Features Q&A and Interviews Published 26 February 2011

Caroline Steinbeis

On practicalities, abstractions and directing Fatherland.

Tom Wicker

TW: Do you enjoy that? Being presented with vague or ambiguous spaces you can fill yourself?

CS: I never think they’re vague – everything you’re looking at has meaning for you, even if it’s confused. You still take away something of the atmosphere. In that respect I’m quite interested in giving people time to consider what they’re seeing; I’m interested in the pauses on stage and not necessarily having to answer everything. And I know with [Fatherland] that’s something that has frustrated some people. It’s very open ended and it’s about atmosphere; and, certainly, from the second half onwards it moves away from naturalism towards something more emotional and existential. So it’s very complicated. But I kind of enjoy that experience.

TW: On stage, Angela, the daughter, wears a red coat, which isn’t specified in the script. In making that decision you’re evoking everything from Little Red Riding Hood to recent films such as Hard Candy.

CS: I’m pleased that those visual messages are carrying through – they’re very deliberate. They’re important in a play like this, which doesn’t give you much background on the history between [Angela and Mark, her father]. All you ever know is what they talk about with each other [on stage]… you’re given a handful of indications but you have no idea where the mother is or even where they are. So there’s a responsibility to plant images with people to help them along, or at least to help them form their own interpretation of certain sections in the narrative. There are some things that are inescapably clear in the play and others [that] are much more open. So, yeah, it was definitely something I and Max Jones, the set designer, as well as Johanna Town and Simon Slater, the lighting and sound designers, took upon ourselves to play with.

Steinbeis at rehearsals for Fatherland at The Gate Theatre. Photo: Robert Workman.

TW: Much of the work you’ve undertaken seems to be driven by two almost contrary impulses: the need to discuss very contemporary subjects while at the same time making sure they’re not too firmly rooted in a specific time or place. Do you think that’s a fair description?

CS: Well, I think that with something like Mad Forest [which Steinbeis directed at the Battersea Arts Centre in 2009] what was really interesting was that it resonated 20 years on from its original conception. But I don’t know… I’m interested in more challenging material, which makes people think, but I don’t necessarily choose plays by the issues that they’re describing. And certainly not with Fatherland; it’s the collaboration with Tom Holloway that interests me first and foremost. He’s a phenomenal writer.

TW: How long has that professional relationship existed for?

CS: We’ve known each for other about two years now. [And when] the Gate approached me to pitch a production to them it was always going to be in collaboration with Tom. He’d written [Fatherland] about three years ago in a different draft and shelved it. I read it and thought, “Man this is difficult.” Initially we were both cautious about it. Then it went through 12 redrafts and a lot of things got taken out and put in. It was a massive undertaking to make the play what it is now and there are still complications in that – any rewriting process is delicate and complicated – but there are moments of real genius in it. I think it has fantastic dialogue and it’s also really clear to me psychologically. Working with Tom is something I’d definitely like to keep on doing. What he writes is challenging and he’s a great collaborator. We’re very honest with each other and we laugh a lot together. Especially through this, we’ve supported each other a huge amount.


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Tom Wicker

Tom is a freelance writer and editor, based in London. He has acted in the past, but the stage is undoubtedly better off without him on it. As well as regularly contributing to Exeunt and OffWestEnd.com, he reviews for Time Out, has reviewed Broadway productions for The Telegraph. He has also written for The Guardian and the online world affairs magazine openDemocracy.

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