Entertainment & Arts

Matthew Warchus: 'I'll be pretty much invisible at the Old Vic'

Matthew Warchus Image copyright Manuel Harlan
Image caption Matilda director Matthew Warchus is the Old Vic's new artistic director, taking over from Kevin Spacey

Matthew Warchus has announced his first season as the new artistic director of London's Old Vic.

His "something for everyone" programme includes a musical version of Groundhog Day, an adaptation of Dr Seuss's The Lorax, Ibsen's The Master Builder starring Ralph Fiennes, and Pinter's The Caretaker with Timothy Spall.

The director of hit musical Matilda and acclaimed film Pride tells the BBC of his hopes for his first year in the job and what it's like taking over from Kevin Spacey.

What's the past year been like since you were announced as the Old Vic's new boss?

Having got the job and being told that it was going to start in summer 2015, within hours somebody from the Old Vic called me and said we need you to announce your first season in the new year.

Then we got into a discussion about that season being a whole year of work. Obviously, I wasn't walking round with a year's season in my head, so I had to scramble to do a lot of things very quickly.

It's been incredibly busy while tending to Matilda in the background and releasing Pride in the autumn as well, so it was full of exciting, breathtakingly hopeful moments and crushing disappointments when projects fell to pieces.

Your new season starts with a new play, Future Conditional by Tamsin Oglesby. How important is it to bring in new work?

It's a very important thing. The thing about choosing the first play is that it's ridiculously symbolic. I've had this play for a while. It's got so many people in it, it's been hard to find somewhere to do it.

It's political, funny and thought-provoking and has a big, strong youth aspect. It reflects so many of the things I care about.

What does it mean to you to be able to premiere Groundhog Day at the Old Vic?

I was developing it beforehand. We didn't know where it was going to go. I thought that what we were really making was an intelligent, mainstream Broadway musical, with a lot in common with The Music Man and Our Town as American fables.

It needs a large audience and a large stage, and I wanted to start it in this country, so it's the perfect match.

Do you feel extra pressure after your success with Matilda?

Making a new musical is a mountain to climb, and each time you say "That's the last one, I'm not going to do it anymore." They are hard enough to do without added expectations.

They're so hard that actually a lot of the time, you don't think about the audiences or critics. You think of something much more immediate, problems like the scene or the set.

You can't predict how much people will like it, but what we can do is make the story have integrity. It's absolutely possible it could be a flop.

If you're worried about whether something succeed or fails, then don't even start on it. You have to have a bigger reason for doing it.

What's your thinking behind your £10 preview ticket scheme?

What I'm interested in is removing the obstacle of affordability for people who think they might be inclined to try out theatre.

I'm not somebody who says that everybody has to love theatre, any more than everybody has to love football, but some people could form a really meaningful relationship with theatre and haven't because of the ticket price.

We've got to remove that. We've got make the experience feel less posh.

How do you think your approach will differ from Kevin Spacey's?

It will differ enormously in some respects and not at all in others. While he's been head of the building he's had an enormous number of people helping him, and those people are still here. So how the theatre functions is unchanged on many levels.

I'll be pretty much invisible. I'm a director - I like hiding behind other people.

But there will be glamour as well, because there will be a lot of star actors passing though the theatre.

[Kevin] could shake somebody's hand and get them to write a cheque. I can't do that, but they'll write a cheque for my ideas that I'm pitching or because Ralph Fiennes or Tim Spall is standing next to me.

It's funny because people used to to say: "How can a Hollywood actor run a theatre?" Last night people were asking if I was nervous about taking over from Kevin. It's like only Hollywood actors can run a theatre now!

The Old Vic's new season begins on 1 September.

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