Saturday 15 December 2018

How Gate's director Selina Cartmell set the stage for a theatre sea-change

Lessons learned: Chief executive Selina Cartmell has helped the Gate Theatre sell out all its shows since last June. Photo: Caroline Quinn
Lessons learned: Chief executive Selina Cartmell has helped the Gate Theatre sell out all its shows since last June. Photo: Caroline Quinn
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

Sitting shoulder to shoulder in the dark with strangers, as you listen to stories. With your mobile phone turned off.

There's something magical about theatre, muses Selina Cartmell.

The artistic director and chief executive of the Gate Theatre, launches her second season today, titled 'Love and Courage'.

And with it, she hopes to continue her journey of making Irish audiences rediscover the alchemy of this old and stately place that Micheál MacLiammoir and Hilton Edwards first discovered as a rollerskate rink 90 years ago and brought to life as a living, breathing space in which to tell stories.

Their spirit lives on in Cartmell, who is only the fourth artistic director to hold the reins here.

She took over at what was probably the most difficult time in the company's history, following the torrent of allegations of bullying and sexual harassment surrounding her predecessor, Michael Colgan.

Lessons have been learned, Selina says - not just at the Gate, but in wider society.

She brought in employees' handbooks, gender equality policies and implemented direct reporting.

"The culture is changing. It was a real zeitgeist - not just here in Ireland but in the UK, Europe, in the US and around the world," she says of the MeToo movement.

"Lessons have been learned, absolutely. Everyone I've spoken to feels there has been a real departure. And learnings are always important," she adds.

But it is still a work in progress, she warns.

"Everything takes time. I can't change the past - I can only look to the future and change what is happening now. It's important to remember that."

It's not just around the MeToo issue that Selina has been affecting a sea change.

The Gate has been completely sold out since last June.

Irish theatre has been completely reignited with her first season, 'The Outsider' - which saw rave reviews for its startlingly fresh production of 'Hamlet' starring Ruth Negga.

Its production of Roddy Doyle's 'The Snapper' was hailed as a love letter to Dublin - while crucially, with theatre often viewed as a dying art form - it attracted a much younger crowd. A staggering 74pc of the audience reporting that it was their first time at the Gate.

"It's an amazing achievement and it's definitely something to build on," says Selina.

"There is a real appetite for theatre - if the work is good, people will come," she adds simply.

With the Gate full of life, the 'Charleston' blaring during rehearsals for the ongoing hit production of the 'Great Gatsby' - which sees the audience wander from room to room to follow the action, Selina is full of energy for the new season ahead.

Last night she got the final confirmation that 'The Snapper' will return once more, with a limited nine-week run next summer.

Cartmell admits that she is "really, really happy" that it's coming back.

Growing up in the Lake District in the UK, she reveals that it was through Roddy Doyle's novel that she fell in love with Ireland.

"I completely got it - it was so witty and so smart," she says. "I wanted to be part of the Rabbitte family and I wanted to be around that kitchen table."

She feels at home in Ireland, saying she doesn't need to look too far to find the same sense of community echoed there, she says.

What next for The Gate?

Love and Courage kicks off with a double act of international drama. Lucy Kirkwood’s The Children stars Marie Mullen, Sean McGinley and Ger Ryan in the story of a retired married couple facing their past amid disastrous climate change, and David Eldridge’s Beginning stars Marty Rea and Eileen Walsh as a couple in those first fragile moments of potential love.

The two contemporary dramas, deliberately programmed side by side, will be directed by two of Ireland’s most talented emerging directors Oonagh Murphy (The Children) and Marc Atkinson (Beginning).

A new production of an American classic, Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie will be directed and designed by critically acclaimed Irish director Tom Cairns in his Irish stage debut. And a summer return of Roddy Doyle’s cult stage adaptation of The Snapper follows a 2018 sold-out run.

The Gate’s return production of The Great Gatsby, which opens on Wednesday, November 21, has been extended until Saturday, February 16. Most performances of Gatsby are now sold out until January 2019.

Tickets will be on sale for the new season from noon today, starting from €15, with a special two-show price available from €60 for The Children and Beginning.

Irish Independent

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