Headlong (theatre company)
Headlong is a theatre company noted for reworking plays of the past and commissioning and developing new work.
Headlong’s first season moved the company decisively away from the traditional touring fare with which it had been associated. Titled Reinventing the Epic the season began with two major revivals: Edward Bond’s Restoration (with new songs written for the revival by Bond, scored by Adam Cork) and Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. The major production, however, was Faustus. This radical reworking of Christopher Marlowe’s epic was an audacious reimagining, half-Marlowe and half new text (written by Rupert Goold and Ben Power) contrasting Faustus’s story with that of the Chapman Brothers and their rectifying of Goya’s The Disasters of War etchings by adding clown faces to them. This simultaneous interest in classical form and contemporary subject matter was later to prove a hallmark of Headlong’s work.
The only ‘traditional’ revival in Headlong's second season was Goold’s own production of King Lear, starring Pete Postlethwaite, which proved controversial with critics, though a sellout with audiences in London and Liverpool. Headlong moved instead towards new work, including three new plays commissioned and developed in-house: Richard Bean’s The English Game, Anthony Neilson’s Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness and, most notably, Lucy Prebble’s ENRON. ENRON was one of two productions to transfer from this season into the West End. The other was Goold’s own reworking of Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author, which followed where Faustus had led in reframing Pirandello’s play in a contemporary structure, and extending its premises and argument to ‘make it feel urgent and exciting for a modern audience’.
Headlong’s third season showcased two further new plays developed in-house: Earthquakes in London by Mike Bartlett (later reprised on a national tour) and an (unproduced) play about Orson Welles by Anthony Neilson. This was to be complemented by a re-working of Gulliver’s Travels (to be directed by Goold, but as yet unprogrammed).
Headlong’s major production in 2011 was Decade, an unusual and ambitious multi-authored piece responding to the decennial of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Directed by Goold, it was performed at St. Katharine Dock.
Headlong’s fourth season was controversially announced via a ‘season trailer’ video released online, shot by the company itself, rather than a traditional press release. Mark Shenton felt that it contributed in the long run ‘to the death of conventional journalism. If [journalists are] not needed, [they] won’t be here anymore’.
This season’s big announcement was The Effect, a major new play by Lucy Prebble developed by Headlong. It was produced in late 2012 at the National Theatre starring Billie Piper and opening to rave reviews. Headlong now moved more decisively towards new work, developed in-house. Two other new plays were announced, Chimerica by Lucy Kirkwood and Boys by Ella Hickson, alongside a new musical of Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho. Completing the season, Mike Bartlett (playwright) returned to the company to adapt and direct a national tour of Euripides’ Medea.
Lucy Kirkwood's smash hit play Chimerica opened to sell-out reviews at the Almeida Theatre before an equally successful West End transfer in 2013, shortly after Goold's announcement that he was to leave Headlong to take over as the Almeida's artistic director. George Orwell's 1984 in a new adaptation by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan opened to five-star reviews on a UK tour, and is to transfer to the Almeida in 2014.
The company has produced the work of emerging directors on major national tours in a series of interventionist, non-traditional classical revivals: Oscar Wilde’s Salome (dir. Jamie Lloyd), Frank Wedekind’s Lulu (dir. Anna Ledwich), The Winter’s Tale (dir. Simon Godwin), Elektra (dir. Carrie Cracknell), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (dir. Natalie Abrahami) and Romeo and Juliet (dir. Robert Icke).
Headlong has garnered a reputation for discovering the next generation of theatre artists. As Matt Trueman wrote in The Stage, ‘Headlong has been full of bright young talent – Ben Power, Lucy Prebble, Robert Icke, Ella Hickson, Tom Scutt.’ Under Goold’s directorship, the company has commissioned writers including Lucy Prebble, Ella Hickson, Lucy Kirkwood, Mike Bartlett, D. C. Moore, Alecky Blythe, and Beth Steel, and employed directors including Natalie Abrahami, Steve Marmion, Carrie Cracknell, Jamie Lloyd, Simon Godwin and Robert Icke. Icke replaced Ben Power as Headlong’s full-time Associate Director, on Power’s leaving to become Associate Director at the National Theatre.
Since 2006, its productions around the UK have included:
- Paradise Lost (2006) based on John Milton, adapted by Ben Power and Rupert Goold, directed by Rupert Goold.
- Restoration (2006) by Edward Bond, directed by Rupert Goold.
- Faustus (2006) after Christopher Marlowe’s Dr Faustus, by Rupert Goold and Ben Power, directed by Rupert Goold.
- Angels in America (2007) by Tony Kushner, directed by Daniel Kramer.
- Rough Crossings (2007), Caryl Churchill’s adaptation of Simon Schama’s non-fiction book, directed by Rupert Goold.
- The Last Days of Judas Iscariot (2008) by Stephen Adly Guirgis, directed by Rupert Goold.
- The English Game (2008) by Richard Bean, directed by Sean Holmes.
- …Sisters (2008) based on Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters, adapted and directed by Chris Goode.
- Six Characters in Search of an Author (2008) by Luigi Pirandello, adapted by Rupert Goold and Ben Power, directed by Rupert Goold
- King Lear (2008) by William Shakespeare, directed by Rupert Goold.
- Edward Gant's Amazing Feats of Loneliness (2009) by Anthony Neilson, directed by Steve Marmion.
- Medea Medea (2009) by Euripides, directed by Dylan Tighe.
- Enron (2009) by Lucy Prebble, directed by Rupert Goold.
- The Winter's Tale (2009) by William Shakespeare, directed by Simon Godwin.
- Elektra (2010) by Sophocles, directed by Carrie Cracknell.
- Lulu (2010) by Frank Wedekind, directed by Anna Ledwich.
- Salome (2010) by Oscar Wilde, directed by Jamie Lloyd.
- Earthquakes in London (2010) by Mike Bartlett, directed by Rupert Goold.
- A Midsummer Night's Dream (2011) by William Shakespeare, directed by Natalie Abrahami.
- Decade (2011) directed by Rupert Goold.
- Romeo & Juliet (2012) by William Shakespeare, directed by Robert Icke.
- Boys (2012) by Ella Hickson, directed by Robert Icke.
- Medea (2012) by Euripides, adapted and directed by Mike Bartlett.
- The Effect (2012) by Lucy Prebble, directed by Rupert Goold.
- Chimerica (2013) by Lucy Kirkwood, directed by Lyndsey Turner.
- 1984 (2013) by George Orwell, adapted and directed by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan.
- Headlong, Season One Brochure (Headlong 2005)
- Interview with Rupert Goold, Six Characters in Search of an Author Education Pack (Headlong, 2008) http://headlong.co.uk/education/packs/Mousetrap_Theatre_Projects-Six_Characters_Resource_pack.pdf
- Falling Headlong, dir. by Rupert Goold (Headlong, 2012) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YNH6ANbLsnA
- Mark Shenton, 'Headway or Headlines for Headstrong Headlong?, The Stage (23 April 2012) http://blogs.thestage.co.uk/shenton/2012/04/headway-or-headlines-for-headstrong-head/
- Charles Spencer, 'The Effect', The Telegraph (13 November 2012) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/theatre/theatre-reviews/9675660/The-Effect-National-Theatre-review.html
- Paul Taylor, 'The Effect', The Independent (14 November 2012) http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/theatre-dance/reviews/first-night-the-effect-cottesloe-theatre-london-8313356.html
- Matt Trueman, 'Tom Scutt: Grand Designs', The Stage (15 June 2012) http://www.thestage.co.uk/features/2012/06/tom-scutt-grand-designs/