at the moment. Roberts accepts that a move to the main house with three times the seats could have some benefits. “It would be nice to sell more seats in a bigger area of course but I am really happy with the way the Studio works and I am not sure we could sell a month in the main house with anything - it is very difficult to sell a month in theatres these days. With the Studio we should manage it.


“The Studio is a great space and the key is finding the right play which is often a room. In Virginia Woolf the whole play was in the apartment of George and Martha, it was a journey of three hours, a painful journey, in that room and it was perfect for the audience to be part of the room.

“You are not going to do Aida in there but there are plenty of plays with three or four people. We have come a long way. We started with Bouncers, the John Godber play, and we started with four actors, four chairs and the costumes were four handbags the actors had for when they played women and that was it with some lighting.

“It has gone from that to the set on the entertainer which has a first floor, which has a piano, which has a theatre built into it with footlights and spotlights. It is a real journey. Either works but as a producer I prefer the first option though – it is a lot cheaper.” 

Roger Clarke

Home  The Play  Suez The Director The Entertainer The Cast