Features Q&A and Interviews Published 26 February 2011

Caroline Steinbeis

On practicalities, abstractions and directing Fatherland.

Tom Wicker

TW: Because you know a production is still work in progress at that point?

CS: Yes. But that’s the unfair thing about making plays – they’re always works in progress. I think someone like [director Robert] Lepage is a lucky bastard for being able to say, well, nine hours of theatre but we’re still working on it. It’s really honest and it’s a really great thing he can do that; I wish I could. Things are never finished. I hate it.TW: Are you still tweaking Fatherland then?

CS: Oh, yes, absolutely. In fact it’s likely we’re even making script changes. Tom sent me a few things last week –but [into the microphone] don’t tell the actors yet!  – so we’re tweaking all the time. And I’m always noting. For example, I’m seeing the play tonight after having not seen it for three performances, which will put [it] in a different perspective.

TW: Is there a degree of sensitivity necessary when delivering first-night notes on a production?

CS: Yes, but I think it’s about understanding the whole thing as an art rather than what it is in the moment. With this play, more than any other, it’s been about the process of enabling the guys to hit the marks that they know they want to be hitting. The first show technically for us was quite complicated: the heart didn’t break, the bike didn’t come through the wall properly, the lighting was still being tweaked and the cues weren’t particularly tight. So there was all of this stuff [to do]. But from my perspective I quite enjoy being able to say, “Well, tonight will be about addressing X specific thing” about the show.I think you need to give [a play] the space it needs to settle. It’s important that people don’t feel under pressure to be absolutely perfect. You can never achieve it. It’s a horrible position to be in and I don’t want to put others in it. Even three weeks into a run at The National, there’ll be things that actors do that aren’t working and you just have to allow for it. That’s life. That’s theatre.

TW: Between now and the Munich festival you will be directing Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s play That Almost Unnameable Lust at Soho House, as part of Clean Break’s Re-Charged project. Was it your decision to work with Rebecca?

CS: It was actually a different process [to Fatherland] because Clean Break had commissioned six writers to write six pieces but they weren’t in existence when I was asked to come aboard the project. I didn’t know who I would be working with [so] I’ve been incredibly fortunate to work with Rebecca. But through the script submission process and on to production [we’ve had] a really close editing relationship. I’d love to say I was the one who selected Rebecca’s play, and I would have done; but it was the other way round.

TW: And what are your plans beyond Re-Charged and the festival?

CS: There are various different things in the pipeline but nothing’s been signed yet so I’m not allowed to say. It’s exciting!

That Almost Unnameable Lust will be one of a trio of plays performed as part of Re-Charged at Soho House, from 23 March to 9 April. The Radikal Yung theatre festival will be hosted by the Volkstheater in Munich, from 9 to 16 April. Fatherland will run at the Gate Theatre until 12 March.

See Exeunt’s review of Fatherland here.


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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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