Interview: Director Sam Pritchard on Pygmalion, regional theatre, ketchup and more

Sam Pritchard

Sam Pritchard

I had a chat with Sam Pritchard. Sam is the very bold Associate Director (International) at the Royal Court and was winner of the JMK Award for Directors in 2012. His credits include Anna (Aix Opera Festival/ENOA Workshop), There Has Possibly Been An Incident (Royal Exchange and Edinburgh St Stephens/Soho Theatre/Berlin Theatertreffen), Buy Nothing Day (Company of Angels), Fireface (Young Vic) and Galka Motalka (Royal Exchange). He will be directing Guillermo Calderon’s play B for the Royal Court in September 2017.

He has directed a radical new staging of Bernard Shaw’s acute comedy Pygmalion for Headlong, a poignant tale of two opposites, Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle, trying to find a common language.

Anyway, last week many thought I had lost my mind when I ran a twitter poll asking: ‘Do you keep your ketchup in the fridge?’ * See photo below*

Ketchup Poll

Ketchup Poll

In fact it was an elaborate way of enriching this ‘content’. So there you go.
But does Sam keep his ketchup in the fridge? Well…

Have you had a good week? 
“Good – It’s been pretty busy – I have a full-time job which is as an associate at the Royal Court –  I work mostly with international playwrights there isn’t really and average week – so much of our work here or with playwrights is about working on the development of their work, listening to them and discussing work that we have received. I’m currently in Bath and looking forward to catching up with the cast and team – I have never been to Bath, I know it has a classic proscenium-arch and I’ve heard is a brilliant space.”


Pygmalion. Click on the image to book your tickets for Pygmalion

Do you read the Pygmalion Reviews? Some were quite good weren’t they. 
“I do read some of the reviews – I think there is an interesting thing that comes with Headlong as a touring company that a show gets engaged with at different points in different places. And I think the company have certainly found that to be the case, that different audiences across the country have had really different experiences. For me the aim has been to respond to the impulse I had in my first engagement with the play, when I first sat down to read it. It felt like a really radical piece of work. Much more so than we usually think. I thought about its relationship to us now. It’s an extraordinarily front footed and in some ways populist piece of writing about class and identity in Britain – I think that’s what Shaw wrote. Our response isn’t traditional but it flows from that.”

How important are your relationships with the creative team? 
I think all of those creative relationships are entirely crucial whether that’s with set and costume designer or lighting and video designer; in the case of this show a cinematographer or sound designer. Those relationships were key in terms of growing the world and aesthetic from that initial impulse into the show that we all made together. This is a play about language, how we hear, see and feel it and all of those design elements needed to deliver that.”

You were the winner of the JMK Award for Directors in 2012, how helpful was that in terms of your career trajectory?
“The extraordinary thing about that process and the opportunity it offers is being able to make a piece of work that you’re passionate about. It’s not about working on other peoples’ shows or developing your practice in a theoretical way. It’s about doing the actual thing itself. Which is invaluable.”

Do you see regional theatre as something that is in decline? 
“As someone who lives in London I feel totally underqualified to comment on the state of regional theatre. I lived and worked in Manchester at the Royal Exchange for three years at the beginning of my career. And my experience of that theatre and city has always been that there is a thriving and distinctive and different theatre ecology there. Our experience with Pygmalion has been really positive. Shaw feels like a very audience facing artist. He’s up for a conversation, an argument and a debate with his audience and the play is a brilliant mixture of the comic and the darkly political. It feels to me as though audiences have really engaged with that across the tour.”


How have audiences responsed to Pygmalion across the country? 
One of the interesting things we set out to do with this show was to try to engage with our contemporary political life through a classic play. We’re really comfortable with the reinvention of classic European and American plays in this country now. But our own canon hasn’t been re-examined in quite the same way. It felt like this was a brilliant opportunity to do that – with a writer who has much more that’s radical to say about inequality and the way language and culture contribute to that divide. And from my experience of watching the show, it’s been interesting to see audiences engage with that. To find some of this story much more disturbing to a contemporary ear than it is funny.

Anything that you’d like to add? For example – Do you keep your ketchup in the fridge etc, etc, and so on. 
“Wow… You saved your most incisive question for last. Yes. Well, I think I do because it was kept in the fridge when I was a child. I will re-examine my decision. Hm.”

Pygmalion by Headlong is on tour and hits Oxford Playhouse from Tue 18 to Sat 22 April 2017It then makes its way to NTS Campus, Nuffield Southampton Theatres from Tue 25 April to Sat 13 May 2017.
Tickets: Oxford

Tickets: Southampton

023 8067 1771