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Josh Roche: ‘I don’t buy this idea that more money makes a show shallow and populist’

Roche in rehearsals for Magnificence. Photo: Tegid Cartwright

As well as serving as an assistant director on a number of Royal Shakespeare Company and Shakespeare’s Globe productions, Josh Roche is artistic director of his own fringe company, Fat Git Theatre. Speaking to David Hutchison during preparations for his revival of Howard Brenton’s Magnificence, he discusses his career and hopping between the worlds of fringe, subsidised and commercial theatre…

How are rehearsals going?

We’re just beginning week four and everything feels a metre away and a mile away at the same time. We had Howard in for our run yesterday, which was nice because it was the first time he had seen the play in 40 years. It’s extraordinary to think of the journey he’s been on in the meantime, and that the last time it was done was by a young Kenneth Cranham, Pete Postlethwaite and Max Stafford-Clark – who are all now titans of the industry.

How did Brenton react to the run-through?

He said some very nice things and told us what we needed to improve. He was really lovely. He has such an extraordinary way with images that he will say completely unplayable things to a director that we then have to translate. Yesterday, for example, he said of one of the characters: “Well, the man’s a little like a ruined cathedral.” Which, if you know the character, is an absolutely exquisite image of what he’s about. But of course, asking an actor to play a ruined cathedral is probably not the most helpful thing in the world. So he’s a writer through and through.

What does your work as an assistant director involve?

The best way to describe it is: imagine a conversation between A and B. You are separate to it, and they’re going to have that conversation with or without you. But you have to try to get involved in the conversation and help it, not hold it up or get in the way. It trains you to be very efficient with your notes, to know when to give a note and when not to, to know what to push for and what not to push for. I finance my fringe projects with the fees I get paid as an assistant director in bigger places. The funding landscape is so bizarre at the moment that the RSC is technically and unknowingly funding my Finborough project, through the wage it has been paying me recently. If there’s anything that tells you about underfunding on the fringe, it’s that.

You also read scripts for companies including the RSC, the Globe and Sonia Friedman – do they look for different things?

The fundamental thing that joins them all up is they all get excited about good plays. The amazing thing that unifies them is that whether you’re talking about a budget of hundreds of thousands or just hundreds, when a good play comes through people get excited. And that’s wonderful. I think the priorities are different in terms of what you read for. The number of scripts you read for the Globe where the first stage direction is “Blackout” – you think: yes, you may have a problem with the matinees. Casting is a much bigger aspect with Sonia Friedman of course, but their overheads change what kind of work they’re looking at. I don’t buy this idea that the more money going in to something, the more shallow and populist it becomes. Sonia Friedman is proving that not to be the case. But they can’t take the same risks. They have to provide something that’s deep, rich and populist all at the same time.

CV: Josh Roche

Training: None
First professional job: Assistant director, Utopia, Soho Theatre (2012)
Agent: None

Magnificence runs at the Finborough, London, until November 19

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