The Out of Joint artistic director recalls her work and friendship with the late Terry Hands, former artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare, who died last week at the age of 79
I first met Terry in 2008 when he was artistic director of Theatr Clwyd. Riddled with imposter syndrome and disillusioned with unpaid fringe work and impenetrable bursary applications, I wrote to every regional theatre I could think of saying that I wanted to work and was keen to learn.
Terry answered my letter by return of post, inviting me to North Wales to meet him. I had heard tales of this imposing, brilliant figure and was nervous as I stepped off the train.
I went to the cashpoint, intending to get a cab to the theatre, only to discover I had once again exceeded my overdraft limit. I figured I just about had the funds to get there, but there was no way I was getting back. There was nothing for it but to head off and solve that problem once my meeting was over.
I didn’t have enough cash. The taxi driver was not happy. Thankfully Terry’s wonderful PA and all-round angel Mel offered to lend me some money to pay the fare. I said thanks, took a steadying breath and went to meet Terry.
We talked for more than two hours. Terry was wise, funny, shrewd and very kind. When I eventually left, he pressed £40 of his own money into my hand. Mel had told him I was broke. When I protested, he just said: “Do it for someone else one day when you can.”
Terry believed in passing on what you have. You can see his legacy in the wonderful actors who came up through the Theatr Clwyd ensemble
One month later, Terry came to London, saw a show I had directed on the fringe, and invited me to work full time at Theatr Clwyd. It was a huge gamble from him and a dream job for me. I directed two shows a year in an incredible building, was getting paid, and had the most patient, exacting mentor that a young director could ask for.
Terry taught me staging, lighting, how to read a play, and how to love a production into being. Over five years, we argued, laughed and talked our way through show after show. When I told him I was pregnant, he was supportive and delighted. “We are a family,” he said. My daughter became a regular visitor to the theatre and delighted in wrecking Terry’s office.
Terry believed in passing on what you have. You can see his legacy in the wonderful actors who came up through the Theatr Clwyd ensemble, all of the artists to whom he generously gave his time, and the theatre he saved and loved, which continues to thrive today.
When I moved on from Clwyd, Terry remained a friend and guide, always at the end of the phone with a sympathetic ear and straightforward advice. It is hard to believe that I will never speak to him again, but I use the things he taught me every day.
I often have the pleasure of working with young artists myself now, and I hope that Terry would feel that I have followed that very first piece of advice: “Do it for someone else one day when you can.”