It’s a warm September afternoon when I catch up over a drink with the team behind “The Sea Between” in the pub above Baron’s Court Theatre. Just a couple of minutes later, we descend into the completely empty downstairs auditorium space, and start a chat about the inspirations behind the show, the most difficult scenes to rehearse, and even about their very favourite plays in history. And as I was sat in the old cinema chair, I got completely charmed by the fantastic connection and energy this small group of artists had between them. I could definitely sense these people knew each other for many years – and indeed they did, as I found out later!
I’ve noted down our short interview below – so dive in, and get to know the amazing people behind this intriguing production! “The Sea Between” is still playing in Baron’s Court Theatre until 17th September 2022. Read my review of the show here.
Let’s start with some introductions. Demi, tell me more about Driftwood Productions, why and when was it started, and what was the vision for it.
Demi Leigh (writer, actor: plays Ginny in “The Sea Between”): Driftwood Productions is a team of two: myself and my friend Jevgenija Kuznecova, who created all the videos and photos for the play. We have worked together since university, and we are both foreigners – at the time of our studies, we were actually the only foreigners at Derby. We both felt a little bit like driftwood, that’s pushed and pulled, and has just arrived at the shore of a new land. We found unity in creating art in a different country, while also bringing our unique references and melting them together. Whatever we create has a flavour of our background – Jev is Latvian, and I am Greek, but we are very much British as well. We create short films, and we naturally divide the tasks: I’m the writer and she’s more of a visual person. “The Sea Between” is the first big play that we have created.
Tell me about “The Sea Between and who would enjoy watching the show”.
Vittorio Parri (Director): It’s a story of two people meeting and trying to find a voice for each other: both as independent people, and as a couple. But these are two people who are not good for each other – it’s essentially a toxic relationship. It’s a play for people of our generation: 20-30-year-olds. It’s a story that will appeal to anyone who has experienced, in one way or another, a relationship that was not healthy. It’s not a lesson though – we are just trying to show that you’re not alone and something like this could happen to you as much as to anybody else. It’s a play that we wanted to tie in with greek mythology, namely a story of Iphigenia. It’s a kind of transformative journey – in “The Sea Between” Ginny goes through a process which eventually pushes her to take control of her own faith and free herself from the tyranny of the “King”.
Is the show inspired by your personal experiences?
Demi Leigh: Well, I’ve been in the UK for 13 years now and had my fair share of experiences in relationships with men here. While I was in the north, it was a different experience, I could feel the kind of communication and style of dating was unique and varied from the style of dating I’ve seen in London. The posh, “still upper lip” people I sometimes met made me acknowledge the culture clash I was experiencing. Both me and my friends – who were also foreigners, agreed that dating was pretty much the largest culture shock experience you could have had in the UK. So this, mixed with the – of course – exaggeration of events and some ideas from my side, was what made this show happen.
The production includes some intimate scenes between both characters. How did you prepare for it and how did you work on these scenes?
Matthew Kay (Actor: plays Mike in “The Sea Between”): I have been friends with Demi for the past 5 years. We trained together at Working Actors Studio. Being good friends for so long definitely helped, and in terms of intimacy in the scenes, we just jumped into it – there wasn’t much back and forth. I think our good relationship helped to ease into things.
Vittorio Parri: I think I was the one the most concerned about these scenes (laugh). I jumped into this production later on, when the show already had some initial performances done in February (Vittorio took over the play from the previous director, Lee Lomas). I was constantly asking “Is this ok for you” during rehearsals. Just recently we have added an extra dream scene near the end, in which we see Mike choking with water, and with that, also had a scene change, where both characters get very hot and steamy. And it was not my idea! It was Demi’s idea, and Matt just jumped on it. It all went very naturally.
Matthew Kay: I think the only thing we really had to work towards, more than the intimacy scenes, was the violent scenes. For me, to get to that “anger” mode, it took quite some rehearsing. It involved an entire rehearsal of Demi just running around, not letting me have my water bottle – that was a good exercise!
What did the process of working on the show with Vitto look like?
Demi Leigh: I am very comfortable creating realistic, naturalistic plays. With this production, I wanted to challenge myself and bring a more traditional aspect of drama to it. I have seen Vitto’s work before and have had a discussion with him about this project – he gave me 15 hours of this time, when we just went through the script, over and over again. Vitto created sketches developing the ideas from the script: he painted the bed-nest and the whole stage setup. The experience he has with classical writing and drama was exactly what I needed at this time, to enrich and elevate my heavy dialogues. As a director, he has been amazing: very supportive but also pushing me and Matt into the right areas.
Vittorio Parri: The process was very much a constant restructuring of the vision and story: I tried to connect with the roots of the story (a greek myth), but also add some more improvised scenes. Especially the fight scenes: I asked to improvise them from the beginning, and then Demi took home all the notes she took during that rehearsal and write a set of dynamic, emotional dialogues. It was a live process – something that’s slowly fermenting, but still alive.
What’s one play that shaped you and inspired you in your career?
Matthew Kay: Mine would be “The Pillowman” by Martin McDonagh. He’s one of my favourite writers, and I loved this play ever since I picked up this script. It shaped my creative processes like writing, but also my sense of comedy!
Demi Leigh: I would say my pick is the Robert Icke’s version of “Hamlet” in Almeida Theatre. It formed so much of what I do as a scriptwriter and an actor. It was such a live play, with so many different accents! Andrew Scott’s performance had such playfulness in it, which elevated this classic tragedy and just inspired me to push myself and do more in my theatre work.
Vittorio Parri: “Little Light” by Alice Birch – I’ve never seen it on stage, but I’ve read it. Birch is just an outstanding writer, one of the best ones, in my opinion, at the moment. The way she treats something fundamentally dramatic in the lives of two people but with simplicity and elegance is just beautiful.