Trevor Nunn and Kevin Spacey discuss their latest collaboration and why critics don’t know what they’re talking aboutby John Nathan / September 23, 2009 / Leave a comment
In rehearsal: Trevor Nunn (left) directs Kevin Spacey in a new production of Inherit the Wind at the Old Vic
Trevor Nunn was artistic director of the RSC for 18 years and artistic director of the National Theatre for six years. Kevin Spacey has been artistic director of the Old Vic since 2003. They first collaborated in 2005, when Nunn directed Spacey as Shakespeare’s Richard II at the Old Vic to great acclaim. The play was viewed as a breakthrough for Spacey’s directorship after a poorly received first season. This year, they are collaborating for the second time, with Nunn directing Spacey in a rare British production of Jerome Lawrence and Robert E Lee’s 1955 play Inherit the Wind, based on the “monkey trial” of 1925, in which liberal attorney Clarence Darrow—renamed Drummond in the play—defended a teacher for breaking the Tennessee law prohibiting the teaching of evolution. With performances due to begin on 2nd October, I spoke to them at the Old Vic just two weeks into rehearsals.
Spacey: The great thing about the theatre is that there is no ownership of a play—only custodial ownership for a period.
Nunn: I always used to say at the RSC that, whatever we do with a Shakespeare, however extreme or cautious, the play is going to be there pristine for the next group who do it.
Spacey: Great plays can survive really terrible productions. They are elastic, they can be stretched.
Nathan: But is it also the case that famous productions can overshadow later revivals? Inherit the Wind was a famous film with Spencer Tracy in 1960, yet clearly you feel it has become topical again. The protagonist has a line about freedom of speech…
Spacey: “You don’t think a thing like this is ever finished?” Yes. And certainly in the case of creationists versus Darwinists, the argument at its heart is still going on.
Nunn: A recent poll found that more than 40 per cent of Americans don’t believe in evolution. And Darwin has never even been published in an Islamic country.
Nathan: Yet your audience is likely to consist of liberal, atheistic theatre-going types who already believe in freedom of speech and evolution. Don’t you worry the production will preach to the converted?
Nunn: We aren’t doing the play so that a group of self-congratulatory liberals can attack people who are of more closed mind than they are. There’s…