What made you choose this script?
I first read this play about eight years ago and it has stayed with me ever since. This year, I knew I wanted to direct something very different from my last play (Blue Stockings by Jessica Swale) and work with a small cast on something more intense.
I think this script made such an impression on me firstly because of its unusual structure – the play is made up almost entirely of interweaving monologues – which posed new challenges, and secondly because of its subject matter. Rather than merely depicting the violence inflicted on these women, both physical and psychological, it celebrates their strength which manifests itself in a multitude of ways. Each of these women clings on to the belief that ‘it can be alright, even when all things seem wrong’.
Do you believe the location of the play is vital to its message as a whole?
Rather than it being vital that the play is set in Yorkshire, it was more important to me that there is a sense of close community. We were happy to shift locations as long as we could cast the play in a way that made it clear that these were three women from the same, isolated rural community. As it happened, we had a really impressive turnout of actors who demonstrated believable Yorkshire accents, meaning we could cast based on how we visualised the three characters rather than just on who could do the best accent!
I do think there is something particular about the way Richard Cameron writes which situates his plays in his native South Yorkshire. He himself has written about the rhythm of speech in Yorkshire and the accent lends itself well to the more lyrical descriptions in the script.
The play was written in 1990 but does not specify a time period, except that the first section takes place eight years earlier. We have chosen to loosely set the play in the late 1970s/early 1980s in order to highlight the effects that Thatcher’s government had on rural areas, especially in the north of England, and how the economic deprivation in these areas often led to crises of masculinity. We have tried to keep the time period vague enough to highlight the universality of the women’s experiences. For instance, whilst the costumes are suggestive of the time period, the play has a soundtrack that ranges across the decades right up to the present day.
What is the significance of having an all-female cast for this show?
One of the things I find most exciting about the theatre scene in St Andrews is how many talented female actors we have. I wanted to put on a production that highlighted some of this talent. We saw an amazing amount of skill at our auditions, and were particularly excited to be able to cast a first year (Annabel Steele) alongside Jen Grace and Eleanor Burke who are familiar faces to Mermaids audiences.
For this show in particular, the significance of the all-female cast is that we never see the abuser onstage. He is the invisible assailant. This draws attention to the unseen violence inflicted within homes across the country on a daily basis to both women and men. This is not a play about life with an abuser, it is a play about life in spite of an abuser, and the fact that he is never given a voice or physical presence allows us to see these women as more than just victims.
Was there anything you found particularly challenging about directing this show?
As a director, this show offered several challenges. As I said earlier, it is almost entirely made up of interweaving monologues. During rehearsals we worked a lot on the physicality of the piece and allowing the actors to respond as they wished to the music and each other, rather than traditional ‘blocking’ of scenes. This allowed us to make sure that each run of the play has been different. Through this, we’ve all discovered new things in the text and the characters. It has also made the difficult subject matter easier to deal with as the actors’ responses are new each time, which allows the emotions to remain fresh without us all becoming dragged down by the often-harrowing descriptions of violence.
Callbacks were actually the hardest part of the process; having to hear the same graphic monologue performed multiple times by such talented actors was upsetting for both cast and crew, but in rehearsals we’ve aimed to keep things light. There is enough emotion in the words themselves that we don’t need to force the actors to tears or anything!
Why was it important to you that the performances of the play coincide with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women?
We chose to perform the play on this weekend to draw attention to the continued violence faced by women across the world. In the UK, an average of two women are killed each week by a current or former partner and 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. This play attempts to make those women more than statistics and more than victims, alongside giving them back their lives and their voices. There will be a collection after the show for Women for Women International, which is one of the chosen charities of the University Charity Campaign for this year. This charity helps marginalised women around the world escape violence and poverty.
And finally, why should people come see this show?
It’s the final Mermaids show of 2016 and is different to any of the shows that we have seen this year. It’s less of a play (in the traditional sense of scenes and dialogue, etc.) and more of a storytelling exercise, where three women take the audience on a journey through their own stories and memories. The cast are, I believe, three of St Andrews’ most talented actors and they have worked extremely hard to make theatre that will move you. And if that’s not enough, it’s short and you’ll be able to make it to Tesco well before 10pm!
Photo by Eilidh Hughes and Liam Mitchell