Amanda Gaughan – Theatre director
Born August 27 1982; died March 12 2018
Amanda Gaughan, who has died suddenly aged 35, was one of the brightest young directing talents to blaze a trail through Scotland’s theatre scene over the last decade. Much of her work focused on strong women, and, as is the case with the best artists, reflected her own personality. Gaughan’s main stage productions of Hecuba and Hedda Gabler were vibrant, impassioned and full of life, always questioning, always getting behind the surface veneer to expose the sometimes brutal truth of things. Moreover, Gaughan’s work was always delivered with heart and soul bursting from the core of it’s being and barely contained by whatever stage it appeared on.
Gaughan’s work may have been seen at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, the Lyceum, Edinburgh or Dundee Rep, but it felt like she was only at the start of a career which by rights should have grown and matured over several decades. As it is, what Gaughan already achieved has been inspirational, both for the performers and artists who fed off her infectious energy, and for audiences who experienced first-hand the pulse of that energy.
Amanda Margaret Gaughan was born in Paisley, and was first exposed to theatre while a pupil at St James’ Primary School. This was through PACE Youth Theatre, the Paisley-based company with whom she would eventually work, helping to inspire new generations of young people just as she had been inspired.
When a curious Gaughan visited PACE with a view to becoming a member, she was smitten, and within weeks dropped all other activities to focus solely on PACE. Even before then, the foundations for this had been set when, aged five, she and her cousin Emma were selected to sing High Hopes together at their first dance school show. With Gaughan having learnt the lines first, she took charge of rehearsing both the song and the choreographed moves that went with it with a commitment and dedication that amused and captivated all those who caught sight of the girls’ routine in progress.
The performance at the Mitchell Theatre in Glasgow was effectively Gaughan’s first mini-production, and brought the house down. It was a pointer of things to come, and over her eight years with PACE, Gaughan became fearless in everything she did.
Between 2000 and 2004, Gaughan joined the BA Contemporary Theatre Practice course at what was then the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (RSAMD), later the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS), creating and performing in new and experimental work. After graduating with First Class Honours, Gaughan returned to PACE as a full-time member of the artistic team, running drama workshops with young people, touring schools and directing performances. In 2008, she returned to RSAMD for a new MA Classical and Contemporary Text course, specialising in directing.
During her time on the course, Gaughan helped develop Fever Dream, a new play by Douglas Maxwell that would later be produced both at RCS and at the Citizens Theatre as Fever Dream: Southside. Gaughan also worked as an assistant director at the Globe Theatre while on the course, graduating with Distinction in 2009.
Between 2009 and 2015, Gaughan acted as creative producer of On the Verge, a festival of new work by students who, just as she had done, were ready to take the leap into the world beyond academe. As a director, Gaughan first made her mark professionally at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow in 2011 with her production of Dennis Kelly’s claustrophobic end-of-the-world two-hander, After the End. This was followed by a return to the RCS to direct final year acting students in Liz Lochhead’s version of Medea.
The same year, Gaughan won a Bank of Scotland New Directors placement with the National Theatre of Scotland, assisting John Tiffany on the stage adaptation of Andrew O’Hagan’s book, The Missing. Also with the NTS, Gaughan directed Martin Travers’ debut play, Roman Bridge, at the Citz as part of the NTS’ Reveal season.
In 2012, Gaughan worked with Scottish Opera on Last One Out, a mini opera by Johnny McKnight and Gareth Williams. Her relationship with music theatre continued with Forest Boy, a new piece by writer Scott Gilmour and composer Claire McKenzie.
At Dundee Rep, Gaughan directed a bold production of Euripides’ great anti-war play, Hecuba, and with the NTS, Gaughan oversaw contributions to its 24 Hour plays initiative. She contributed to the company’s seasons of international work, directing Catherine Grosvenor’s translation of Chinese writer Xu Nuo’s play, Fox Attack in 2013, and Lynda Radley’s take on Brazilian playwright Michelle Ferrier’s There is Someone Who Hates Us in 2016.
Other plays Gaughan worked on included Romance by Ross Dunsmore with Cumbernauld Theatre, and numerous rehearsed readings with Playwrights Studio Scotland by the likes of Linda Maclean, Rosanna Hall and Kathy McKean. In 2014, Gaughan was associate director on The James Plays, Rona Munro’s epic trilogy of Scottish history plays co-produced by the NTS, the National Theatre of Great Britain and Edinburgh International Festival.
Between 2014 and 2016, Gaughan was associate artist at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, where she directed Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler in 2015 and Conor McPherson’s modern classic, The Weir, a year later. One of Gaughan’s final projects was on Annville, a new play by Martin Travers, a nineteenth century set murder story with music based on Heather Spars’ novel, The Flourish. Streamed live online, the rehearsed readings of what looked set to be a far larger project was seen all over the world.
Gaughan’s resume became a kind of manifesto for everything she held dear about theatre, and everything she felt it could be.
‘Fundamentally,’ she wrote, ‘we must always be questioning, challenging, collaborating, nurturing and evaluating, asking ‘what do our artists want to tell stories about?’ and ‘What do our audiences want to engage with?’ By asking these questions I believe that a truthful and visceral programme of work can develop that both audiences and artists can engage with and enter into an imaginative and thought-provoking discourse about.
‘Theatre enables us to research, explore and share our experiences of humanity. The best theatrical productions I have seen, and indeed the kinds that I aim to create, are those which call the audience to be 'witnesses'; to be complicit in the action and the story.’
In her brief career, Gaughan achieved all of this with unflinching guts and passion. One can only speculate what else she might have achieved.
Amanda Gaughan is survived by her mother Margaret, her father Jim and her partner Shaun Mason.
The Herald, March 31st 2018