Category Archives: Interviews

CATHERINE FILLOUX AT LA MAMA: ‘HOW TO EAT AN ORANGE’–5/30-6/16, 2024 ·

FOR THE PAST THREE DECADES FRENCH ALGERIAN AMERICAN AWARD-WINNING PLAYWRIGHT, LIBRETTIST AND ACTIVIST CATHERINE FILLOUX HAS BEEN TRAVELING TO CONFLICT AREAS WRITING PLAYS THAT ADDRESS HUMAN RIGHTS . . .

HOW TO EAT AN ORANGE

A one-person play about the visual artist and activist Claudia Bernardi, who grows up in Argentina under the military junta, and her subsequent work digging up the past . . .

The sensuous braiding of desaparecidos’ stories through the lens of a survivor . . .

A kaleidoscopic play of histories woven together, which depicts how both families and justice may be reconfigured . . . 

Time travel, subverting and countering realities . . . 

The fight for excavation, the archeology of a lifetime–of lifetimes . . . 

Filloux’s narrative of Bernardi in “How to Eat an Orange,” directed by Elena Araoz, accentuates justice and hope, the subterranean world, and Argentina’s Dirty War.

Above (l to r), Paula Pizzi (the actor in How to Eat an Orange) and playwright Catherine Filloux at La MaMa. Photo credit Karen Oughtred.

FILLOUX: What will inspire you in my new play is how justice and hope are won. The military junta during Argentina’s Dirty War were not held accountable for their crimes but our protagonist displays a stunning new solution with “juicio politico.” This visual artist and her family time travel in a lush, colorful theatrical symphony where new ways of seeing abound. Claudia shows you a subterranean world, where ants are as interesting as flowers–and her epistolary spans generations. Unexpected action heroes change our landscape, when letters are mailed and show up decades later.

Filloux’s most recent play reunites her with Suttirat Larlarb, James Bond No Time to Die costume designer, who also designed her plays Selma ’65 and Eyes of the Heart, and Elena Araoz, the director of her play Kidnap Road about the hostage Ingrid Betancourt

WHERE: the Downstairs Theater at La MaMa (66 East 4th Street New York, NY 10003), May 30-June 16, 2024. Tickets ($30) are available for advance purchase at www.lamama.org/shows/how-to-eat-an-orange-2024How to Eat an Orange is a New Georges Supported Production. 

La MaMa ETC. will present the World Premiere of How to Eat an Orange, written by Catherine Filloux (Kidnap Road at La MaMa; Turning Your Body Into a Compass with CultureHub), directed by Elena Araoz (Alligator with New Georges/The Sol Project; Architecture of Becoming with WP Theatre), and performed by Paula Pizzi (underneathmybed at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater; Where’s My Money? with Manhattan Theatre Club/LAByrinth Theater Company).

Press: Emily Owens

 ‘I WAS BROUGHT UP AMONG GIANTS’: GILLIAN SLOVO ON HER REVOLUTIONARY PARENTS – AND HER MOTHER’S MURDER ·

(Emma Brockes’s interview appeared in the Guardian, 4/29; Photo: Photograph: Teddy Wolff.)

As she takes the words of Grenfell Tower fire survivors to the New York stage, the playwright talks about being drawn to painful subjects, and the disaster’s worldwide relevance

The night I saw Grenfell, the play by Gillian Slovo based on interviews with survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire, there was a small but unprecedented response from the audience. On paper, Grenfell, which has transferred to New York after its successful run in London, is a tough sell to American theatregoers: the disaster wasn’t big news in the US and the play’s setting is peculiarly British. Towards the end of the play, however, when a survivor suggests the fire wasn’t caused by the system being broken but rather by the system performing exactly as built, the audience at St Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn broke into spontaneous applause. “We haven’t had that reaction before,” says Slovo.

The 72-year-old playwright and novelist is accustomed to chronicling failures in government and if the subject matter of Grenfell seemed, at first glance, more parochial than her verbatim plays about Guantánamo or Islamic State, it turned out to be deceptively so. The deaths in 2017 of 72 people in a west London tower block tell a universal story, not only about deregulation and corporate carelessness, but about double standards in government towards marginalised communities. Any American who can summon images of the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina – people left to fend for themselves; people shot at by police as they fled, or camped out on sidewalks – can understand immediately and viscerally what this play is about.

The playwright herself feels these issues particularly keenly after a lifetime considering imbalances of power. Slovo’s body of work, and her background as the child of two titans of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, has perhaps given her a reputation as earnest. On the evidence of our interview that’s not the reality at all. At a restaurant on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Slovo is quick to laugh and point out the sheer pleasure and privilege of learning about other people’s lives. Much has been made of the horror of the stories emanating from Grenfell; less remarked upon is how funny the play and its characters are. “We wanted an audience to understand that these are individuals with their own histories and way of being,” says Slovo. “To know what it is to be in a burning building and have to get out – you need to know who those people were, and a bit of their history.”

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‘GRENFELL’ AT ST. ANN’S WAREHOUSE—THROUGH MAY 12 (REVIEW FROM NEW YORK) ·

By Bob Shuman

In the disaster that ensued (Grenfell: in the Words of Survivors, now playing at St. Ann’s Warehouse until May 12), a Syrian man, a disabled man, who in this production is played by a disabled actor, using crutches, waited five minutes next to his front door to see if someone would come to help him: “There was smoke coming, so I decided to use the stairs like everyone else thinking that maybe . . . someone would help.  I was horrified to see that the residents were running at lightning speed.”  That is the human dilemma at the center of Gillian Slovo’s powerful, direct, unmelodramatic, verbatim drama, from Britain’s National Theatre, which transcends nations, nationalities, and boundaries – the idea of how far people are willing to go, or not, to help one another. The play is an examination of the “crack,” the fissure being discussed in the compound term “falling between the cracks,” alluding to those who want to help and can help, as well as to the disjunction between what social services and corporations can do for constituents, in industrialized countries, as well as what our own neighbors can provide, and where they stop.

For those who do not know about London’s high-rise apartment complex, which Americans would recognize as “projects,” and which happened to stand in an area of wealth and affluence, perhaps equivalent, in terms of income for many residents, to zip codes where New York’s Trump Tower stands or Barbra Streisand’s Malibu enclave tans, what happened on June 14, 2017 is a multifaceted story about a badly doctored eyesore and a fire.  The interests, with stakes in such a catastrophic failure, range from those of corporations, politicians, suppliers, and the residents in the Grenville Tower themselves; often the latter being  English-as-a-second language speakers, brown skinned, working, lower, and middle class renters (and those who bought their apartments), dealing with outsized tenant issues that, nevertheless, would be understood by most rent stabilized, or not, apartment dwellers, or owners, as well, in New York and elsewhere.  These concerns include threatening building management, unacceptable fixtures and appliances, and irresponsible maintenance.  A tinderbox in a gilded world, after a botched refurbishment, might be a metaphor for the destruction or better, as one resident described it, the handicapped resident, actually:  it looked as “if you’d taken a cup and covered it in gold.  The cover is better, but that’s all.”

What is intriguing, turning from the historical and civic realities to the way the devastation has been rendered artistically, is the highly original theatre-making that the directors, Phyllida Lloyd and Anthony Simpson-Pike and their production teams have employed, reframing all the ephemera, the debris, the fragments of lost life and personal memory and distilling them into eleven brown, mundane storage boxes (the kind you might buy at Staples).  Thinking creatively, all of the remnant, singed and unrecoverable, smoking, torched, literally, drenched effects of innumerable memories, past ownership, family, dreams, pride, and what was obtained by struggle, distilled into a set of containers, with UPC codes, that become a symbolic, clinicalized setting and its properties.  The minimalism, together with projected photos, interviews and video design (Akhila Krishnan) and film (TEA Films), lighting (Azusa Ono), sound design and effects (Donato Wharton), set and costumes (Georgia Lowe), video clips, documentation—is brutalist, externalized, objectivized, and material.  The spare, icy music (Benjamin Kwasi Burell) is made up of only a few chords.  Grenfell is austere and postmodern, Brechtian, ensuring that viewers are analyzing, accumulating rational, critical thinking, instead of being emotionally drawn in, or, because of the subject matter, overwhelmed. 

Verbatim is a documentary style of drama used infrequently here in the States, perhaps best known to us through the work of Anna Deavere Smith. Viewers do not decide whether the accumulating data makes a character believable or whether the interpretation is “close enough” to reality or the assumptions of an imagined world; it’s blunter than that.  The character is believable because imaginative language is expelled: these are the actual words someone spoke—and because of the challenges of dramatic and literary form, it is exciting when the work, in all its hardness and inelegance and everyday banality, coalesces into an urgent living picture.

Actors are not breaking the fourth wall to enhance a fantasy:  They are part of a real confrontation.   Judge them at your own peril.  Their points of view are not examples of a commonly held belief, which evaporate as soon as we leave the theatre. It is his or her point of view, it is on record, it is part of the historical facts, and it goes with them into the harsh light of day.  Their words are evidence that can be acted upon. The cast, which makes minor costume adjustments, and who are working, at the state-of-the-art St. Ann’s Warehouse, in the round, in the aisles, on the stairs, and with and on their boxes, intensely for over three hours,  are not only excellent because their dictions, accents (Hazel Holder), movement (Chi-San Howard), and behavior  correspond to real people from various countries—they do not even seem to be acting. How would one expect to see these characters played in other ways? The picture does not need to be photoshopped.  Their names are:  Joe Alessi, Gaz Choudhry, Jackie Clune, Hounda Echouafni, Mona Goodwin, Keaton Guimarães-Tolley, Ash Hunter, Rachid Sabitri, Michael Shaeffer, Cominique Tipper, and Nahel Tzegai.

Some of the thoughts that have remained with this reviewer are the following:  how far will people, companies, and governments go to help in communities, in situations far less urgent and dramatic than the ones presented in Grenfell, before they cry “every man for himself” and “abandon ship” or simply throw up their hands?  Or, is the point of abandonment a matter of instinct and human nature?  Importantly, too, has it changed over time?—do people give up earlier now in situations or on each other in life or in extreme situations?  Is the focus more or less than in the past, and is there even a way to ascertain that?  Importantly, especially regarding this drama: can dereliction be traced to accents or race? The Grenfell fire happened seven years ago, and actually, with regard to reparations, and people who lost everything, that is a long time. It is reassuring that the event  has been memorialized, but actually, politicians, who knew the problems with the building design, before the fire ever happened, have, to this day, not been held accountable, as likewise, have companies involved with the building construction.  Grenfell is a problem, which many hope will go away, maybe with time, but that is the point.  Have we become desensitized to modern life and what human beings need and should actually expect?  Or has media normalized us to starving children and brutal attacks, mass destruction and a world of fire, actually addicting us to violent stories that disappear as news and new cycles change?

The Grenfell story is ongoing . . .

© by Bob Shuman

Tickets for Grenfell: in the words of survivors are on sale now and can be purchased at stannswarehouse.org. Performances take place April 13, 16–20, 23–27, & 30 and May 1–4, 7–11 at 7:30; April 14, 21, 28, and May 5 & 12 at 5pm; and April 20 & 27, and May 4 & 11 at 2pm.

The production opened on Sunday, April 21.

Photos: Teddy Wolff

Press: Blake Zidell

Note:  For transparency, Bob Shuman helped compile a drama collection, entitled Acts of War:  Iraq and Afghanistan in Seven Plays (Northwestern University Press), one of which was written by Victoria Brittain and Gillian Slovo: Guantanamo: “Honor Bound to Defend Freedom.”  

                 

VINNIE NARDIELLO: ‘RUBBER’–AS SEEN ON CBS NEWS (APRIL 4-21 AT TNC) ·

Delve into the challenges faced by educators in ‘Rubber,’ a gripping drama by Vinnie Nardiello. Set in a “rubber room” where teachers await uncertain futures, this production at Theater for the New City (151 First Ave., New York, NY) explores themes of resilience and the complexities of the education system.

Experience ‘Rubber’ from April 4 to 21, with special discounted rates available for educators.

From Vinnie Nardiello, Playwright:

I was inspired to write ‘Rubber’ following my own experiences working as a writing teacher at a performing arts academy, while simultaneously serving as vice-president of my local teachers’ union. The action of this story is centered in a rubber room, a purgatory for teachers awaiting disciplinary hearings, some of whom are stuck waiting for years. It is, I believe, a nuanced and compelling portrayal of the human experience via the lens of the contemporary education system that has great potential beyond our three week run. ‘Rubber’ explores themes in education, the modern culture of online shaming, and this particular production is unique in our inclusion of currently employed educators on our production team and in our cast, including myself, my director, Kerri Ann Murphy, and our lead, Chelsea Lee Walker.

We believe that ‘Rubber’ will resonate deeply with audiences and spark important conversations about the very public nature of personal identity as well as the state of the American education system.

 

ISRAEL RAIDS FREEDOM THEATRE IN JENIN REFUGEE CAMP; DIRECTOR SPEAKS OUT AFTER BEING JAILED & BEATEN ·

(Report from Democracy Now!; Photo: Middle East Institute.)

The Israeli military this week raided the Freedom Theatre in Jenin, a renowned cultural institution whose mission is to fight for Palestinian justice, equality and self-determination. It’s part of a wave of violence Israel has unleashed across the occupied West Bank since October 7, killing 58 people in Jenin alone even as the country intensifies its assault on Gaza. We speak with Freedom Theater artistic director Ahmed Tobasi, who was just released after being held for 24 hours. Two of his colleagues remain in Israeli detention. “The Israeli soldiers believe we are not human beings,” says Tobasi. “You are under occupation, and that’s your destiny as a Palestinian.” He decries the decades of international impunity under which the oppression of Palestinians operates, and calls on Americans to resist the use of their tax dollars to fund Israel’s violence. “They believe no one in this world can ask them to stop,” he says. We also get a reaction from Peter Schumann, the founder and director of the Bread and Puppet Theater, the legendary political and social justice-oriented theater company, marking its 60th year with a puppet show in New York City that is an ode to Gaza. Democracy Now! is an independent global news hour that airs on over 1,500 TV and radio stations Monday through Friday. Watch our livestream at democracynow.org

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‘I WAS LIVING IN A FOOL’S PARADISE’: ADRIENNE KENNEDY ON MEETING THE BEATLES AND LOSING CONTROL OF HER PLAY ·

(Chris Wiegand’s interview appeared in the Guardian, 6/6/2023; Photo:  Adrienne Kennedy with her son Adam in 1969. Photograph: Jack Robinson/Getty Images.)

The great American playwright, who made her Broadway debut last year aged 91, recounts what happened when she adapted a John Lennon book for Laurence Olivier’s National Theatre

In the mid-1960s, Beatlemania swept through the New York home of playwright Adrienne Kennedy. One of her sons, Adam, would sing I Want to Hold Your Hand; his older brother, Joedy, talked of the Fab Four as if they were the centre of his world. It was a tough time: Kennedy had just separated from the boys’ father and they were about to leave their apartment. But for the eldest child, “the Beatles were all that were on his mind,” she remembers. He treasured his copy of John Lennon’s book In His Own Write, a collection of poems and tales, which she read herself.

“Somewhere in those months of turmoil and Joedy’s passion” Kennedy decided to adapt the book as a play. It was a project that would take her to the heart of London’s theatreland and bring Kennedy both joy and pain. And, in a neat case of symmetry, she revisited this period of her life four decades later in her 2008 play Mom, How Did You Meet the Beatles? which is presented as a conversation with Adam. “He asked me again and again those questions,” she says. “Finally we decided he would tape my answers.”

This month the one-act play has its UK premiere in Chichester, starring Rakie Ayola and Jack Benjamin. Kennedy, who rarely gives interviews, agrees to answering questions over email. Expansive replies come back speedily, often richly lyrical and idiosyncratically punctuated. Her sense of wonder is still palpable at a chain of events that led her to cross the Atlantic in the 60s and watch a first run-through of the play sat next to one of her heroes, Laurence Olivier: “He. Held. My. Hand.”

Once she had hit upon the idea of adapting Lennon’s book, Kennedy’s New York theatre connections helped her to make contact with Victor Spinetti, who had been in A Hard Day’s Night. He arranged for Kennedy and Adam to meet Lennon who she remembers running into the room for their meeting, sporting an orange jacket. He was “happy to see us”, she remembers. “His face. His eyes so very intense.” The Beatle looked, she says, like a scholar of classical music or a lost language. He was quiet, very serious, and treated her with “a certain deference” that made a big impression on her.

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ACCLAIMED PLAYWRIGHT DAVID HARE OPENS UP ON HIS NEXT BIG CHALLENGE ·

(Kerrie O’Brien’s article appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald, 3/6/2023; Photo: Sydney Morning Herald.)

What David Hare wants to write about at the moment is pretty simple: the fact that two billion of us are doing well in this world and six billion are not.

Often referred to as our greatest living playwright, the 75-year-old Englishman has written 39 plays, many about current events including conflict in the Middle East, media moguls and COVID-19. He received two Academy Award nominations for best-adapted screenplay for writing The Hours in 2002 and The Reader in 2008.

Sir David Hare is only now turning his attention to writing about men.

Speaking ahead of a talk in Melbourne this week, Hare says the huge gap between the haves and the have-nots is the issue of the 21st century. “Global capitalism is not currently delivering an equal way of living,” he says. “So we have this massive disparity between the rich and the poor, which gets greater all the time and makes societies demonstrably unhappier. That, of course, is what I would write about, but god knows how you write about it.”

To his mind, the best writers express something that needs to be said but which has not yet been articulated. What they should do – and what he aims to do – is find the gaps and challenge our preoccupations as a society. All the great playwrights – Shakespeare, Ibsen, Chekhov and Moliere – were way ahead of what society was thinking.

Hare argues a lot of theatre produced today is pious. “I’ve never written the kind of play in which people are told what they already believe,” he says. “I’ve never written ‘rally around the flag’. I would rather not write than write stuff which confirms people in what they already believe.”

When Cate Blanchett starred in his play Plenty in London in the late 1990s, in the part made famous by Meryl Streep in the 1985 film adaptation, some audience members couldn’t cope.

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CHARLIE CHAPLIN’S GRANDSON JAMES THIERREE ON LIFE AS A ‘CIRCUS FREAK’ ·

(Helen Pitt’s article appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald, 1/10/23; Photo: Swiss-French circus performer, violinist and actor James Theirree in Sydney.CREDIT:JAMES BRICKWOOD.)

When performer James Thierree’s mother Victoria Chaplin ran away at 18 to join the circus, her father, silent movie star Charlie Chaplin wasn’t happy.

Victoria’s mother was Chaplin’s fourth wife, Oona, herself the daughter of US playwright Eugene O’Neill. Yet when Victoria fled Switzerland with a French circus performer, Jean-Baptiste Thierree, 14 years her senior, her showbiz parents did not approve.

Thierree said: “They thought she was crazy. They weren’t on speaking terms for three or four years because they were afraid she was going off to work in this really raw and fragile environment. Circuses were not the theatre or movies.

“My parents started what we call today the ‘new circus’, ‘the imaginary circus’ in 1970, which at the time broke new ground with rock ‘n’ roll, music and dance and no animals as opposed to the traditional circus; they were circus pioneers,” said Thierree, who was raised in the circus and made his onstage debut with his parents aged four.

His parents’ “grand love story” with each other, and the form of physical theatre they created, continues today. His mother 71, and father 85, are preparing for a new show in April performing with his older sister Aurelia, 51.

Thierree at 48 continues in the family trade too, and is in Sydney for the first time in several years for the Sydney Festival performance of his show, Room.

Thierree says the show, which starts in Sydney on Wednesday at Roslyn Packer Theatre and continues until January 25, will resonate for everyone who has been stuck inside a room at home during lockdown.

“The room is a playground or a wild dream. It is an ode to surrealism and the beautiful British idea of nonsense.” he said.

“My take is that the world has gotten so crazy that it was interesting for me as an artist to come up with kind of a mad project. It is sort of saying, ‘Let’s make something joyful out of it, out of the chaos of COVID’.”

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‘I THREW MY ARMS AROUND BECKETT!’ – ELECTRIFYING FIRST NIGHTS, BY CIARÁN HINDS, EILEEN ATKINS AND MORE ·

(Dominic Dromgoole’s article appeared in the Guardian 10/26; via Pam Green; Photo: A hallucinatory experience’ … Frances Barber with Amanda Abbington and Reece Shearsmith in The Unfriend. Photograph: Manuel Harlan.)

The author of a new book about the greatest openings in theatre history asks stars of stage to recall their most thrilling first nights – and the occasional disasters that befell them

History has no shortage of explosive first nights and openings. Moments in public art when the concerns of an epoch meet the truths of artists and catalyse a volcanic response. These are the nights when pins can be heard dropping, when time is stretched into unforeseen patterns, when success is grasped or failure faced. For artists they are electrifying. Here are some stories from the frontline.

‘Beckett stood there like a stone but I carried on’

Eileen Atkins, attending Beckett’s Play, 1964
There were three figures on the vast Old Vic stage, all encased in jars. They did the same script twice through. Mad about Beckett anyway, I was overwhelmed by the cleverness and what it did to my brain. It was extraordinary the difference in effect when done at first one pace, then an entirely different one. The whole meaning shifted. Later I was in a car when I saw the director George Devine walking along with a man. I leapt out and shouted: “George, George, I just saw your amazing play.” “Well, say hello to the author,” he said and there was Samuel Beckett. I threw my arms around him and he stood like a stone. I wasn’t going to let him make me feel abashed, so I carried on.

‘The silences that night were spellbinding’

Anne Reid, The York Realist, Royal Court, 2003
I had no idea this was such a good play. The first time I read it, I thought: “Oh no, not another northern mother. Boring.” I was 64 and I’d never worked in London before. Peter Gill directed it so beautifully. Everything was specific in its choreography: this is the height to hold a teapot, this is how to take off and hang a coat. Whatever the action, he said if you take your time and present it, the audience will find it interesting. And he was so definite about pace: play the first scene legato, the second pizzicato – he really knew the music of a scene. The silences in the theatre that night … spellbinding! Later, we went to the Royal Court bar and as Peter walked down the stairs everyone burst into applause.

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ELEANOR METHVEN: A SORCERER OF THE STAGE ·

(Sara Keating’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 7/16/22.)

For Methven, who stars as Prospero in Rough Magic’s The Tempest, the rehearsal room is the beating heart of a theatre production

It is late on a Friday afternoon, and Eleanor Methven is sitting in the production offices of Rough Magic Theatre Company in Dublin city centre, running her lines. It is the end of the first week of rehearsals for director Lynne Parker’s new production of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, in which Methven takes the lead role of Prospero, the sorcerer hero now recast as a woman. It is a massive role, involving “pages and pages of these amazing speeches”, and with a highlighter pen Methven marks out the dense body of text she must learn.

Methven has been practising at home for weeks, “just sitting in my house, acting away, using what Prospero would tell me to — my imagination — to din it in. The neighbours must think I am mad.” So she is delighted and exhilarated to be finally in the rehearsal room. “Really what [an actor needs] is to learn their lines on the floor,” she says, “because the lines tend to be attached to your muscle memory. The more you repeat it, the more it goes in, the more natural it becomes. At the end of the day, you’re an actor, and what you are trying to do is create human beings [on the stage].”

For Methven, the rehearsal room is the beating heart of a theatre production. When other actors of her vintage — she has been acting professionally for 45 years — are asked about their dream roles, they have a list of great parts they would love to play. Methven doesn’t. She wants to know “whose production are you talking about? Who else is in it? You can have the role you want, but what about the other parts? It could be a complete failure if you don’t have everyone you need around you. Theatre is about a total ensemble and that begins in the rehearsal room.”

 

Methven has been thinking a lot about this in relation to The Tempest. “A lot of the play is about how you order society and how you lead; what the character of your leadership is? The way Lynne runs an ensemble is very democratic; very much a case of ‘I have chosen these people because I think they are the best people to help me to do the play’. It is obvious of course that she is in charge. She works out all the production aspects with lighting, set designers, and it is up to her to keep a hold on all the skeins of silk she has and weave them together. But it is very much up to each individual to bring what they can to the rehearsal room every day, because that is your job, that is why she cast you.”

The actor and director have a long relationship, dating back to the 1980s, when Parker directed several productions for Charabanc, the theatre company that Methven set up in Belfast in 1983 with a group of like-minded female theatre artists. As she explains, the venture was born out of “unemployment, but not just unemployment. There weren’t many roles for [female actors] and when there were, they were ‘someone’s wife’ or ‘someone’s mother’, ‘someone’s daughter.’ We thought ‘we would like to be the someones for a change”.

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