When did you first come across Mudlarks? How did you get involved?
I was the Resident Assistant Director at HighTide and was asked to direct a show at the 2012 Festival. I was already reading for them when they asked me so I shifted my focus from finding what I thought were suitable plays for HighTide to finding a play that I really wanted to direct and then trying to persuade them to put it on. As it was Rob Drummer (Literary Manager at HighTide) met Vickie Donoghue at a workshop and read Mudlarks and passed it onto me with a figurative post-it note attached saying "READ THIS!" Which I did and I sent him an actual note saying "Let's put this on". Which we did, and now I'm sitting here.
Had you worked with HighTide and Lucy Jackson before?
My one concession to theatrical glamour is that I first met Lucy on a night out in New York; which is how every successful working partnership should start. The upshot was that I asked her to produce Mudlarks, after HighTide asked me to direct it but before we chose the play, which included her in the reading process. Having been a producer for about 18 months myself I understand the frustrations and so including Lucy in the creative process (for instance she was in auditions and regularly comes in to see runs) was important for me – that she offers good advice also helps.
As a text, has it changed a lot in rehearsal? Were you and the actor’s part of any changes in the script during the rehearsal process?
Every new relationship between a director and a writer is special but for Vickie and me especially so as this was, for both of us, a debut. As a result we worked closely on each new draft and to a certain extent had to make up the rules of engagement as we went along. There was a week of development early this year with a rehearsed reading at the end of it and then some changes during the initial rehearsal period. The most significant changes came about in the development week though and there the actors had a lot of input. Though we kept that spirit alive in the rehearsals for HighTide the majority of the changes were cosmetic, rhythmic ones rather than structural shifts.
What have been the challenges in mounting the production in three different venues? How has it changed from space to space?
Amy Cook designed the production at HighTide and here at The Bush and her associate Nick Spalding did the 503 design with Amy consulting. The HighTide space was a 25 metre long, 7 metre wide and 2 metre high white walled art gallery; a kind of theatrical albatross. I needn’t have worried though because when I showed it to Amy she went quiet for about 10 minutes and then described a set that actually barely changed between then and the get-in. It was a beautiful and unique response to a strange but actually very atmospheric space. It had lots of problems but there is no denying that Mudlarks in its HighTide incarnation also had a certain magic. Nick did a wonderful job at Theatre503 and took the lateral energy of the HighTide space and made it vertical, so to speak. What we certainly got for free there was a keen sense of claustrophobia. Amy's relationship with The Bush goes back a long way, apart from designing 66 Books she can also lay claim to helping turn the library into the brilliant theatre it now is. For Mudlarks she has transformed the space, for the first time here, into traverse and has given our actors this brilliant playground, albeit a very muddy one. Vickie walked in the first day and said, "This is how I imagined it when I wrote it.”
Tell us a bit about the casting process for Mudlarks. Did you see a lot of actors? Had you worked with Mike, James or Scott before?
Our excellent casting director Hayley Kaimakliotis brought together a list of fine young actors. We met with just over 20 of them over the course of a day and asked them to prepare for one of the parts. I hadn't worked with Mike or James but Scott was part of the development week I mentioned earlier. In many ways he had helped us form the character of Jake but we were very open-minded about re-casting Jake, as it was he had obviously prepared very well and blew us away.
How did you get involved in directing?
When I was 17 I took a play called Little Malcolm and his Struggle Against the Eunuchs to the Edinburgh Fringe. The play is about a group of anarchic students in Huddersfield plotting the overthrow of their fascist art school (and ultimately world domination). We were all 16/17 years old and really only got the anarchy bit right but I was a convert and directed at University and then when I graduated I assisted and produced until I got the job at HighTide.
What have been the highlights of working on this show?
Undoubtedly the highlight has been working with Vickie, who is as generous and sharp a playwright as you'll meet but who strikes just the right balance of protectiveness. You don't want a playwright who answers your suggestions with "oh yes, that's a useless line change it" as much as you don't want one that snaps "touch it and die". It goes without saying that working with my amazing team (from HighTide all the way through to here) and the actors, who have kept the room constantly buzzing with laughs and great ideas, has been another highlight.
What comes next? Any projects in the pipeline?
The dole. Retirement. No I have some things I am developing and some interesting meetings lined up, I am also trying to coax out of Vickie pages from her new play; the evidence so far suggests it is going to be brilliant. Watch this space.