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Bob Carlton: director and writer

Bob Carlton pictured at The Stage New Year Party 2015. Photo: Alex Brenner Bob Carlton pictured at The Stage New Year Party 2015. Photo: Alex Brenner

Director and writer Bob Carlton is best known for writing the Olivier award-winning musical Return to the Forbidden Planet, which has been produced all over the world. A director at heart, he has been artistic director of the Queen’s Theatre in Hornchurch since 1998

Which came first – writing or directing?

Directing. I would describe myself as a director who writes a bit. Directing is really my forte and what I’ve always wanted to do. I left school and started at the Yvonne Arnaud in Guildford as a student assistant stage manager. Having gone through about three years of stage management, I decided to go to university, in Hull, to study drama. After I graduated, I was lucky enough to get an arts council training bursary and have been directing ever since.

As artistic director, what do you look for in a play?

At the Queen’s we rely so much on box office, so populist drama is always important. That doesn’t mean it’s mindless, but a lot of people think that. Populism and quality aren’t exclusive terms. My audience here really like us to be storytellers of good, strong stories. Our newest show is a musical called Gunmetal Blues. It’s a fantastic vehicle for our actor-musician company, plus it’s the European premiere.

What was the experience like of artistic director of London Bubble Theatre Company?

The Bubble was many years ago in the early 1980s, and back then it was still a big top tent that used to go around London. That was where we invented the idea of actor musicianship, which really came from that populist theatre idea. We were playing to people that didn’t really go to the theatre and it was this terrible thing where you could do the greatest ever performance of Hamlet and the audience reaction would be, “If I had the bottle to stand on stage and remember all those lines, I could do that”. But you play three chords on the guitar and the respect for you changes. That brought in a popular audience to our work, and it was at Bubble that I first wrote Return to the Forbidden Planet.

How did Return to the Forbidden Planet come about?

I started writing altogether because we couldn’t afford a writer, so I put something together. I wrote a show called From a Jack to a King, which was the story of Macbeth with rock songs, and it turned out to be quite successful. I remembered seeing the film Forbidden Planet and realising that it was the story of The Tempest, so I just went back to Shakespeare and wrote Return to the Forbidden Planet. It was something I fell into and really enjoyed. We’re doing a revival this season and then it’s going out on tour, which is exciting.

Gunmetal Blues runs at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until September 20

CV: Bob Carlton

Training: Hull University (1971)
First professional job: assistant stage manager, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford (1968)
Agent: Mel Kenyon, Casarotto Ramsay

Read The Stage’s review of Gunmetal Blues here
Read more Showpeople interviews

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