‘‘I would not be where I am today without the Belgrade,” Laurence Boswell explains, displaying his excitement at returning to his home city.
The artistic director of the Ustinov Studio at Theatre Royal Bath says he owes his career to the “extraordinary” support he received as a young actor and director at the Belgrade’s Youth Theatre.
The Olivier-award-winning director and RSC associate artist had huge success with Ben Elton’s Popcorn, directed Madonna in Up For Grabs – her London stage debut – Eddie Izzard in A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, and Matt Damon, Anna Paquin, Hayden Christensen and Jake Gyllenhaal in Kenneth Lonergan’s slacker comedy This Is Our Youth.
Next week he returns to his former home city with the Spanish Golden Age Season – three rarely-performed 17th century plays written by two of Shakespeare’s Spanish contemporaries.
“I will always be so grateful to the Belgrade they gave me such a lot of opportunities as a young actor working with professional directors,” says Laurence, who has been at Theatre Royal Bath since 2011.
“From an individual perspective I found it very inspiring. They gave me extraordinary opportunities. I would not be where I am today without the Belgrade. It was wonderful.”
Laurence left the city to go to university at the age of 18 but returns regularly to see his brother Danny and mum Shirley who still live in the Tile Hill area of the city.
His Spanish Golden Age Season opens on March 26 in the theatre’s B2 Auditorium.
It includes two outrageous comedies and one devastating tragedy performed by a company of four women and six men, from Theatre Royal Bath and London’s Arcola Theatre.
Laurence adds: “Ten fantastic actors at the top of their game telling three incredible stories about the glories and dangers of passionate love – it’s a thrilling, unforgettable experience.”
The former Woodlands School pupil will be directing two new translations of the three plays – A Lady of Little Sense and Punishment by Revenge both by Lope de Vegas; while Mehmet Ergen is directing Don Gil of the Green Breeches by Tirso de Molina.
He adds: “It is the first time I have directed A Lady of Little Sense, which is set in Madrid. A dad is trying to marry off his two daughters.
“One is clever, learned and reads intellectual books the other is regarded as a fool. She is a little withdrawn and has not learnt to read or write. No-one wants to marry a girl who is too clever or too stupid. That is his problem. It is very funny.
“As Don Gil of the Green Breeches is an exuberant comedy I thought we ought to have a tragedy. Punishment Without Revenge is a very passionate play set in Italy about a Duke. His problem is he has a bastard son who he wants to succeed him but his relatives say: ‘No’. He’s an old man but marries a young beautiful woman. She does not like him; and he does not like her. But his bastard son thinks she is rather attractive. It is a play with love and passion at the forefront and reveals how love cures people more than passion.
“The Spaniards all were writing at the same time as Shakespeare – but they had female actors. At the time they were writing great roles for women. In Spain they didn’t have a problem – the female actors were the main draw. It was not against the law.”
A life-long passion, Laurence has been translating and directing award-winning plays from the Spanish Golden Age era for more than 30 years.
“The first time was at the Belgrade Youth Theatre with Clive Owen in Lope de Vega’s The Gardener’s Dog,” he explains.
“I used to come and direct in the summer holidays when I was at uni. It was great for me.
“I always wanted plays I could take my mum and brother to see. I don’t like it when my brother comes to a show and falls asleep. They are fast and story driven.”
Laurence was 16 when he acted in the Youth Theatre’s first ever production, alongside Coventry film star Clive Owen and former radio host and newspaper columnist, Jon Gaunt.
“It was Zigger Zaggar by Peter Terson – a play about football. It had 100 kids on a football terrace with the scenes happening up front. I was Zigger and spoke the first words of the play ‘Hello I’m Zigger’.
“I had to give 20 cues to the kids behind but on the first night some little oik shouts back ‘you’re hard!’ and it threw my mind. I got all the wrong cues in the wrong order – but each time the kids answered correctly. It was amazing – but started in absolute chaos.
“Altogether I appeared in five plays and directed three.”
The last time Laurence worked in Coventry was as an aspiring young theatre director at the Belgrade in the summer holidays while studying drama at Manchester University.
“ I directed A Midsummer’s Night Dream with Clive Owen and my brother Danny. Clive was brilliant. He was really poor and we used to buy him chips – he didn’t have a penny to his name.
“He always had his good looks but had a lot of acne and always played the clown. Now he plays handsome chiselled leading men.
“I directed him in the revival of A Day in the Death of Joe Egg on the West End.
“The great thing about the youth theatre was all the productions were directed by professional directors.”
It was on the advice of Michael Boyd, the former artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, – who was then assistant director at the Belgrade – that Laurence chose directing over acting.
“I remember going to some drama school auditions and came back disheartened. I talked to Michael Boyd and he said ‘I would advise you to go to uni because you might want to try directing’.
“On his advice I did and the rest as you say is history.
“I was very lucky I went straight from uni to the RSC at 21. I was the youngest assistant director. It was great working with fantastic directors like Trevor Nunn and exciting actors such as Juliet Stevenson, John Thaw and Daniel Massey.
“I have remained friends with Michael (Boyd) who was assistant director at the Belgrade all those years ago. I go and see everything he does.
“And now he is directing the UK premiere of new American drama The Big Meal with Diana Quick in my theatre in Bath.”
Laurence is just about to “jump back into celebrity waters” when he directs pop star Natalie Imbruglia, who first rose to fame on Neighbours, in a touring production of Alan Ayckbourn play, Things We Do For Love.
“I spent 10 years working with celebrities, sometimes it gets a bit stressful,” he says.
“But I love working with Clive Owen. We had this massive history at the Belgrade Youth Theatre. We used to sit eating chips on the wall of the fountain outside the Belgrade.
“I also enjoyed working with Eddie Izzard. He said to me: ‘I am really keen to be an actor – can you teach me how to act?’ He was very humble.
“Natalie is lovely and I don’t think working with her will be a stress.”
* A Lady of Little Sense, Don Gil of the Green Breeches and Punishment Without Revenge will be performed in the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, from March 26 to April 19. For more details visit: www.belgrade.co.uk