Elliot Douglas and I met in the Union Bar (curse Rectors for being so busy) to discuss his show going up on Friday, His Duchess. And it is very much his show: he wrote the piece at his B.C. Canada high school, although it was shorter then. His Duchess is a marriage of the roaring twenties aesthetic of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Virginia Woolf with the absurdist drama of playwrights like Samuel Beckett. Now, Elliot is only a new director to St Andrews. He has directed at his high school both his own pieces and pieces of others (including Brecht’s Fear and Misery of the Third Reich). But the newness of St Andrews direction has been an unexpected one for him.
Elliot claims he had few formal ideas of plans involving His Duchess, but even those few plans have been re-imagined. For instance, a show he saw initially as inherently British has had this concept challenged by the emergence of two American actors. The cast is only three strong, with one first year, one second year, and one third year from abroad. When asked if there was anything about the production or the piece he would change, Elliot said, “the actors have given so much life to the two characters who are less vocal at the start, they have made me wish I could give them more initial dialogue! Their acting in absence of words is remarkable.” Two brand new St Andrews actors and a host of new production team members have made the production more collaborative than expected. Elliot says that the collaboration is his favourite part of the process. He described to me how one of the first experiences he had with his actors was a story sharing exercise. This empowered his actors to take control of the narrative and make it their own through the characters in what he describes as an “organic process.” It has brought the cast together in a safe family environment to explore their ideas.
At St Andrews, Elliot has been surprised how easy it has been to release what little reins he felt he needed over many aspects of the performance process. In areas like lighting, new ideas from the production team have created a new ambience to his piece that he never anticipated. The whole experience has inspired him to direct more in the future.
I asked Elliot what audiences should expect from the show.
“I think that student publications have made this play out to be more serious than it is. It is a drama, but just sitting down over the last week and watching the performance come to life has reminded me that much of this piece is really funny. Do not feel put off by this concept of it being a serious drama. Come and laugh and enjoy it!”
Elliot made a note to say that audiences should take time to admire the set, which I found particularly curious coming from a play being put up in the Barron Theatre. Elliot said that the set is beautiful and purposeful, so give yourself some time initially to take it in. If you are looking to get into the mood, pop off to the pub beforehand and read some Dickinson and Keats. You will be right at home when you find your seat.
His Duchess, a new play written and directed by Elliot Douglas, will go up in the Barron Theatre this Friday and Saturday, 16-17/10, at 7:30pm. Tickets are just £5. Expect to see a review in The Tribe by the wonderful Catriona Scott in the days to follow!