“I STARTED it to give myself a job as a director,” says Michael Cabot about London Classic Theatre Company, a regular visitor to The Courtyard in Hereford and returning next week with its production of The Importance of Being Earnest.
“Like any directing student I was looking for my first job, offering to do anything to get my foot in the door. It’s a big industry and hard to get your first break.
No stranger to doing everything himself, having taken shows to the Edinburgh Fringe, Michael decided it wouldn’t be too big a leap to turn that into a job. From 1993 to 1998 he put on several shows on the London fringe.
“It was,” he says, “quite ambitious stuff in quality venues and small theatres, working with like-minded people and no funding.”
Today, with funding for the arts constantly under threat, Michael is pleased to still be steering his own boat, still running a self-funding company – although, as he points out, London Classic Theatre Company does benefit indirectly from those venues, such as The Courtyard, that do receive Arts Council funding.
“Working without funding has made me fairly pragmatic. I’ve never let having little money or an element of risk stop me, and without funding I’ve never had to ask permission to do work.
“There’s something quite liberating about that. We’re in charge of our own destiny, which is especially valuable in the current climate when you often hear of companies waiting for a funding decision to do what they want to do.”
The Importance of Being Earnest is a play that Michael has wanted to do for some time, and it’s a play that arrives on any stage with a weight of expectation riding on it. But Michael has taken the same approach to Oscar Wilde’s classic as he does to every production.
“I try to have no preconceptions and no ideas about what I want. I try to approach every play as if it’s a new play and I never approach period work in terms of the people being different. They have the same appetites and sensibilities, needs and wants as people today.
Michael is a believer in not overthinking a piece of work. “I cast the best actors available at the time, the ones with the most instinctive grasp of what a play’s about. Often it’s about a good actor and a good script and letting them get on with it.”
Explaining why he chose The Importance of Being Earnest, Michael says: “I felt it was time for us to do something which would cheer people up. It’s a long time since we’ve done a comedy. And The Importance of Being Earnest is a much better play than it’s often given credit for.”
Though the company receives no external funding, Michael acknowledges that the success of the current production effectively means that the company will be subsidising itself for its forthcoming, perhaps less obviously crowd-pleasing, productions of Joe Orton’s Entertaining Mr Sloane and Harold Pinter’s Betrayal.
“The Importance of Being Earnest has been very kind to us,” he says.
“The nice thing about what I do is that I get to choose. I choose plays that interest me and excite me and also interest theatres and audiences.
Plays that make me laugh or have something to say. I couldn’t have arranged a better job description for myself.”
The Importance of Being Earnest is at The Courtyard on Tuesday and Wednesday. To book, call the box office on 01432 340555.