We catch up with BAFTA nominated director Angus Jackson to talk career highlights, bad language and his fondness for Brum. Just don’t mention Desperately Seeking Susan…
Angus Jackson knows how to tell a story on stage and as well as in real life. Our interview is full of anecdotes that prompt the giggles. For instance, his first job at the National Theatre was to chaperone a 12-year-old actress. A bit dull you might think except the girl was a juvenile Amy Winehouse. “She was a livewire, completely bonkers,” recalls Jackson. “She tried to set me up with every woman on the show.” A friend who runs a tobacco farm crops up now and then along with tales of clubbing in Brum with Jasper Carrott, David Baladi and Lucy Davis, which resembles an episode of The Office. You couldn’t make it up.
Now associate director at Chichester Festival Theatre, Angus was educated at King Edward’s School, which he talks of with enormous affection. He keeps up with his “inspirational” music and drama teachers Annie and Jenny who fuelled his love of the theatre introducing him “not only to Shakespeare, but to Monty Python too.” Despite his mother being an actress and his love of drama, Jackson didn’t view the theatre as a career option and trotted off to Balliel College, Oxford, to study philosophy and physics. “I directed seven plays at Oxford, which made me think this might be more than a hobby,” he says. “It was difficult to get into Birmingham Rep at the time and I felt I had to be in London.”
HIGHS AND LOWS
Since getting a foot in the door in London, Angus has enjoyed success directing both on stage and screen. ‘Elmina’s Kitchen’ written by Kwame Kwei-Armah achieved both. Initially a hit at the National, two years later Jackson’s screen version, which he filmed in just five days, earned him a BAFTA nomination for best new director. Plays such as ‘The Prayer Room’, ‘Bingo’, ‘My Night with Reg’, ‘Rocket to the Moon’, ‘The Power of Yes’ and ‘Goodnight Mister Tom’ all followed to critical acclaim. Among the long list of hits surely there have been some howlers? Angus doesn’t hesitate, “God yes. Desperately Seeking Susan. It was enormously enjoyable, but it absolutely bombed. Looking back I can see why it didn’t work, but at the time I didn’t get it. When something like that happens it affects a lot of people – the cast who spent months rehearsing, financial backers. Awful. I learned a lot.” Despite favourable reviews, ticket sales were poor and Desperately Seeking Susan closed just a month after opening at the Novello Theatre in London.
Still predominantly a past time for the middle classes, how would Jackson make theatre more inclusive? He uses No Sweat, a gritty play he directed at Birmingham Rep as an example of how to boost theatre’s appeal. Set in the car factories of Birmingham, the play “was incredibly powerful. To make theatre more accessible we need to produce plays like this that are about the lives of real people. They connect,” he says. “Clearly ticket prices need to come down to make it more inclusive too. Many theatres receive government funding and therefore the taxpayer has already in some form paid for it.”
Although theatre is where he’s most at home Jackson enthuses about the box. “Television is the art form of our age and to be involved in that is incredibly exciting.” His TV work receives immediate recognition too. Epiphet, a short film starring Patrick Stewart was picked up by the media and uploaded on to the Guardian website. “There’s a lot of bad language in it though,” Jackson sweetly warns. But it’s not the bad language that’s striking and unless you’re averse to the odd well placed c-word it isn’t that shocking, but it’s the way the intense close ups draw you in and the speed at which you care about what happens to the characters. It’s a short film, so a fast connection is crucial, but Jackson has managed it from the very first scene.
BACK IN BRUM
Recently back in his old stomping ground for Goodnight Mister Tom, Angus relishes his time in the city. A touring show usually means relocating and living in digs for two months, but in Brum he happily stays with mum and dad. He talks tenderly about his parents and being able to catch up with them “is a massive bonus”. A regular walk through the city takes in Symphony Hall, The Rep and Centenary Square. “The architecture in Birmingham is stunning. I usually pop my head round the door of Symphony Hall as I have such fond memories of the place,” says Jackson, who used to tear tickets there as a boy. A tipple at his favourite watering hole, The Falcon may follow and who knows what will happen from there? Happy days.