An Interview with Barrie Rutter, Actor and Director

barrie rutter interview jack lear main

Hull born actor and director Barrie Rutter is returning to the role of Jack Lear at Hull Truck Theatre. The founder and former artistic director of Northern Broadsides talks about the production and his dual role of actor and director…

You’ve played Jack Lear before – 10 years ago in Scarborough. Are you going to be approaching the part in the same way? Or will you give the role a twist?
A new twist! Most directors I know would love to have a second crack at a play they are fond of. With a new design team, new cast members, a change in shape of stage and auditorium – from in- the-round to a thrust setting – plus the hoped-for self-improvement that has taken place over the decade since the last production, the new twist will be shared by all the new team. Changes in colour, vertical constructions, more music, more singing, more drumming and of course more audience; they’ll be new and will add to the richness of the venture.

What are the main similarities between the play by Ben Benison and Shakespeare’s King Lear?
A King, three daughters, the two eldest killing each other, an amoral scoundrel called Edmund, the famous heath scene with Lear taking on the elements transposed to the ocean as Jack seeks a watery grave and the redemptive love of the youngest daughter. However, the play stands on its own merits. No knowledge of Shakespeare is required, but a tingle of recognition may be afforded to those who are familiar with King Lear.

barrie rutter interview as jack lear

Barrie Rutter as ‘Jack Lear’

“A raw setting”

The play is set on the banks of the river Humber – how do you think this setting enhances the story?
Audiences love a local story, indeed often deserve them as part of the repertoire of their local theatre. When a play such as Jack Lear comes along, with all its vibrant recollections of very recent history of a time when Hull was the biggest white fish port in the world in terms of tonnage, and where the memories of that world still provide a raw setting for the on-stage story, we all at Hull Truck have a pleasurable responsibility to present the stuff of human conflict to our supporters.

Jack Lear will feature a cappella folk music by Eliza Carthy. How will this impact the production?
This will be the second play that Eliza has worked on with me. I hope it will not end there! If I can take her recording of ‘Prairie Lullaby’ to sing me to sleep as part of my Desert Island Discs programme (time out for a little commercial, can be found on BBC i-Player) then I can surely invite her to compose for fellow actors and to share her creative musicality with audiences.

barrie rutter interview jack lear cast

Songs from Eliza Carthy feature in ‘Jack Lear’

“Local influences”

How does it feel to be working with Hull Truck Theatre again?
Not many people know this, but back in the early 1970s the brand new Spring Street Arts Centre opened with Alan Plater’s Don’t Build a Bridge, Drain the River. I played the leading role. Two years later the name “Hull Truck” re-christened the building. In 1994 my production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with my new company Northern Broadsides played for three weeks – including Hull Fair week, a big mistake, audiences dwindled! Latterly Rutherford and Sons, King Lear and for the City of Culture year Richard III have all accepted the invitation from Mark and his team to strut our stuff on the Truck stage. Oh yes, I forgot to say… I’m from ‘Ull, an ‘Ezzle’ Road kid, and although my address is elsewhere, in spirit I’ve never been away – that’s how much it means.

What can audiences expect to enjoy most about Jack Lear?
All of the above, local influences and history, singing, storms, sibling rivalry and a healthy dose of passionate and muscular theatricality. Ben Bennison’s play has them all.

What’s it like to be both directing the production and playing the title role?
Having led a company for twenty-five years it’s not something new to me to direct and play in a production. However, this play was sent to me unsolicited over twelve years ago. I was hooked from page one. Its style, subject matter, locality, story line, classical acknowledgement and five very good roles for actors to play meant I always wanted to be a part of it. I wasn’t giving it away! Having played Shakespeare’s King Lear twice now – they always say you should do it twice, once when you can and once when you should – I hope I retain enough heft, truculence and madness to have a ‘third’ go at it and join my colleagues on stage in Ben’s fine play.

‘Jack Lear’ comes to Hull Truck Theatre, Jan 17 – Feb 2, 2019
images: Nobby Clark


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