By Mervyn Rothstein
01 Mar 2009
|Photo by Michael O'Neill|
"Growing up in Australia, I was in love with the movies," the 80-year-old director Michael Blakemore says. "But then Laurence Olivier arrived with the Old Vic, and I saw Richard III and School for Scandal and Skin of Our Teeth, and I thought, 'This is what I want to do.'"
Blakemore has spent nearly 60 years, in Britain and the United States, doing what he wanted to do. He has received seven Tony nominations, including two Tony Awards — uniquely, both in the same year, in 2001, as Best Director of a Play for Copenhagen and Best Director of a Musical for the revival of Kiss Me, Kate. He is perhaps best known for his work with the playwright Michael Frayn (Noises Off, Copenhagen, Democracy, Benefactors). And this season he is directing a revival at the Shubert Theatre on Broadway of Noël Coward’s comedy Blithe Spirit, starring Angela Lansbury, Christine Ebersole and Rupert Everett.
In Australia, Blakemore's father, an eye specialist, wanted his son to follow in the family tradition. "Initially, I capitulated, and started to study medicine," Blakemore recalls. "But about halfway through the five-year program I realized there was no way I wanted to spend my life doing this. So I rebelled and became a dropout. I went to England. My father was not too happy with my decision."
He worked as an actor for 15 years. "I did quite well, but I found it a very frustrating life. It wasn't what I wanted to do. I wrote a novel about the life of an actor — 'Next Season.' It's still in print." When he was 37, "a friend who felt I should be directing invited me to the Glasgow Citizens Theatre, gave me two parts to play and three plays to direct."
And then another friend, "who couldn’t get anybody to direct his play, gave me his play to direct. We did it in Glasgow, and within six months we were doing it in the West End of London. And before long, we were doing it on Broadway. So within a year and a half of starting as a director, I was directing on Broadway."
The playwright was Peter Nichols, and the play was A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, Nichols' drama about a mother and father (Nichols himself) and their handicapped child. It opened on Broadway on Feb. 1, 1968, starring Albert Finney and Joan Hickson, and was nominated for four Tony Awards, including one for Blakemore as Best Director. Continued...