The award-winning artistic director of the Birmingham Rep, Sean Foley has worked with many of theatre’s greatest writers and actors but his return to Brum is the most exciting time of his career
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT
I’ve just directed Upstart Crow in the West End – the stage adaptation of the sitcom – and it’s been nominated for an Olivier Award. It’s the fifth show that has been nominated for the British theatre’s ‘Oscars’ since I started to direct 10 years ago. Before that I had my own theatre company and co-wrote and performed in many original shows, touring nationally and internationally and also playing in the West End – where I also won a couple of Olivier Awards. I’ve always concentrated on comedies and have directed everyone from Sir Kenneth Branagh to Joan Rivers, worked with writers as diverse as Harold Pinter and Ben Elton and performed on stage with the likes of Glenn Close, Sir Mark Rylance, Tom Hiddleston and Dawn French.
IT’S WHAT I DO
I’ve recently become artistic director of Birmingham Repertory Theatre. Like many Birmingham institutions, the Rep has been a pioneering presence in its field for a long time. It was the first purpose-built repertory theatre in the UK in 1913, (the old Rep on Station Street), and is actually the forerunner of both the National Theatre and the RSC. My job, alongside a brilliant staff of more than 120, is to plan and produce great new shows and revivals of classic plays, comedies and musicals in our three auditoria. We also do an amazing amount of work with schools, community groups, local artists and writers.
WHAT I’D LIKE TO SEE
I want the Rep to be seen as a truly great civic theatre – one that the people of Birmingham are proud of, giving them excellent theatre that is the epitome of a great night out. I also want the theatre to be nationally and internationally recognised as a hub of theatrical creativity. Birmingham is the nation’s second city, but can be first in so many ways – one of which is to foreground the great cultural heritage and achievements of the city and use that to inspire us to create a popular and pioneering theatrical future.
I hope it’s in the future… but so far I’ve been lucky enough to work with many talented people to make successful shows. I’ve been able to create work in different mediums as a writer, actor and director. I think the challenge of doing personal ‘firsts’ is what I love. I directed my first feature film, Mindhorn, a few years ago and I’d love to make another. I’m looking forward to working on the comedy-musical Something Rotten! as my first show at the Rep.
BIGGEST LESSON LEARNED
Always have a back up plan! So many things in our industry don’t happen, or fall apart, or are subject to unplanned events. Also, try and be straightforward.
WHAT I LIKE ABOUT BRUM
My mum’s a Brummie and my dad was an immigrant Irish guy; they met at the Locarno on Hurst Street in 1962. I didn’t grow up in the city but my primary school years were in Dorridge before we moved away from the area. My impression now coming back is that there is a renaissance in the air. It’s an amazing city that can show leadership for the whole UK in terms of how its diverse population can work together to create something truly unique.
Running (slowly, badly), all things Netflix, the Friday drink and – once the current lockdown crisis is over – body boarding in Cornwall.