1st Edition

Directing the Decades Lessons from Fifty Years of Becoming a Director

By Sue Dunderdale Copyright 2022
    406 Pages 64 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    406 Pages 64 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Directing the Decades is an examination of the development of theatre in the UK since the revolution of the 1950s until the present day, viewed through the individual progress of a female director from a working-class background.

    In this book, theatre history and lessons on directing are interwoven: the history is presented decade by decade, examining particular productions. Each historical theatre chapter is followed by a method chapter examining directorial influences and techniques predominant in each decade, as well as examining the working experience of the author in that decade. The book also includes practical advice on the directing process, including exercises, plans for rehearsals, and camera plans. Sue Dunderdale offers a unique perspective on the evolution of theatre directing in the UK, and her work, which served as the foundation of the creation of the Theatre Lab and Directing program at RADA, continues to influence working directors today.

    Directing the Decades will be of interest to students and practitioners of theatre directing, acting, and theatre history, and to theatregoers with a consciousness of class and how it impacts on our lives.

    The book also offers access to online transcripts of interviews with 16 practitioners, including Rufus Norris, Michelle Terry, Kwame Kwei-Armah, Indhu Rubasingham, Nadia Latif, and Nadia Fall.

    Acknowledgements Prologue: the wards of the roses 1. The 1950s: George and Joan and Crazy Horse, Chief of the Sue (sic)  2. Rehearsing with Joan  3. The 1960s: What do you want (if you don’t want money)?  4. Action before words: Stanislavski, Littlewood, Grotowski  5. The 1970s: brave new world 1  6. Finding your own way (devising and adapting) Early years (photo gallery): 1953–1979  7. Knocking on doors, right and wrong  8. Women working together: building and breaking out of the ghetto  9. The 1990s: I am a camera  10. Through the camera’s eye  11. Payback time  12. How do we make work with actors?: physicalisation of action Later years (photo gallery): 1980–2018 13. In the end there are many beginnings  14. Future voices: brave new world 2 Index


    Sue Dunderdale came from a working-class family and studied Drama and English at Manchester University from 1966 to 1971. She has been a director ever since and, in that time, has founded the touring theatre company Pentabus, been the Artistic Director of the Soho Theatre (1984-88) and Greenwich Theatre (1988-89), a director of many television dramas and films, and the Head of MA in Text and Performance, the MA in Directing, and the MA Theatre Lab at RADA (2004-14). Since leaving RADA she has been a freelance director and writer and has run workshops for directors and actors at the London Film School, Actors Studio, Shanghai University, and Head for Heights Theatre Company.

    'A deeply personal confession of a long and tempestuous career in directing theatre and television; a brutally honest working-class manifesto which is as tumultuous and bohemian as any theatrical memoir you might have ever read. Dunderdale’s writing shifts from a diligent to a profane tone, with constant bursts of unstoppable surprises, script analyses, shot lists, and interviews with practitioners – Directing the Decades is never didactic, but full of important, necessary, and topical insights on British Directing.'

    George Rodosthenous, University of Leeds, UK


    'This book of reflection and achievement will be a powerful tool for those who have come from working class backgrounds and realise that their voices and abilities have ground for development and success. This is a wonderful and very honest account of theatre and its ups and downs, its challenges and frustrations, its artistic rewards and colossal demands. This will be a reference book for many.'

    Ken Robertson, Senior Lecturer in Acting, Arts University, Bournemouth, UK


    'I must try to explain why this book is extraordinary. […] Dunderdale is both forthright and self-critical, unblinking about the sad truth that ‘at the heart of the English arts establishment is an attitude towards the work that does not sit easily with someone from a working-class background’. […] Directing the Decades conceals nothing from its readers, but it is the life story of a director who happens to be called Sue Dunderdale. The working-class daughter of elderly parents followed the star which led her to study English and Drama at Manchester in the fervent years of the 1960s. The University Theatre, opened in 1965, became her discovery space. When she directed Ionesco’s The Killer, the die was cast. […] It is rarely the business of autobiographies to instruct their readers, and Dunderdale’s instinct to teach diverts Directing the Decades from the straight path of autobiography. Whole chapters are devoted to the setting out in detail of her directorial method. She is not telling her readers to do the same, but she is insisting on the teleological imperative that directors should obey. It speaks volumes for the generosity that motivates this book that its final chapter assembles the thoughts and hopes of the younger, in some cases the youngest, generation of directors.'

    Peter Thomson, Emeritus Professor of Drama, Exeter University, UK


    'I loved it. Anyone interested the future of British drama and its recent past should get a copy. Illuminating and thorough, especially in regard to funding of the arts, what it offers and takes away. Personally revealing and brave. […] I am a fan. Any student – or ambitious would-be director – should get out their pennies and buy it.'

    Richard Ireson, Director and Agent


    "A passionate, honest and inspiring account of the role of the director in theatre, television and film. Sue Dunderdale skilfully combines a detailed memoir of her career and struggles as a female director from working-class origins with a series of insights into various practical aspects of being a director such as breaking down a text into sections in order to explore it and planning a camera script. Informed throughout by the belief that who you are as a person makes you the director you are, she is clear-eyed and frank about both her faults and her strengths, her successes and her failures. But this is not a backward-looking book. An inspiring and experienced teacher, she looks also towards the future and what younger directors can achieve there. Beautifully written and packed with fascinating insights, this is a book that every would-be director and everyone interested in understanding the craft of the director should read."

    Stephen Wyatt, award-winning writer for radio, theatre and television


    "Directing the Decades is a fascinating insight into what directing is all about, as well as a great biography. I will recommend it to all RADA library users."

    Jean Madden, Librarian, Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA)


    "Sue’s career, intellect, and integrity speak for themselves. She has written a superb and meaningful account of a period of change which has transformed the old norms of performance art in all its guises. This book is a stark reminder that we must keep up with the young talent of today – many of whom have benefited from Sue’s superb directing, mentoring, and teaching. I have enjoyed every word of it."

    Nicole Penn-Symons, solicitor and former board member of the Women’s Playhouse Trust