This year’s Special Award goes to Max Roberts, artistic director of Live Theatre. DAVID WHETSTONE spoke to a man who has directed many popular and critically acclaimed productions, nurtured successful careers and brought credit to the region.
EARLIER this year the Gateshead-born writer Peter Straughan won a Bafta and was nominated (jointly, with his late wife Bridget O’Connor) for an Oscar for his screenplay of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
Also nominated – for his work on Steven Spielberg’s War Horse – was Newcastle-born Lee Hall whose play The Pitmen Painters has been a hit across Britain and in New York since it was premiered at Live Theatre.
Both Peter and Lee are former writers-in-residence at the Newcastle Quayside theatre where the success stories are legion.
Take another North East writer, Michael Chaplin, who made his name through television but whose best stage work has been seen at Live.
Chaplin’s adaptation of former MP Chris Mullin’s diaries, A Walk On Part, went down a storm in Newcastle and then in London, where it has been seen by a string of politicians... some of whom were able to laugh at themselves.
The Pitmen Painters, A Walk On Part and Peter Straughan’s early stage play, Bones, are among many directed by Max Roberts, Live’s artistic director and one-time “average actor” (to quote the man himself).
Just to redress the gender balance, I might say that his 2010 production of Shelagh Stephenson’s A Northern Odyssey, about the American artist Winslow Homer’s brief stay in the North East village of Cullercoats, was wonderful too.
As well as writers, Max has nurtured many acting careers during his long career with Live Theatre, of which he is a founding member with memories of the days when it survived on a shoestring and did not have a plush base on the Quayside, let alone a national and international reputation.
Max was born in Chester but came to Newcastle in the mid 1970s to study for a bachelor of education degree at what was then Newcastle Polytechnic.
He recalls: “I did drama. I wasn’t going to do drama but I was very inspired by the drama teachers because they seemed interesting people.”
One of the assistant lecturers was the playwright CP (Cecil Philip) Taylor, a Scottish Jew with Socialist principles happily exiled on Tyneside.
“Very fortuitously he taught me when I was 19 or 20,” recalls Max. “He taught me a lot about how he saw the role of the theatre company in a particular place, in this particular place.