Stephen Sondheim: ‘Directors should focus more on the text and less on themselves’

Stephen Sondheim. Photo: Dave Benett Stephen Sondheim. Photo: Dave Benett
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Too many theatre directors are more interested in serving themselves than the piece they are working on, Stephen Sondheim has claimed.

The composer and lyricist said the issue was more prominent in musicals, which “invite a lot of invention”.

He was speaking at a platform event ahead of the first preview of the National Theatre’s new production of his musical Follies.

When asked what he looks for in the people he entrusts to interpret his work, Sondheim said: “Mostly it’s the directors you have to be careful of. Many, many directors, particularly in musicals, are more interested in serving themselves rather than serving the text, because musicals invite a lot of invention.

“Even if that director is inventive, he or she should be serving the piece, and you don’t always get that. That’s the thing I look for.”

Sondheim added that he had not yet seen the NT’s current production of Follies, directed by Dominic Cooke and starring Imelda Staunton, Tracie Bennett and Janie Dee.

He went on to say that one of the things he loves about theatre, unlike film, is its endless capacity to be reinterpreted by new generations.

“Theatre is malleable. Every generation, there’s a new way of looking at Hamlet. It’s not just Shakespeare who keeps the play alive, it’s the directors and the actors who keep that play alive. I think the same thing is true of musical theatre, you can look at shows differently and they are enriched.”