We talk to Curve’s Artistic Director Nikolai Foster about new production The Importance of Being Earnest, the power of regional theatre and how he plans to champion new work.
You can’t fault Curve for having ambition. Since Artistic Director Nikolai Foster took the reigns, audiences have been treated to productions of A Streetcar Named Desire, Our Country’s Good, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and of course, Richard III. This year the theatre continues to give us its spin on the greats with its first production of The Importance of Being Earnest, hailed as one of best comedies in the English language.
The costume drama has been revisited hundreds of times, proving to be a timeless story that keeps audiences returning. Yet many of Foster’s productions, such as his mafia-esque Richard III, have matched traditional plays with modern issues.
The play puts women centre-stage, the women holding the key to many of the men’s desires, rather than the other way around.
“He was clearly satirising the ridiculous hypocrisy of a world which is run by men, where these women are, in many ways and in society at that time, second class citizens to men. Of course, what he does in his play is make women the driving force.”
“The stronger we stand together, the more vibrantly our voices are heard.”
The set is to be a box of mirrors, reflecting the drama to both the audience and characters on stage, elevating the importance of image and status in the world of high society, both then and now. In terms of costume, nothing but the highest of fashion would suffice for Wilde’s cunning cast: “We are looking at high-fashion, things like Dolce & Gabbana and Matthew Williams, as it looks like it could be 1890s or it could be now.”
In somewhat of a similarity to the aspirational characters of Wilde’s classic, the cast of this production are a mixture of professional and community actors, something that has proved to be a strength for Curve.
This is particularly true of actor Sharan Phull, who plays Cecily. Starting out as an usher at Curve, she went on to act in several of Curve’s community productions, which eventually led her to landing a role on the West End in Bend it Like Beckham.
“To do all this back at Curve is really surreal and so special,” Phull explains. “It’s full of great people making inclusive and important work and I can’t wait to share it!”
Foster echoes this, explaining how regional theatres are as important and forward thinking as those in the capital.
“There is this sense that anything in London is good, and anything outside of London is all right, but not quite hitting the mark compared to London theatres.”
“I think everyone in the regions is doing incredible work, and the stronger we stand together, the more vibrantly our voices are heard.”
The play is a good example of this as it’s a co-production with Birmingham Rep, meaning the show will run in both theatres. The collaboration will certainly make both venues strong contenders to those in London.
Of course, there is always room for improvement, and this is certainly on Curve’s trajectory. “I’d like to continue flying the flag for new work, whether that’s new musicals or new plays or new dance.”
“The more we can build trust with our audiences the more we can get them to invest in new work.”
With this in mind, what Curve does next is an open book. Foster is reluctant to give the game away, but offers a glimpse of what’s to come.
“There is a leading contemporary British playwright whose play was on at National Theatre a couple of years ago, and I am hoping we will be able to present the regional premiere of their play.”
“There is also a playwright much closer to home that I am a great admirer of and who was responsible for getting me interested in theatre in the first place, so we’re hoping to present one of their plays.”
Finally, as a director who’s done his fair share of work all over the UK, what does he think makes Leicester’s theatre scene unique?
“The diversity of venues,” Foster says confidently. “Everybody sort of works collaboratively or harmoniously and the cultural mix is far stronger for it, because everyone has got their own offering. That’s what makes the city so exciting and so alive.”
The Importance of Being Earnest Runs from the 6th to the 29th October at Curve.