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Douglas dons his directors hat for the Rep; Culture Theatre Terry Grimley meets actor, director and aspiring songwriter Douglas Hodge.

Byline: Terry Grimley

Douglas Hodge has happy memories of Birmingham Rep, because that's where he and his partner, the actress Tessa Peake-Jones, first became a couple.

And wait a minute, it gets better. He was playing Romeo and she was playing Juliet.

"It's the most romantic story," he admits. "We'd worked together once before. I can't remember how old I was, but I think it was 23 years ago - and I think the press night was on Valentine's Day!"

Funnily enough he hasn't been back since then. Now a familiar face from a long list of TV credits, he has a successful second career as a director, with recent credits including a sparkling revival of Philip King's wartime farce See How They Run.

He also has a lesser-known third career as a singer-songwriter, describing making an album of his songs a few years ago as "Just about the most exciting thing I've done", but it's the director's hat he is wearing for this return visit to the Rep.

He is directing Bryony Lavery's new play Last Easter at the The Door, and I wondered if this was because he and the author were old friends.

"No, not at all. I was made associate director of the Donmar Theatre, and as part of that I started to read about 50 new plays that had never been done. This was the second one I read and it stayed with me all the way through and became a benchmark. I knew Bryony had a very strong connection with Birmingham.

"She is absolutely in the top ten writers in England. I haven't seen Stockholm her other new play yet, but the reviews could have been written by her."

As well as adapting Uncle Vanya for the Rep earlier this year, Lavery has the distinction of having written Frozen, possibly the most emotionally involving play I've ever seen at the Rep. Though its gruelling subject matter (it's about a child murder) guaranteed small houses in the main house, its quality was later confirmed by a revival at the National Theatre and a Tony-nominated run on Broadway.

On the face of it, Last Easter also asks its audience to confront something it might prefer to ignore. It's about a woman suffering from terminal cancer who asks her various flaky friends to help her take her own life.

"It's partly about assisted suicide, but it's different because it's so funny," says Douglas. "It's really about friendship, and it's very funny, even though there are heartbreaking moments in it. It has this balance of humour and acute emotion.

"She's an exciting writer because she can change it in an instant, and that's wonderful for actors.

"I don't know anybody who hasn't been affected by cancer in some way, but there isn't a single play about it. There's a feeling in this country that you mustn't mention the c-word or you might get it. I think there are some real experiences that Bryony has been through, and the evening should have a kind of healing, cathartic feeling to it."

One of the characters in the play is a drag queen and coincidentally so is Hodge's next acting role, in an upcoming revival of Le Cage aux Folles, a prospect he says is filling him with terror.

Another coincidence is that one of his most recent roles was in A Matter of Life and Death at the National Theatre, the classic British film adaptation which Kneehigh Theatre did before their current Brief Encounter on the Rep's main stage.

"Which is fabulous, because they've been next door to us in the rehearsal room," says Douglas. "All that cast but one were at the National. I remember Nick Hytner was rehearsing Rafta Rafta which comes to the Rep in February next door to us and constantly complained about the noise, which we thought was terrible.

"Of course now I'm in the rehearsal room next door and they're still making as much noise."

Last Easter opens at The Door, Birmingham Repertory Theatre, tomorrow night and runs until November 11 (Box office: 0121 236 4455).

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Douglas Hodge, returns to the Birmingham Rep directing Bryony Lavery's Last Easter
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Oct 17, 2007
Words:695
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