Jamie Manton and Matthew Monaghan will be well known to many of our Friends and Patrons thanks to their work as staff directors on numerous ENO productions. Here, we chat to them about their work, their careers to date and, most importantly, about their forthcoming ENO Studio Live projects directing Jonathan Dove’s The Day After (Jamie) and Gilbert & Sullivan’s Trial by Jury (Matthew).
Firstly, tell us something about yourself that might surprise us.
Jamie: I have a cat called Milo.
Matthew: I have a wicked sense of humour – I’m almost always chuckling.
How did you get into directing?
Jamie: I was fortunate enough to play the role of Puck in Christopher Alden’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at ENO in 2011. Seeing his vision, research and conceptual ideas opened my eyes to the world of directing and creating. I then went to the University of Exeter where I began to explore these realms, leaving acting behind and directing as many plays as I could squeeze in. My brother and I then went on to co-found our film and theatre production company, Duelling Productions.
Matthew: I saw Christopher Alden’s production of Tosca (produced by Opera North) when I was 12 and was totally hooked. When I was at university I directed quite a few things: plays by Shakespeare, Sarah Kane and Philip Ridley, and when I was 21 I was lucky enough to secure a place at RADA to study for an MA in Theatre Directing. While at RADA I had the luxury of time to explore and develop the kind of work I wanted to make as a director.
What makes up a typical day as an ENO staff director?
Jamie: The wonderful thing about being a staff director is that every day /every director/every production is different and presents a new challenge. A ‘typical day’ might include any of the following: assisting the director in the rehearsal room; helping them to achieve their vision; taking notes; lots of scheduling; liaising with stage management; rehearsing the understudy cast; working with the ENO Chorus; walking a role for an absent singer; noting a production during its run; and generally collaborating with the rest of the great ENO team.
Matthew: It can vary depending on the director. Moment to moment it involves a mixture of intuition and practical skill. Generally the job is about making sure the director is clearly represented – anticipating what decisions she/he might make. For example, who is called when on the weekly schedule; the kinds of notes that might be given to the singers on their performances; the timing of rehearsal breaks; how chorus scenes are organised, and making sure these decisions are communicated to the rest of the company.
What’s your favourite ENO project to date?
Jamie: The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, directed by Richard Jones
Matthew: David Alden’s Jenůfa. The production was extremely empathetic – it sympathises with the characters’ need to reclaim their humanity in a world where they have been wounded by deep social inequality and bigotry.
What are you looking forward to most about directing Trial by Jury and The Day After?
Jamie: The Day After will be the first opera that I have ever directed and therefore I have never been more excited. Having directed many plays and directed many opera understudy casts, it is going to be a thrilling journey to stage this piece with ENO. This is also the first time that this piece has been performed with a chorus…
Matthew: I am looking forward to seeing how the piece can speak to us now. The piece is about the perversion of justice in the context of a ludicrous trial (a breach of a promise of marriage) that goes haywire. It’s about a ‘society’ that seems functional on a day-to-day level but is actually deeply corrupt and on the edge of collapse. It’s completely absurd! It feels the right time to do this piece again.
What are you looking to bring to the piece that typifies your style or your personal outlook?
Jamie: Style and personal outlook changes on every production, but I guess one naturally develops the production’s own style. My love for the theatre is in creating the world of the piece, its nature and its inhabitants. I’m looking forward to finding and creating this with the designer, Camilla Clarke. I’m a huge fan of minimalism, so an opera with a post-apocalyptic setting will be an exciting world to create. A world that could signify our future. Greenhouse refugees…Lots to explore!
Matthew: I’m interested in the Theatre of the Absurd (Beckett/Ionesco) – creating a world onstage in which the characters are trapped within madness and corruption. This will involve creating a design that is rather madcap! The challenge then is how to portray, through the artists, what it might mean to survive and be a human being within that madness. With this comes a sense of mischievousness. And I’m looking forward to having quite a lot of fun with the subversive satire and comedy of the piece.
What do you do when you’re not either in the rehearsal room or at the Coliseum?
Jamie: Read, gym, drink, travel, theatre, cinema and best of all, Netflix!
Matthew: Reading, walking, visiting art galleries, going to the theatre, dining out, listening to music. One my favourite places to walk is Highgate Woods in North London – I generally have my best ideas there!
Performances of The Day After take place on 26, 27, 30 and 31 May. Performances of Trial by Jury take place on 3, 5 and 6 June.