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Jemima Levick and Philip Howard - A Storm Over Dundee


You could be forgiven for thinking that women are taking over Dundee. 
Or Scottish theatre for that matter. As Dundee Rep’s former associate 
director Jemima Levick is appointed joint artistic director of the 
theatre with former Traverse head Philip Howard as Chief Executive, 
after Orla O’Loughlin taking charge of the Traverse and Rachel 
O’Riordan heading up Perth Theatre, Levick becomes the latest female in 
charge of one of the country’s main producing houses.

As if to stress the point, Levick’s long-scheduled production of The 
Tempest, which opens in Dundee this week, bends genders in 
Shakespeare’s magical island yarn to the extent of casting female 
actors in the traditionally male roles of Prospero, Caliban and Aerial. 
Of course, given Dundee's long-standing reputation as something of a 
matriarchy, such an approach seems the perfect fit, as Levick explains.

“I was keen to find a play where I felt I could do what I wanted,” she 
says. “You can't do that with all Shakespeare plays, but with The 
Tempest, because it's on an island, and because there's magic, you 
really can do what you want. With the casting, I'm really obsessed with 
casting Irene MacDougall in male roles ever since I cast her as Hook. I 
think there's a really muscular quality to her performance whilst still 
being her woman. With The Tempest, I think the relationship between 
Miranda and Prospero, which is between father and daughter, is not as 
interesting as it is for me if it's mother and daughter, in terms of 
the things she has to teach her. Then I thought about the other 
casting, and thought that if Prospero and Miranda are women, what if 
all the characters living on the island were women as well. They're the 
people who have been washed up or dumped on an island and taken away 
from society. These women have been cast out and left to rot, really.

Imposing a concept on Shakespeare cam be as risky business. While it's 
easy to graft something on the start of a play, sustaining it is a 
different matter. Levick seems aware of such pitfalls, even as she 
enters into uncharted territory.

“I was really keen to do a Shakespeare,” she says, “because I've never 
done one before. It was really interesting recently talking to Roxana 
Silbert, who's best known as a director of new writing with Paines 
Plough, but who before she got her current job at Birmingham Rep worked 
as an associate at the RSC. She said that, as a new writing director, 
directing Shakespeare was amazing, and I've kind of discovered the same 
thing. The Tempest is one of those plays that keeps on giving things 
back in the rehearsal room, which is amazing. The danger is that you 
could probably rehearse it forever and still find different things and 
end up not producing it.”

Given the nature of her new job, this is a luxury neither Levick or 
Howard can afford. With Howard not joining her until February Levick 
will be directing four shows back to back. While this leaves her little 
time to think about a programme beyond the autumn, the reality of her 
new job is slowly starting to sink in.

“I'm excited, and a little bit anxious,” Levick admits.

While Levick already has her feet under the table in Dundee via her 
tenure as associate director for the last couple of years,  with 
productions including Equus, The Elephant Man and Steel Magnolias, 
Howard is an unknown quantity. This was one of the reasons why the pair 
applied separately for the job, so Howard could be judged solely on his 
own merits. Only once they'd both passed the first round of interviews 
did they formally suggest to the board a two-tiered approach might be 
best.

While a similar partnership between James Brining and Dominic Hill had 
existed prior to Hill's departure, there was no guarantee such a 
proposal would be accepted.

“The more Philip and I spoke about the job and what we wanted to do,” 
says Levick, “the more synchronised and joined-up it became.”

The roots of Levick and Howard teaming up date back to a rumour, when 
Levick heard that Howard wasn't going to apply for the Dundee job 
because he felt that, as an associate, the job should be Levick's. 
Levick then called Howard to encourage him to apply. The dialogue 
between them that followed made them both realise how much they were on 
the same page regarding the Dundee job.

“We've long been admirers and supporters of each other's work,” says 
Levick, “and, while I knew I really wanted the job of artistic 
director, I wasn't so sure about the Chief Executive bit of it. I've 
still got such a lot to learn about running a building, so when Philip 
suggested we go for it together, it all seemed to fit. I knew I would 
only want to run a building if I could still be an artist, and yet I 
also wanted to work in an organisation that had a supportive 
infrastructure to be able to make work. So doing it this way, both 
Philip and I get to share the responsibilities of both, and to look 
after one another as well as the organisation.”

Howard's new role as Chief Executive marks his first real return to 
high-profile work since his departure from the Traverse Theatre in 
Edinburgh after a decade there as artistic director, and fourteen years 
in total at Scotland's new writing theatre. During that time, Howard 
oversaw the main-stage debuts of David Greig, David Harrower, Henry 
Adam and many others during a period when directors including John 
Tiffany and Vicky Featherstone worked at the Traverse.

“Timing-wise it suits me really well, “ Howard says of his new post. 
“I've had an indecently enjoyable time as a freelance director for the 
last four years since I left the Traverse. That's also been a 
ridiculously stress-free time not having the responsibility of a 
building, but now I think I need a bit more stress in my life. I made a 
new year's resolution eighteen months ago that I was going to do all 
the stuff I'd never done before, including old plays and music theatre, 
and I've done both now. I've also yearned for the challenge to run 
another company, and to be pulled right out of my comfort zone, and 
that's certainly the case here. I'm not sure I would've wanted to do 
the job without Jemima, because I'm a real family man in terms of 
running a company, and working with her it becomes more of a playpen.”

Levick and Howard are keen to stress that Dundee Rep's ensemble company 
will continue, and that , while they've yet to programme beyond the end 
of the year, despite both of their new writing backgrounds, a mix of 
classical and contemporary work should be expected. Both too are aware 
of Dundee Rep's sense of place.

“I feel like I've started to connect with the community since I've been 
here,” Levick says, “and I want that to develop and continue. The 
important thing is to build on the audience we already have, so we can 
do things like Steel Magnolias and The Tempest. We're not going to rip 
things up and start again.”

The Tempest, Dundee Rep, June 6-23
www.dundeerep.co.uk

The Herald, June 5th 2012

ends

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