ROYAL Shakespeare Company actor Sam Taylor is to direct York Settlement Community Players for the first time in The Duchess Of Malfi at the York Theatre Royal Studio next year.

The Scarborough-born actor has left behind London after 15 years, moved to York with his wife, and now focuses on photography as S R Taylor Photography, with an emphasis on theatre, film and television commissions and half a dozen weddings a year, while now finding time for directing his first play since university days.

Sam is to hold auditions for Settlement’s March 6 to 16 production of John Webster’s 17th century Jacobean revenge tragedy from this weekend at the Southlands Methodist Church in Bishopthorpe Road.

“Forget everything you ever knew about it,” he told the Settlement committee when pitching to direct Webster’s gory tragedy, his "favourite non-Shakespeare classic". “All the deaths remain but some of the characters miss out – five have gone completely – as I’ve edited it quite significantly because it’s a massive play, and it’s all good stuff, but I wanted to cut it for many reasons.

“Firstly, it’s a thriller, and people love thrillers, so I’ve cut out everything that didn’t serve the main through-line, and what you’re left with is a really dark, brisk, violent thriller."

Shearing the running time is crucial too, Sam suggests. “ If you do the full text, you’d struggle to do it under three hours, but we’ve cut it to two, and trimmed it from 16 characters to nine with some of them now amalgamated, and that also means it can now fit into the Studio space at the Theatre Royal.”

Sam appeared in BlueDoor Theatre Company's production of The Duchess Of Malfi ten years ago in an old church at Mudchute, on the Docklands Light Railway route, on the Isle Of Dogs in London’s East End. “It was perfect for the show,” he recalls of a show directed by company founder Katie Hartwill, better known these days as Katie Pruszynski,the Liberal Democrats Parliamentary Candidate for Rother Valley, incidentally.

Now he is bringing his own ideas to Webster’s web of tragedy. “Because Settlement’s version has only nine actors required, it means everyone will have lots to do, which is great for me, as I want to work with the best actors that York has to offer, and hopefully if you have meaty parts, you will attract some really good actors," says Sam.

"Apart from the characters of the Duchess and Antonio, I'm open to gender-blind casting, so I'm definitely open to women playing what are traditionally seen as male roles. From a purely practical point of view, the majority of people who audition for Settlement plays – or show interest – are women. Around 70 per cent in fact. So I also want to have an age-blind casting policy, just going for the strongest cast possible.

"The Duchess is a really interesting character because she's so ahead of her time; she's very modern, she stands up to her own family, she makes her own decisions. Bosola is fascinating too; very much a string-puller; an Iago type. But then no-one is just saying things only to move the plot along; they all have interesting things to do because Webster's play is so rich."

Sam is delighted to be settled back in Yorkshire. "I was in the youth theatre at the Stephen Joseph Theatre [in Scarborough] and I was lucky enough to be given an acting scholarship to work with [playwright and artistic director] Alan Ayckbourn in 2002, so I got to spend the summer with the SJT company in the theatre's 40th anniversary year.

"Then when Chris Monks was artistic director there, he gave me my first professional job after drama school in a little show by a local writer, Roger Osborne, called The Art Of Persuasion."

Sam, who read History at Nottingham University before attending LAMDA, enjoyed a year in the Royal Shakespeare Company repertory company at Stratford and Newcastle, in 2013, "but I've now set the acting aside completely, though it's lovely still to be working in theatre with Settlement, where my experience gives me a bit of a leg-up to direct this production!"

* Auditions for The Duchess Of Malfi will be held in Room 3 at Southlands Methodist Church, Bishopthorpe Road, York, on Saturday, 10am to 2pm, Sunday, 2pm to 4pm, and Tuesday, 7pm to 9pm.

Please come prepared with a short classical monologue of a maximum two minutes in length. In addition, you may be given extracts from John Webster’s play to read.

Audition slots will be in ten-minute intervals. The director is open to gender-blind casting. “Familiarity with the play and its cast of characters is strongly desired.” he advises.

Email to schedule your audition slot.

Charles Hutchinson