Dromgoole, Dominic 1964–
Dromgoole, Dominic 1964–
Born 1964; father a theater director; mother an actress. Education: Attended Cambridge University.
Office—Theatre Department, Shakespeare's Globe, 21 New Globe Walk, Bankside, London SE1 9DT, England.
The Full Room: An A-Z of Contemporary Playwriting, Methuen (London, England), 2000.
Will and Me: How Shakespeare Took Over My Life, Allen Lane (London, England), 2006.
Contributor to periodicals, including the London Sunday Times and the Guardian.
As the son of a theater director and a stage actress, Dominic Dromgoole was exposed to the arts from an early age, and the works of William Shakespeare left a particular impression on him. He followed in his parents' footsteps and worked at such theaters as the Old Vic and Bush Theatre in London; he was named director of the Oxford Stage Company before accepting a dream post as artistic director for the Globe in London in 2006. Working at the Globe, a reconstruction of the original theater where Shakespeare's plays were first produced, was like coming full circle for Dromgoole. Succeeding Mark Rylance at the post, Dromgoole was seen by some to be an odd choice for artistic director, "being neither an actor-manager in the Rylance mode nor someone particularly known for his work in the classics," as Matt Wolf pointed out in a Daily Variety article. Still, Dromgoole promised to bring a new perspective to the Globe that was, if not anti-intellectual, then populist in its approach. He learned, particularly after a disastrous 2000 staging of Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida that he directed at the Old Vic, that imposing one's own artistic flair on the Bard's works detracted from them noticeably; he now takes a straightforward approach to Shakespeare's plays and remembers that the audience is always more important than the actors, directors, or critics. As he wrote in his book Will and Me: How Shakespeare Took Over My Life: "The more you do [to a play], the more you spoil it."
Dromgoole first gained attention among theater critics for his book The Full Room: An A-Z of Contemporary Playwriting, a critical, yet humorous look at the state of modern British theater. The book's "sharp, conversational tone comes as a breath of fresh air and its heterodox argument that, far from being dead, British theatre is very much alive and kicking is all the more convincing for being put across in unpretentious, forthright terms," reported Tom Phillips in the Contemporary Review. On the one hand, Dromgoole presents an optimistic view of contemporary theater, comparing its vivacity to the days of Shakespeare; on the other hand, he offers sharp criticisms of many current writers, even the ones he says he likes. For this reason, as Phillips noted, The Full Room has been called "the longest suicide note in history" because many of his colleagues thought Dromgoole would not find a job again after its publication. This proved not to be the case, however, and many critics found the book endearing because it was written with such honesty. Phillips faulted Dromgoole for bypassing some playwrights in the text, such as Peter Nichols, but he appreciated the author's "vibrant, unpretentious style" and his "passionate … defence of ‘controversial’ writers such as David Harrower, Mark Ravenhill and the late Sarah Kane."
Will and Me "is not an autobiography, nor even really a memoir," according to Independent reviewer Murrough O'Brien. "Rather it is the living chronicle of a relationship: his own passionate and turbulent love affair with Shakespeare." Dromgoole talks about his childhood passion for Shakespeare, which gave way to a certain cynicism about the Bard while the future director was a teenager; this clouded opinion, however, eventually lifted to reveal a new enthusiasm for Shakespeare. During his early days as a director, Dromgoole erred by trying to become overly artistic. "I car-crashed on Troilus and Cressida because I was so strenuously trying to be brilliant," he told Dominic Cavendish in the Telegraph. "It was only when I came here [to the Globe] that I saw it's not about being flashy, it's about doing only what is necessary to tell the story." As Jonathan Bate related in a Spectator review: "In this book he is often harsh towards the deadness of RSC [Royal Shakespeare Company] house style. He has excellent advice for Shakespearean directors and actors: don't impose a ‘concept’ on productions, don't raft around with talk of subconscious motivation and the actor going on a ‘journey’ with the character. Just do what Hamlet tells the players: speak the speech clearly and suit the word to the action."
A number of reviewers felt there were wise words to be found within the chatty, colloquial text of Will and Me. The tone is far from academic, and the author frequently skewers academics for spoiling Shakespeare. He also, however, asserts that a faithful performance of Shakespearean verse is essential. Ranjit Bolt commented in the Observer: "He may not be the first to voice the complaint [about flawed verse speaking in modern productions] but its frequent sloppiness cannot be denied, and the observation bears repeating. Nor have I heard more cogently expressed the key objection to the authorship debate, in which Elizabethan worthies—Bacon, the Earl of Oxford, Marlowe—are ‘dragooned in’ by academics ‘to cover their embarrassment that the greatest genius of our species was the son of an illiterate glover.’" Dromgoole also comes off as a modest writer who is free with his pen in pointing out his own mistakes. Although Guardian contributor Fiona Shaw remarked that the author does not delve too deeply into his disastrous directorial work with the Old Vic performance of Troilus and Cressida, he mostly "is funny and fluent when describing the disasters of his touring company—the drink, his wavering leadership skills, the failure, the applause and the criticism; he loves the adventure of it."
The final section of Will and Me relates a sort of pilgrimage that Dromgoole undertook not long before being hired by the Globe. He walked from Stratford upon Avon to London, ending at the Globe Theatre to take in a performance of Romeo and Juliet. Overall, many reviewers lauded this "passionate memoir," as Susan L. Peters called it in a Library Journal review. "Each essay is a highly polished, newspaper-column-sized gem packed with insights," according to Jack Helbig in Booklist.
Will and Me encompasses Dromgoole's rediscovery, through Shakespeare, of what theater is all about. This is a theme he again expressed in a 2008 article he wrote for the London Times: "Without the knowledge of why it is there, without some securing rocks of value to tie a rope around in the surging sea of life in which a dramatic story travels, theatre quickly becomes fey and decadent, with whatever is flashy or self-glorifying becoming the purpose, rather than the frills." He added: "The audience is the heart of a theatre event. Ignore them or, worse, just try to impress them and the heart will be concealed."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, September 1, 2007, Jack Helbig, review of Will and Me: How Shakespeare Took Over My Life, p. 40.
Contemporary Review, August, 2001, "All the World's a Stage," p. 113.
Daily Variety, May 23, 2005, "Dromgoole Spins to Shakespeare's Globe," p. 23.
Economist, April 1, 2006, "Where There's a Will; Shakespeare," p. 70.
Guardian (London, England), April 8, 2006, Fiona Shaw, "Shakespeare for Blokes," review of Will and Me.
Independent (London, England), April 2, 2006, Murrough O'Brien, "Shakespeare, the Universal Guru," review of Will and Me.
Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2007, review of Will and Me.
Library Journal, August 1, 2007, Susan L. Peters, review of Will and Me, p. 90.
Observer (London, England), April 2, 2006, Ranjit Bolt, "A Lifetime's Love Affair with the Bard," review of Will and Me.
Publishers Weekly, July 9, 2007, review of Will and Me, p. 45.
Spectator, April 8, 2006, "Mad about the Bard," p. 38.
Theatre Research International, March, 2002, Aleks Sierz, review of The Full Room: An A-Z of Contemporary Playwriting, p. 109.
Times (London, England), March 2, 2008, Dominic Dromgoole, "Dominic Dromgoole of the Globe: Theatre Forgets What It's There For."
Times Literary Supplement, July 27, 2001, Hal Jensen, review of The Full Room, p. 17; April 28, 2006, Serena Davies, review of Will and Me, p. 35.
Telegraph Online,http://www.telegraph.co.uk/ (May 1, 2006), "Get Ready for Some Fireworks."