How long have you been involved in drama?
I’ve been acting and writing since I was a kid, but the first show I directed was two and a half years ago. It was La Leçon by Ionesco and I directed it as part of my Extended Project Qualification at sixth form, I knew absolutely nothing about being a director so I had to ask my friend Claudia for tips.
And do you have any tips for aspiring directors in a similar position? What was Claudia’s advice?
The one thing I never forgot, which Claudia told me, is never to just show an actor how to do a line by doing it yourself. There are certain things, like blocking, where a character definitely has to be standing in a specific place, and of course that’s fine. But if you’re too stringent with your idea of how a line or gesture should be delivered, it gets stiff . You need to help the actor find their character, not present them with a ready-made one. Also, you need to have a strong idea of where you want to go with your production. In the rehearsal room actors will look to you for answers, and you have to be able to give them that. Even if you don’t know what you’re doing you have to pretend to. Directing is kind of a weird form of acting.
So it’s a big commitment?
Yes, it’s definitely a big time commitment. Over my last two years at Oxford I’ve been involved in nineteen productions – I think – in different capacities, and you definitely have to work out where to pour your energy. Sometimes I don’t get the balance right; with The Phantom of the Opera, which I directed in Hilary 2016, there was one day during the tech rehearsals when we were in the theatre from 9am until about three in the morning—which is not good. I’ve had some very stressful moments because of theatre, but it’s also given me things to be proud of—I mean, I’d genuinely say that Phantom is what I’m proudest of. So much hard work from so many brilliant people went into that show, and I’m honoured to have worked with them.
Is it difficult to assign roles?
It really depends. I’ve had some shows where I’ve dithered for ages about who to cast, but with some it was easier. With Phantom, for example, we knew who we wanted for the principal roles pretty much immediately. Myself and Callum Spiller, the musical director, started referring to people by their character names instead of their real names before we’d even officially cast them. But I think we had nearly a hundred people audition—it was ridiculous! And amazing that so many people wanted to be involved, of course.
Are you working on anything we should look out for?
Something in which another hundred people might want to be involved… (Laughs) I’ve got a couple of writing projects on the go. Myself and Katrin Padel are in the early stages of planning a musical version of The Book Thief, John Paul and I are writing a musical loosely based on the story of Doctor Faustus, and I’m writing an adaptation of Medea. We’re hoping to take them to the Edinburgh Fringe!