Alex Mullarky interviews Joanna Alpern and Oliver Hayes about their upcoming production, ‘Acts of the Bedroom’, which comprises a one-act by Tennessee Williams, ‘Talk to me like the rain’, and another by Alpern herself, ‘Echo’.
What was it about Tennessee Williams’ one-act ‘Talk to me like the rain’ that grabbed your attention?
I’ve always been a fan of Tennessee Williams and when I saw a production in the New End theatre in London of three of his one-act plays, including Talk to me like the rain, I thought it was absolutely stunning. Some people see it as a very sad piece. (It is about a pretty hopelessly unhappy couple coping with addiction and poverty.) But I actually find it very cathartic. At one point, one of the characters, played by Camron Conners, asks the other, played by Beth Robertson, to confide in him, and she then delivers this beautiful monologue expressing her vision for the future as freely and as soothingly as the rain in the background. I’m glad Ollie and I managed to find a cast more than capable of illustrating this raw emotion so central to Tennessee’s writing.
So I guess I always knew that I wanted to direct Talk to me at some point in my life, and that it was just a case of when. The play that I’ve written, Echo, runs for about an hour and is set in a bedroom, and it occurred to me that the two acts would go very nicely together in performance.
What ‘echoes’ of Williams’ work are in your piece?
Although I hadn’t originally written Echo to complement Talk to me, (I’d actually say Ibsen’s A Doll’s House was the main literary influence at work), they do have much in common aside from featuring a man and a woman in a bedroom. They both look at the effect that love can have on an individual’s freedom and personal identity. The women in both pieces, Woman (Beth’s character), and Kate, played by Adelaide Waldrop, are in some ways trapped and consumed by their relationships and develop this eerie desire to fade away into nothing, shown in their fondness for the colour white which dominates the set.
How have you found the experience of directing your own work?
Too exciting. And fun. I actually lost all my friends because they were bored to death by me always talking about it.
I was initially nervous about directing because I’d never done it before, but co-directing with Oliver Hayes (who has a lot more experience than me on this front) has been truly wonderful.
And I couldn’t have asked for a better Kate or a better Robert. Olly Lennard’s been great to work with and Adelaide has just been delightful – she really gets across the two different sides of Kate that I had tried to construct in the writing – the charming playful exterior and the darker edge.
I was worried before we started that the actors might feel that because they were working with the writer that their interpretations would be treated as less valid, but that was never a problem – they were always coming up with really fruitful interpretations of the characters, like ‘I think Robert’s working himself up to tell Kate X here’ or ‘I think at this point Kate is trying to convince herself that she wants X’, and fun interpretations too, like Adelaide’s ‘Yeah, I definitely think Kate’s more of a morning sex kind of person’.
How has your approach to each piece been different?
Perhaps one distinction is that the Tennessee Williams piece is much shorter and so we’ve maybe done more playing around and experimenting with it. In one rehearsal we ran through the whole thing with Beth playing Man and Camron playing Woman, which was actually quite illuminating as well as fun. But other than that our approach hasn’t been too different.
The million dollar question… what do you hope your audience will go away with after seeing ‘Acts of the Bedroom’?
St Andrews is a very relationship-oriented place, and we think it would be great if people found themselves relating to the characters and the struggles they face living with their other halves. They’re both emotional pieces and we hope that the productions will really resonate with people on that level.
Acts of the Bedroom goes up as part of the On the Rocks festival in the Barron Theatre on the 19th and 20th of April at 8 p.m. Tickets are £5 and available from on the On the Rocks website. Don’t miss it!
Image courtesy of the On the Rocks press team.