Complicite: The Almeida Season and The Visit

Interview with Michael Fry

Michael Fry is the Deputy Director of East 15, University of Essex. He has worked as director and writer across the country including Liverpool Everyman, Nottingham Playhouse, the Young Vic and the Lyric Hammersmith. His adaptations of Tess of the d’UrbervillesEmma and The Great Gatsby have been performed throughout England and America.

Prior to East 15, he was Senior Lecturer in theatre at Coventry University and was Co-Artistic Director of NOT The National Theatre, for whom he directed Simon Gray’s Japes and April de Angelis’ Wild East.

Michael Fry’s chapter on Complicite in British Theatre Companies (1980 – 1994) focuses on the first fifteen years of the company.

Connections to the GCSE, AS and A level specifications

  • Social, cultural, political and historical context
  • Influence
  • Key collaborations with other artists
  • Significant moments in the development of theory and practice
  • Methods of creating, developing, rehearsing and performing
  • Theatrical style

PC: Simon becomes the Artistic Director of Complicite and it is made up of returning associate artists. Now they are even expanding out to produce and support the work of interesting emerging artists. How did that shift from four members to just Simon happen?

MF: Marcello says that it came about after the season at the Almeida. It was kind of unique. I don’t think that it has ever been replicated. That a theatre gives over its entire repertoire to one company to put on something like 14 shows over 11 weeks. That is quite a long time to give over your theatre to a company. Nowadays they might programme Richard III for 11 weeks. At that time most of the programming was for 3 or 4 weeks when Pierre Audi was running it. So they suddenly really made it.

PC: What attracted Pierre Audi to Complicite?

MF: He saw that this was a company that merited a kind of retrospective. They revived most of their early shows as well as developing new ones. The main new one was Dürrenmatt’s The Visit. Marcello says it was the best time that they ever had. There was a huge buzz. The critics who had not always been friendly to them now revered them. And after it was over it was a kind of anti-climax and they all went off to do different things. Simon became sole director shortly after considering moving on as well. He decided to develop the company in a different way from the styles of the other three.

PC: What was the production style and approach for Dürrenmatt’s The Visit?

MF: It was the first time that they had done an existing play text rather than devising the material. And although they credited Maurice Valency as the translator they mucked about with it a lot more than was acknowledged. But they told the exact story of Durrenmatt. I believe his widow thought it was the best production of the play, in terms of the tone. She thought it captured the tragi-comedy that she hadn’t seen in any other productions. I think they suddenly felt free to experiment with style and form, which they hadn’t done in quite the same way when they were devising the material.

PC: Why did they feel that freedom with a text?

MF: Because they were working with a text that allowed them to throw a style on to an existing play. Most young directors prefer to do the classics, then they are reviewed for their work on it rather than the play. In that sense it is comparable with that – the critics were not reviewing the subject matter or content; they were reviewing Complicite’s style.

PC: It is interesting to think how criticism can influence creativity. Do you think they made the decision to do that specific text because they thought it would get attention?

MF: I don’t think it was as calculated as that I think it was more they could see that this particular text suited what they did. Although Annabel is credited as the director it was quite obviously Simon who was the co-director – He was playing the central male role – it was his idea. Simon and Annabel would go home every night and talk about what had happened and where they wanted to take it.


  • The Almeida theatre gave over its entire repertoire to Complicite to put on something like 14 shows over 11 weeks.
  • After the Almeida season Simon decided to develop the company in a different way from the styles of the other three original members
  • Doing The Visit by Dürrenmatt allowed them to throw a style on to an existing play.