Jamie Lloyd: the theatre director tearing up the playbook

The director of Pinter at the Pinter, tells The Jackal about making theatre accessible, working 100-hour weeks, and what it’s really like to work with Danny Dyer

The director Jamie Lloyd’s ascent to the top of British theatre has been so fast he’s sometimes called “Jammy Lloyd”.

An advocate of affordable theatre for diverse audiences, he’s been described by The Evening Standard as ‘redefining West End theatre.’ At 38, he’s now set himself the challenge of directing all of Harold Pinter’s shorter plays in a single season. He’s cast Danny Dyer, Martin Freeman, Tom Hiddleston, and he coaxed Lee Evans out of retirement. We ask him how. And why?

Why run a season of back-to-back Pinter plays?

He was a prolific writer and for the first time ever, we’re presenting all of his shorter works together in a festival. It’s completely unprecedented and it’ll never happen again, but it’s an amazing opportunity to see the scope of his work from 1956 to 2000. The festival is about celebrating him, his work, and acknowledging his extraordinary impact on international theatre.

Going to the theatre wasn’t part of your early life. How can you make someone like you feel welcome?

They used to say Hastings, where my family and I moved to when I was 11, is a heroin village with a fishing problem. I’m an anomaly really and that’s why I’m very passionate about making theatre as accessible as possible. Walking into these theatres can feel like quite a daunting prospect. We do very simple things like asking the ushers what they want to wear. You walk into a lot of theatres and the ushers are wearing waistcoats and bowties and already it looks unfamiliar, it looks too formal. We play music front of house, which again, is very unusual. It’s about trying to create an atmosphere that is just genuinely welcoming.

How expensive is it to see these plays, because that matters, too, doesn’t it?

That’s vital. Access is about more than ticket prices but it’s the key factor. This season, we’ve got 25,000 tickets for £15 and they’re good seats. There’s no point saying, “Here’s your £15 ticket… and the seat is right at the back or stuck behind a pillar!” It’s about cultivating a relationship, saying this is something you can connect with at a profound level rather than as a one-off experience. Pinter’s plays are the perfect introduction to the theatre.

Why have you cast some comedians?

Harold thought all of his plays were comedies. He couldn’t define the impact of his work but he said he always got laughs! Crucially, he had this understanding that most of the time as human beings we’re not using language to convey what we really think or feel, but to conceal it. It’s what’s so addictive about his work.

Pinter famously used to open a bottle of wine at the beginning of a rehearsal. When he finished drinking it, the rehearsal was over. Have you tried that?

I don’t drink! But yes, he used to have a bottle of white wine. It could be a very quick rehearsal if he drank it fast.

What was it like working with Danny Dyer?

He’s an absolute gent. He’s a fantastic actor, he was one of Harold’s favourite actors to work with, he was a protégé. I think it was the East End rhythm of the language that they both understood. He’s a really insightful, intelligent guy. He’s not what you think. I found him a very gentle, humble guy who’s very keen to get started.

Is it an exciting time for London theatre at the moment?

I think it is. There’s a younger generation of directors thinking outside of the box. In this country, plays are still primarily tethered to the text and yet there’s a bold visual quality, a strong aesthetic that’s emerging. I think that’s the only way that theatre can evolve. I’m working 100-hour weeks so I can’t watch anything else, but technology has obviously moved on so we now use sound in a really cinematic way. We’re drawing inspiration from work as diverse as a Netflix series, a video game, or an art installation, and that’s all for the better.

You’ve said that theatre shouldn’t just be a good night out. Is that something you stand by?

Yes. Theatre’s about total connection to another human being. There’s this recent study that the hearts of people in an audience at the theatre beat together, they sync up. You’ve got all these individuals, hopefully different ages and from different backgrounds, and they’ve come together in a very live and direct way to learn something detailed about each other.

Pinter at the Pinter runs until 23 February 2019,