DBY: Dream Story, your baby although perhaps not an entirely innocent one; give us a sketch of the last seven days and how they’ve been for you.
AL: Well, it’s always a very pressured time period in the lead up to press night, because we’ve got our press night tomorrow night, and so we’ve mostly been engaged in getting the technical requirements of the show together and matching that with what we’ve rehearsed in the rehearsal room with the actors, and there tends to be a great deal of conflict when the two elements come together in the technical rehearsals and the first couple of dress rehearsals so it’s been a process of integrating all of the different elements, so the thing actually begins to feel like a show, where the technical elements are servicing the needs of the actors and that the actors aren’t necessarily having to deliver according to the technical demands of the show. It is quite a technical show, it’s got quite a lot of transitions from location to location and it does explore a certain dream-like quality, so it’s been an interesting and challenging few days for us but the show is definitely finding its groove now so I think everyone knows the measure of it now.
DBY: So with this show you’re kind of a “technician of dreams”?
AL: Yes, I think I’ll put that on my job CV as well. Transferable skills.
DBY: This “dream-like quality” must be quite a specific technical challenge…
AL: It’s a difficult balance to strike, because obviously at the Gate there are certain restrictions in terms of space and in terms of what you can do in the time that you have, with the money that you have, in the space that you have. So it does require quite a flexible and quite an entrepreneurial approach to how one can create a certain fluidity in what is essentially a fixed space. And I’m very interested in terms of how I work, is how to create a certain sense of motion I guess, from location to location, something that is quite cinematic, in a way. but obviously physically you can’t really move the stage around to serve that, so the rehearsal process is always about finding the best language that will serve the needs of the play. And in this case a play that plays with people’s perceptions of reality and dreams in a very complex way.
DBY: Have you worked much outside of the black box?
AL: I’ve done a bit of work on the big stage at Chichester, and that’s actually a thrust stage, and I spent two years down there as one of the staff directors, so I have quite a comprehensive understanding of the thrust space and how that is best harnessed for the needs of a play, and it’s certainly very different, less to do with the magic of sets, and much more an actors space I feel. But certainly the black box in the configuration that we’re playing with at the moment is more a picture frame in which the action takes place, so that brings with it different demands.
DBY: Do you actually like working with actors, or would you prefer them technicalised out of existence?
AL: I absolutely love with working with actors. I trained as an actor originally, and have I think a great understanding of their processes, and what their needs are. I think that there’s always a very interesting process that you go through, especially with a piece like this which has got I guess a concept behind it, and part of the job is to enlist the actors to engage with that concept, and believe in it, because it can be very easy to lose faith in what everyone’s working towards. An actor always feels most strong, I guess, when they’re working within a location and an environment which they recognise, so that’s why I think a lot of actors enjoy more naturalistic work because a location and circumstances are very secure.
DBY: Last year your production of Lulu suffered a cast illness and you stepped in to play Countess Geschwitz, for which you were widely well-received…
AL: As a director you have to ask yourself, have I done everything in my power to deliver the show that I intended, and we were fast approaching press night, so I thought, well I know I can at least match the intention and the energy of everything else. I don’t think it was an award winning performance but I think it served the needs of the piece and the other actors and helped them achieve what they were working towards. Because what was just the most difficult thing was, I was really unfortunate in that the actress that went off only managed to do one preview, so everyone else’s understanding and knowledge of the play happened to incorporate the stress of not having one of their company there for the rest of the preview running up to the press night, so in the end we had to recast with a different actress. So these events are always a test, but I’m not the only director whose experienced it. But I didn’t step through any desire to turn it into the Anna Ledwich show that it was; a bit of a morale boost for everyone at the very least.
DBY: One critic wrote of Sinead Matthews’ performance in Lulu that if anyone else wins the Olivier this year it will be because male voters are too cowed.
AL: Oh, I didn’t know that. Ah. Gosh she’s such a talent. She’s an extraordinary.. she’s an extraordinary creature actually, she’s got that remarkable voice and a remarkable presence, but she’s also highly intuitive and emotionally really present, and I just think she’s going to be a huge huge star. And it was a real privilege to work with her on that project because she totally believed in it, she was a wonderful kind of co-conspirator and ally throughout the whole thing. And I hope she wins lots of awards very, very soon.
DBY: So back to Dream Story. What was the genesis of your involvement with the project?
AL: I was asked by the Gate if I had any projects I would interested in working on this year, and I met up with them and we talked about a couple of plays, and my third option, which was a bit of a back-pocket suggestion, which was this strange little novella called Dream Story. I’d read it a couple of years ago without twigging it was the same source material as Eyes Wide Shut; it was only once I’d read it again, the preface, and a bit more research. And so when I mentioned that to the Gate their eyes sort of widened, or, yes their eyes widened, and “ooh this could be interesting”, and so it all came about rather quickly, I only found out that they were going to programme the show at the beginning of this year so the process of adapting it which has happened in something of a quick fashion over the last few months, including a work of R&D work in which we looked to flesh out the initial draft of the adaptation. But in a way it’s a continuation of the work I began with Lulu, I’m very interested in writers of that period, that turn of the century European genre, and there’s a lot of similarities in terms of the concerns, the emphasis on sex and death, and the ambivalent attitude of some male writers towards women. I think they make interesting book ends and it’s something in my work that I’m interested in pursuing, finding links between each of the pieces that I do.