Playing with Shadows

Extracts from an interview with Tim Supple by Helen Chappell that appeared in What's On 30 August 2000

Just how scary is Tim Supple? He's been labelled "spiky, clever and combative" by none other than Daily Telegraph, is feared by some actors for his quick temper and his best-known stage works are a series of dark and sinister fables based on childhood terror. Munching his way through an egg and cress sandwich backstage at the National Theatre, he seems normal enough. Now that he has resigned as Artistic Director of the Young Vic - the venue for his most disturbing shows - to be a freelance, is there a danger that he will switch to more safe and conventional productions? After all, how far can you go with Romeo and Juliet, his next project for the National - what potential is there in a drama familiar to everyone from blasé academics to teenage clubbers, clutching their Baz Luhrmann videos?

"The wonderful thing about Romeo and Juliet is that we all think we know it but we don't," he insists. "It's called a tragedy but I don't really think it really is dark. In fact, I see it as full of delight of the searing, shocking, startling pleasure in life." As with the well-worn 'narrative myths' he loved to reinvigorate for the Young Vic - Grimm's Tales, Arabian Nights, Tales from Ovid - he is approaching what he sees as another of our "shared myths" from a slightly unexpected angle. " I love to escape the clichés trapped in familiar material, find the 'other side' of any play I devise or direct. If there's an obvious darkness there, I want to find the light - if there's light there, I look for the shadows. It would be arrogant to claim I've come up with something completely new with Romeo and Juliet. It's Shakespeare's work, and a brilliant and sophisticated piece of theatre writing. But I'd like to think I'll always use the discoveries that I made a the Young Vic in whatever I do."…

Supple is pinning many of his hopes for his new take on Romeo and Juliet on the actors he's cast - especially Chiwetel Ejiofor as Romeo and Charlotte Randle as Juliet. Casting a black Romeo may no longer be news in itself, but he feels that he's netted someone pretty special. "When I saw this guy, I knew that he had it in him. He has an extraordinary energy, skill, beauty and strength." Casting Juliet, he believes, is an even more exacting task. "You need to find a very rare thing a - youthful actor who can suddenly grow into wisdom and experience. I think I've found that in Charlotte Randle." He won't be drawn on the setting of the production other than to say it will be performed in modern dress and that he'll be paying particular attention to "Shakespeare's full social portrait and the politics between the two families and the prince."

©1999 Royal National Theatre of Great Britain