The theatrical world has always been a ripe area for writers to investigate – after all it is one they know well (please see my recent blog A Play Within A Play). The resultant works tend to focus on the struggles of the writer to produce a piece or the tribulations of a company trying to mount a production. However, a new play called Cuttings examines the hitherto unexplored backstage world of theatrical PR – a world that has become increasingly important with the rise of online social media. I recently met with the play’s director Rob Ellis to find out more.
So Rob, first of all tell me a little bit about the new play which you are in the middle of directing
Cuttings is a new play written by Ollie George Clark. It’s about the modern day apology – writing an apology for social media. It’s set the morning after the Olivier Awards in the office of a PR agency. One of their clients, Arthur Moses, who is a You Tube vlogger/star casting performer, has just won best supporting actor for his terrible performance in Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Arthur was incredibly drunk and not expecting to win and in his acceptance speech he has sworn at and insulted anyone and everyone within a three mile radius; on the next morning the people in the PR agency are having to piece together his apology. However, Arthur – not generally known for apologising – is not playing ball; he’s also causing mayhem via social media channels and the agency staff is constantly fire- fighting the next crisis.
Is this a debut play?
Ollie has been a presence at short play scratch nights in London having trained at the Almeida and has been part of festivals and written some short films. I think this is his first full run for a fringe theatre – and if it isn’t and I’ve got that wrong then, Ollie, I’m ever so sorry. This play Cuttings was nominated and short listed for The Liverpool Hope Playwriting Prize (the UK’s second largest playwriting prize) and it has already drawn critical plaudits.
Did you find the play or did the play find you?
Ollie and I met through the Old Vic’s Connect scheme; a cup of tea later I’d heard a lot about Cuttings so I asked to read it. By the fourth or fifth line I was laughing out loud which was a good sign and from then on it was just the most magical experience of reading a play; every beat landed in the right place. I proposed that my company (Relish Theatre) should be involved with development. So in January we prepared a reading of the piece for Theatre 503 where we could gauge audience reaction. The two of us then went back into a further development period and investigated running it at the Hope Theatre in Islington which is happening very soon now.
Do you have a general philosophy of directing?
While it depends on the play you are doing, my general rule as a director is to take as much of a step back as you possibly can and let the actors get on with it. Because if you are not trusting them to do the job they are capable of then you are probably not doing the right play or you are working with the wrong actors. Every good play starts with the script and the actors. From there it has to organically build – all the director has to do is to make sure that everyone can be seen and heard and that what you are presenting looks, sounds and feels good. Preparing Cuttings for the Hope has been an interesting challenge; the space is intimate so there needs to be rather more directorial imprinting than usual in terms of where the actors are going to be and how they get there. But it should still be as organic as possible. The moment it stops being organic it becomes pointless, it’s ruined because there’s no honesty in it. So take a step back and trust that everyone around you is going to do the best job they can.
So if you take that to its logical conclusion, do you need a director at all?
(After much laughter) Yes – you need a constant audience member; one who knows how things are going to land and can help develop clarity. I’ve just been directing Shakespeare for four months (Tower Theatre’s The Merry Wives of Windsor in Stoke Newington) and directors didn’t exist in his day. Everything you need is in the text so you could probably do without a director in that case.
Thanks Rob. Having potentially almost talked yourself out of a job, we’ll end there!
Cuttings is at the Hope Theatre, Upper Street in Islington for three weeks starting on 4th June. Book here
Rob’s production of The Merry Wives of Windsor moves to the Théâtre de Verdure in the Bois de Boulogne, Paris and also opens on 4th June. Book here
Best wishes with the double opening, Rob
On Twitter you can follow Rob Ellis on @robdavidellis, Ollie George Clark on @OliverGeorgeCl1 and me on @johnchapman398