There is a clear sense of snobbery in the arts industry, in particular with live art such as theatre, yet the associate director of the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool is just an average man finding his way, through the work he produces. As I sat and waited in the Everyman Theatre bar I thought how this interview would go. Would he be a snobby, ‘theatre is for the elite’ type? I mulled this over my latte and then in comes a man. The man I’m here to see. Nick Bagnall. Dressed in a black coat, zipped to the very top and a navy and red bobble hat, I was initially drawn back. Perhaps I was expecting a little more ‘oomph’ from such a prolific figure in the arts industry. But as soon as he made his way through the bar, he was being constantly recognised by those enjoying a meal. It felt like royalty had just entered the building. Murmurs circulated throughout the room as he walked over to me, smiling and nodding to people in every direction. “Drink?” He asked as he approached. “It’s midnight somewhere. How about some wine?” He then ordered a bottle of Isla Negra Seashore Merlot and sat down, unzipped his coat and poured two large glasses of wine.
“How did I get into theatre?” He pondered my question as he sipped his wine. “I suppose I always had an interest and it was when I was acting at the YMCA in Scarborough as a child that cemented my passion for theatre.”
Being born and bred in Scarborough, Yorkshire, there was a clear Yorkshire accent present in his dialogue, yet strangely a Liverpool twang emerged in certain words.
“I then started directing and have worked on a variety of projects including workshops for the Royal Shakespeare Company.”
Nick started as an actor and was advised to persue a career in directing.
“It was actually Imelda Staunton, you know her right? She told me to get into directing after I helped out in a play she was in,” he said as he took a sip of wine. Staunton was not the only celebrity name that he dropped into conversation. The likes of Andrew Lincoln from The Walking Dead fame was dropped in and without fully understanding the context of why he was mentioned, I just continued to nod along, take notes and sip my wine.
But his tone suddenly changed. “I would, though, cut off my own arm before going back into acting,” he said with a serious look in his deep blue eyes. “I work with actors now and I know the pressure they go through and it’s difficult. I wouldn’t be able to do it.”
With Nick as the associate director, the Everyman has just finished a run of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a particular favourite of his. This was his first Shakespeare since he took the reins of the little-performed Henry VI trilogy for London’s Globe – including four open air performances on the actual battlefields which form the real-life historical backdrop to the plays.
“The Henry plays were such a triumph and a risk,” he laughed as his poured another glass of wine. “I swear there was some health and safety issues.
“One time it was so rainy and muddy I could see the scaffolding sinking into the mud but the actors kept going which was great… they made it a success and I admire them for it.”
The run of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was contemporised by Nick and, as he described, it was a sort of ‘post-apocalyptic version involving carnival, vaudeville and circus.’
“There’s not a ruff or a fairy wing in sight,” he laughs. “Or a pair of tights.”
The conversation then steered away from his career and took a detour towards his personal life. He explained his relationship with his brother. It became clear that the relationship was, in a word, struggling. His fists started to clench and his face seemed to turn a pale shade of red, although that could have been the lighting.
“I haven’t been back to Scarborough for years. I’ve had some memories there that I sort of want to forget but know I can’t,” he stared at the table. He lifted the empty bottle of wine and asked “fancy another?” and he was soon up at the bar ordering the second bottle. The room was already spinning from the first bottle but we had just started on something juicy… What would anyone else have done? He came back with another bottle and poured two glasses again of the same exact amount.
“What were we talking about again?” He asked, his voice becoming more Liverpudlian with more and more alcohol. Bad memories of Scarborough I reminded him. “Oh yeah… So when I was in my twenties, about your age actually, I was out on a night out with this girl. She was so beautiful but we were young and, well, stupid.” He couldn’t look me in the eye but I couldn’t stop staring.
“We both took coke that night and she kept saying she could fly. We were walking home along Valley Bridge,” he paused. Valley Bridge in Scarborough is renowned for people committing suicide by jumping off. I feared where this story was going. “Well, you kinda get the gist. She thought she could fly and well she isn’t here now. Let’s put it that way.”
It became quiet. Despite the murmuring and clashing of glasses behind the bar, something strange had happened. It sort of felt he hadn’t spoken about this incident for years. The tension could, as the cliché goes, be cut with a knife. It was time to wrap things up. It was dusk when we left the bar. The red sun was setting across the River Mersey. We shook hands as he zipped his coat and made his way back home. He was not was I was expecting. He wasn’t an arty-farty type but your average, down to Earth man.