Sam Hodges: “New work doesn’t always succeed – but it is critical as it’s the way that theatre has to respond in a fresh way to what is happening today.”
Sam Hodges founded HighTide Festival Theatre in 2006. Fast forward to 2014 Sam Hodges took over as the artistic and executive director of the Nuffield Theatre, Southampton.
In 2016, Nuffield is at an exciting time of transition. Under the leadership of Sam Hodges it has been reinvigorated as a producing theatre company for Southampton and last year won The Stage award for Best Regional Theatre. He himself has just been nominated Best Director at UK Theatre Awards.
Later this year Nuffield will open a second venue in Studio 144 – Southampton’s new £25M city centre arts venue. Champagne all round!
Dedication is a new play that tells the story of Shakespeare and the 3rd Earl of Southampton. What exactly did happen between them? A powder keg of sex, power and politics in Elizabethan England.
On the eve of press night he discusses life lessons, Southampton as a cultural hub and bringing Shakespeare magic to the stage…
Hello Sam, first things first: can you tell us all about Studio 144?
Studio 144 will be a stunning new venue at the heart of Southampton’s thriving cultural quarter. It will be our new home and will include a flexible 447 seat main house theatre, a 135 seat studio, screening facilities, rehearsal and workshop spaces, a café bar and bistro.
This new venue will transform Nuffield’s ability to show new and exciting high quality professional work from local, national and international artists, built on the foundations of our commitment to extensive and accessible artist development and community engagement. It will also allow us to develop our programme to include dance, film and music. As you can imagine this is a very exciting time for us, but also a great challenge.
We’re going to be running two venues, the new city centre venue at Studio 144 and our existing theatre on the University of Southampton’s Highfield Campus so we are working hard to make sure that our programme can offer something for everyone. We want our audiences to feel at home in both our buildings and we have big ambitions as to how we want to achieve that.
What can audiences expect from DEDICATION?
A political thriller about what might have been. Sword fights, Elizabethan dancing, and a complete transformation of the auditorium into a space as you’ve never seen it before. We’re ‘casting’ the audience as the jury in a trial in which Shakespeare is being interrogated about his links to Southampton. It’s part love story, part adventure, part thriller.
Do you prefer the high level strategy director stuff or hands on stripped to the waist rehearsal room directing stuff?
I love design – and am very much aesthetic led so I love those conversations about how the overall vision will look. But as a former actor, I do enjoy the process of developing the piece in the room as well – there’s nothing that beats an actor’s instincts and viewpoint as you shape a new play.
DEDICATION is an ambitious project. What have been the biggest challenges getting this off the ground?
Probably the transformation of the auditorium and scale and intricacy of the set. There are literally loads of moving parts – and combined with the challenge of developing a new play, which relies entirely on an audience to truly test, we’ve had our hands full.
It would appear that audiences in Southampton are spoilt for choice for a good night out (The Mayflower, Nuffield, Stage Door) is this the case?
Completely the case although I think happily each venue offers quite a different flavour to Southampton. The Mayflower is obviously synonymous with big touring musicals, which it does very well, and it has started to do a bit of dance more recently. The Stage Door taps into that late-night cabaret feel – I’m a particular fan of their adult pantomime at Christmas! And then our focus is on drama and comedy – so something for everyone.
I noted with interest that you recently celebrated being Director at The Nuffield for three years. How would you describe your tenure?
Extremely busy but very satisfying. I feel like we’ve achieved what we set out to do in this time which was to make Nuffield one of the national players, in terms of producing work. We have just announced our second London transfer in as many years, a UK national commercial tour and we’ve been Regional Theatre of the Year, – all big steps for the theatre. One of the most fulfilling parts of the job has been building a brilliant team around me – which makes the day-to-day a real pleasure. And having got to this point, the next three years are obviously going to be very focused on the new venue, which we feel ready for.
What is your favourite theatre in London?
The Young Vic Theatre. It’s my kind of theatre. It mixes a strong European aesthetic with great British storytelling – a blend of what makes both traditions so unique. Yerma was one of the best things I’ve ever seen.
What’s the most important life lesson you’ve learned in the past 12 months?
To make sure I do enough living outside of work to ensure that my work has something to be inspired by.
Is there anything that you’d like to add?
The reason I commissioned this play is that I believe passionately in creating new work that aims to support Southampton in ‘telling its own story’. New work doesn’t always succeed – but it is critical as it’s the way that theatre has to respond in a fresh way to what is happening today. I’m not interested in just mounting a period historical piece – it’s only worth looking back to see what it says about today. I hope that Dedication can be Southampton’s contribution, not only to Shakespeare400, but to the wider catalogue of Shakespearean work. On a larger scale, though, I hope it also asks questions about the way that we mould history to our shape – that we think of it as a fixed point, whereas in fact it is only what is written down that lasts.
CLICK HERE TO BOOK YOUT TICKETS FOR DEDICATION
Checkout the production images of Dedication