Innovation. Creation. Deconstruction. CPR for Classics. Courage. Beauty. Visionary. Feminist. Theatre and film can dance. Also one Shakespeare was enough, comedies not really ever.
The Guardian (2016) described her as ‘The British theatre queen in exile’ because though she had a successful career early in her life (winning an Olivier at the age of 31 years old), she has worked mostly outside of England until recent years.
She wrestled a misogynist text [Miss Julie] to the floor and put bullets in the back of its head.
Katie Mitchell has a split vote. It seems there is no opinion that stands in between the extremes when it comes to reactions about her work. Some hail her as the greatest working theatre director, others accuse her of acting as though she is above the text, a devastator of the classics. Whether you like her work or not, it is hard to deny Mitchell this title of theatre queen. She doesn’t shy away from modern challenging texts such as Sarah Kane’s work or the classics which she re-invents into a whirlwind experience.
Mitchell is well known for her multi-media shows. As a lover of film, I have been long interested in finding ways to marry the mediums of theatre and film. In her work, Mitchell puts everything up on its feet and creates a choreography which layers and explores how differently, or the same, we as the audience absorb these forms of storytelling as well as the tension and beauty that lives between the two. Camera operators become characters themselves as they capture the actors on stage from their perspective.
While she is known for taking the classics and ‘vandalizing’ them (a good thing to some, obscene to others), she also devises with writers and companies of actors. She has directed opera, modern, contemporary, youth theatre, the Greeks, straight theatre, you name it, oh and yes, one Shakespeare with no plans for another anytime soon apparently etc.
“As a director you have a role that is very simple: to say whether it’s clear or not. That is the job: to watch in detail and make sure it is precise for the audience, second by second.” – Mitchell
I am sad to say that I have yet to see a Katie Mitchell production live. I have heard from people that have seen her work and have watched as much as I can online but alas, nothing does really beat the live event. I have been able to get more of a sense of the artist through her book The Director’s Craft: a Handbook for the Theatre. Her enormous preparation, her approaches to collaboration, and her understanding and trust in the process are truly inspiring. In her book she explains in depth how she works, what she has learned, when and why she has failed and what has helped her succeed. It is a humble analysis and sharing of the ways in which the work can be approached depending on the project angle. This knowledge is built on more than 30 years experience. Mitchell is about the work, which is always a defining trait to me.
She is one to catch when you can.