As the cast took their bows at the end of the Royal & Derngate’s production of Willy Russell’s One for the Road last week, the show’s director Laurie Sansom was called up to the stage by Paul Southworth, the theatre’s Chair of the Board.
One for the Road is – fittingly – Sansom’s last production before he leaves to take up his new post as artistic director of the National Theatre of Scotland, after the company’s founding artistic director Vicky Featherstone leaves to take the top job at the Royal Court.
Sansom gave a brief but emotional speech about his time in the post, singling out chief executive Martin Sutherland and associate director, Danni Parr, for praise and thanks. Before Southworth presented him with his ‘two for the road’ – a pair of Northampton shoes – Sansom spoke about his good fortune at having a “county council who recognise the value of theatre”, saying how “incredibly lucky” he felt to have had their support in these precarious times.
Under Sansom’s tenure, the Royal and Derngate won The Stage’s inaugural regional theatre of the year award at the 2010 Stage 100 Awards. Throughout the seven years that he’s been in his present role he’s worked hard to establish himself both as a director in his own right and as programmer of exciting new work.
Sansom has a tough job ahead of him but has proven himself more than capable of complex balancing acts before
He’s produced material that both appeals to an existing local audience with the Made in Northampton strand while simultaneously being bold in his programming, balancing solid choices with more adventurous productions. The latter has involved pairing up with young companies like the raucously energetic RashDash (for an admittedly patchy production of Two Gentlemen of Verona) and keeping Northampton on the critical radar.
Sansom scored a particular success with his pairing off Spring Storm and Beyond the Horizon, two rarely performed pieces by Tennessee Williams and Eugene O’Neill, which transferred to the National Theatre, and staged a trilogy of new interpretations of classic works – Euripides’ The Bacchae, Lorca’s Blood Wedding and Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, the latter adapted by Andrew Upton – as part of last year’s Festival of Chaos.
Sansom, who had previously worked as Alan Ayckbourn’s associate director at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, had a hard act to follow, taking over the role from previous artistic director – and friend from university – Rupert Goold, who himself has just been appointed as the new artistic director of the Almeida. But he quickly made the role his own, a process that will soon have to begin again; as a non-Scot taking on one of Scotland’s major cultural institutions there have already been rumbles about his suitability.
Sansom will have a tough job ahead of him, following in Featherstone’s footsteps while attempting to carve his own path, but he’s proven himself more than capable of complex balancing acts before and should do so again.