“I HAVE a missionary zeal, because I love theatre.”
Those were the words of the Octagon’s incoming artistic director David Thacker, outlining his plans for the future of the theatre.
The 58-year-old will take over the role from Mark Babych in summer, but is already working closely with the existing team to ensure that the Octagon’s future is bright.
“Every day I’m here I’m more and more convinced that this is the right thing for me and that I’m the right person for the Octagon,” he says.
“I’m starting with an enormous sense of confidence about what’s possible here and my enthusiasm for it grows every day.”
David was born in Northampton into a non-theatrical family, and his passion for directing was sparked at university in York.
He started his career at York Theatre Royal before getting his “big break” at Lancaster’s Dukes Theatre and then moving on to the Young Vic — which he describes as his “dream job”, and where he forged a strong working relationship with the American playwright Arthur Miller.
He then worked as director-in-residence at the Royal Shakespeare Company before a switch to television taught him “how not to let the audience get bored” — but also provided a few hairy moments.
“We were filming a scene in Waking The Dead where a girl was drowned,” he says. “The actress had her head pushed under the water and she seemed to be there an awfully long time. Eventually I called cut, and she came back up with this expression of ‘what are you worrying about?’”
Involvement in a Northern Shakespeare Trust lottery bid to build a new theatre in Knowsley led him back to the world of the stage, where the Bolton job came up “accidentally”.
Not long after accepting the post, the Stage magazine published an interview with David where he seemed to be concerned with the Octagon’s artistic future.
“Well it’s the best of times and the worst of times, as Charles Dickens would say,” he says.
“We have fantastic heritage and a great commitment to continue that. I think the artistic policy that we develop here will be strong and I feel very confident that we can build on the success that John Blackmore, executive director and Mark have had already.“ He says that he hopes to expand the appeal of the theatre while continuing to produce high quality work.
“By high quality I don’t mean difficult or alienating, I mean stuff that will move people and make them identify with the people on stage,” he says.
“Arthur Miller once said to me that he tried to write plays that if you told the story to a guy on a train he’d get it. I would hope that every play is going to be like that.”
However, he freely admits that the current economic climate makes his role as the theatre’s ambassador all the more important.
“We’re bored to death of talking about the recession — none of us know how deep it’s going to go.
“We’re in a situation now where even the most intelligent men and women on the planet don’t know what’s going on with the economy. So we might be faced with the situation where the council say they’ve given as much as they can give, and that we are not necessarily a priority anymore. But I will argue passionately for the benefits that the Octagon can bring.
“The future is uncertain — there are factors at work that are beyond my control.”
His first season hasn’t yet been announced, but he says he is hoping to bring works by theatrical giants such as Ibsen and Chekhov, as well as the great American playwrights — Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neil, David Mamet and Edward Albee.
“I think they can be very powerful emotionally and intellectually,” he says.
“I’d also like to work very closely with Activ8 to go right into the community and work with people who aren’t professional actors.”
And, unsurprisingly, given his background, David is hoping to ignite a love of Shakespeare in the Octagon’s audiences.
“I would expect there to be Shakespeare — I believe he is the greatest dramatist ever to have lived, and I think any serious theatre should be doing his work,” he says. “But if we do his work, we should be doing it well.
“In the preface to the first folio it says ‘If you do not like him, you are in manifest danger of not understanding him.’ And I think that’s true. I’m not saying that as a criticism of people, I’m saying it’s my job to make people understand.”