“The play’s the thing”, but who knows what the next scene will show?

By Adele Cooke

Catherine Mallyon is an impressive name in the theatre scene. Boasting roles including Executive Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, board member of SOLT, (the Society of London Theatres) and an accomplished violinist with the Oxford Sinfonia, her talents are numerous and varied. Taking time out of her busy schedule, Catherine Mallyon sat down with Indigo to discuss 50:50 casting, trigger warnings and, of course, the future of Shakespearian theatre.

What’s the best way for aspiring creatives to find a job in the arts?

I think it’s see as much as you can, and do as much as you can, do a lot of exploration of about all of the different roles that there are within the theatre. We have a range of opportunities, as an example of what theatres do have, of course they are terribly competitive, often because so many people want to do them, but to keep an eye out for those roles and then to apply with the benefit of real tangible, experience either in a student content, an amateur context, or in the professional world. But having said that if the question is as broad as any role in the theatre, some of the roles that exist across sectors, like finance, development, fundraising, HR, offer particularly development at the moment.  There aren’t as many good candidates sometimes as there are roles, so there really is potential.


Do you have any plans to do any other big budget musicals for example, following the success of Matilda?

We’re always commissioning and developing work of various sorts, I think the challenge of all those things, is if we could produce a Matilda every week, obviously not only would we, but so would everyone. It’s something about how do we make sure that we have the right conditions, that should something turn into a blockbuster, like that, that we’re well placed to do that. It’s amazing Matilda, now seven million people have seen it across the world, so we have on the box writers under commission, and we produce alongside our Shakespeare, his contemporaries, and new writing as drama. We do produce musical theatre and musicals as we go along, and we’ll see where we turn, but we would be completely open to one if we found that we were getting there. But they don’t grow on trees.


Shows like Matilda “don’t grow on trees”.


Would you say that trying not to constrain the directors is the reason why you haven’t followed Michelle Terry and the Globe’s move to do 50:50 casting in all productions?

We have had some productions over the years that have been all women, or more women than men, and we’re always looking at that and rattling with that. At the moment of course with equality and diversities and inclusions plan, we’re being cautious in a way that sounds quite difficult I think… It is quite hard to get 50:50 if you have a very compelling and rigorous approach to the play. So we would always encourage that, whenever it’s possible, but we also look at other areas, so we’ve got a lot of female directors on our books, as you will have noticed. Next season is nearly one hundred percent female for example. And we’ve got a lot of women commissioned to write new work because we’re very conscious of the playwright gender imbalance as well. And we also want to work at the 50:50 balance across the whole of the creative teams as much as what is on stage, so composers, musicians where there’s also work to do… I think there is a place for everything and it’s just important that across the piece, as far-reaching as we can that we are as inclusive as we possibly can be.




I saw Antony and Cleopatra recently, I was quite surprised when she gave her speech and she there was a lot of nudity involved. What is your attitude towards nudity on stage?

Again, I was similarly startled in a good way, I thought it was incredibly brave and incredibly appropriate for the text and the story and where it all was, which I think reflects the point really. Directors always decide very carefully about it and discuss what they are including of course in the performance, so we’d never be imposing that on anyone. And never want to use it gratuitously and obviously, sometimes, someone’s careful directorial choice is someone’s gratuitous. But again it’s what feels appropriate for the production and the interpretation of the production, and what works for the director and the company. And sometimes we would, depending on its context, alert audiences in advance, and sometimes not, depending on our assessment of the impact of it.


“Sometimes, someone’s careful directorial choice is someone’s gratuitous”.


Interestingly Oxford University have just introduced trigger warnings to some of their Shakespeare productions, especially given the recent production of Titus Andronicus, which was very gory, should the RSC consider doing the same?

We do, trigger warnings are quite a new thing isn’t it and it covers so many things. With something like Titus, we will tell audiences if there’s particular significant content that is potentially upsetting. Because we don’t want audiences in there that could have taken a different decision had they known. So we try to do that if we think something should have age guidance for example. So with our Titus, it is the first one when it was transmitted into cinemas, for example, the ratings folk decided that it should have an age limit on it. We will suggest age guidance or let people know. I think there’s quite a significance around a wider range of trigger warnings because so many of Shakespeare’s plays contain so many things, so many references, so much challenging subject matter that it would be tricky to cover everything in that way. So I think we would be content to continue what we do if there’s something a range of people who would like to know before going into the theatre.



Also, do the RSC have any plans to use more technology in their future productions, as with The Tempest?

Yes, I’m sure is the answer to that. The Tempest was wonderful. It was great, we learnt masses from it. We were able to do it because of the collaboration with Intel, who brought some dollars to the table and of course we’re always ready to use technology and we use lots of technology in theatre, and often have. Often we have been introducing new things all the time, from stage machinery to moving lights, so this is but a natural development of that, to be honest, and one we’d want to carry on doing. What the equipment of the future is we don’t know. But we’re constantly doing research and development and thinking about that all the time. So yes, I hope we will.

Photographs: The Tempest” and “Antony and Cleopatra”, Copyright RSC

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