Hello again from the Reboot Festival at the Baron’s Court Theatre! As the event is in its second week, I’m thrilled to bring you the next instalment of this little “Ask a Director” series. (reminder: you can still watch a set of short plays until 23rd September 2023, more info here)
In the previous article, we delved into the minds of five talented directors, uncovering their insights, experiences, and the one thing they wish they had known before stepping into the director’s chair. Today, let’s go on a different journey — one that (hopefully) will give you an idea of theatrical epiphanies that forever altered the course of these directors’ careers.
The world of theatre is a realm where stories come to life, where emotions are amplified, and where the transformative power of storytelling leaves an indelible mark on all who venture within its embrace. Doesn’t matter if you’re watching a short improv or a classic musical – performing arts aim to make you feel things. To gain a deeper understanding of what fuels the creative fire of these directors, I asked a question that taps into the very heart of their artistic journeys:
“Can you share one memorable scene that forever changed the way you think about theatre and storytelling?” – by Reboot Festival directors
Isabella Forshaw : Emma Rice’s Twelfth Night at the Globe
A standout moment for me has to be Emma Rice’s production of Twelfth Night at the Globe in 2017: Feste’s final song. It was the first time I thought about how a play could speak to the world it exists in, and be political not just in the narrative but through the very act of performance itself. There was a moment where Feste, played by the drag queen Le Gateau Chocolat, burst into song, and the whole cast emerged, encouraging the audience to join in their chorus of ‘We Are Family’. I’d simply been taken on a school trip, to see some “real” Shakespeare, so to be standing in the pit of the Globe watching a drag queen in a sequined gown performing the Sister Sledge was a bizarre but unforgettable moment.
At the time, I just thought “This is funny”, but it also raised my awareness of the conversation about the Globe’s commitment to producing Shakespeare in OPC, and how that doesn’t (or does) fit into the landscape of contemporary theatre and performance. Since then, I’ve always thought about what a production speaks to in the real world, and how it ties into social narratives. Incidentally, I was asked about the textuality of this scene in an interview once, and the only thing I could think of was the bedazzled gown, and nothing about what was said, which didn’t go down particularly well…
Isabella Forshaw (she/her) is a theatre director who enjoys making queer and female-led work that foregrounds joy in narratives that explore marginalised perspectives.
She is particularly interested in contemporary discourse surrounding femininity, sexuality and mental health. Credits as director include: Spark (Barons Court Theatre), Sink (Golden Goose Theatre), A Queer Car Crash (Et Cetera Theatre), Boys (Assembly Roxy), Catching Up (Edinburgh Fringe); as assistant director: La Voisin (dir. Becca Chadder, VAULT festival 2023).
Ed Hulme: Robert Holman’s Rafts and Dreams
The first two scenes in the play Rafts and Dreams by Robert Holman. A writer of incredible detail, empathy and humanity. In the first scene we watch a woman with severe OCD build up the courage to touch a toilet – who knew that could be so captivating, the second contains arguably the greatest monologue I have ever read. Both scenes perfectly set up where the play goes, without hinting in any way at the magic of what happens next.
As a director, I am obsessed with the human condition, specifically what it means to love, love others and love ourselves. Holman’s plays offer a landscape to do this, with an honesty and bravery that I did not know was possible to put on stage. Rafts and Dreams was the first play of his I read and the first two scenes have profoundly affected me, whilst simultaneously teaching me what is possible on stage.
Ed Hulme is a director from Manchester, training under Katie Mitchell at Royal Holloway. He has directed at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, Othello and Measure For Measure as part of the Sam Wanamaker Festival. Credits include The Comedy of Errors (The Other Palace), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (The Nines), additionally he has assistant directed on Trevor Nunn’s production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and the Royal Shakespeare Company’s FE:The Tempest (dir. Aileen Gonsalves). St Nicholas (Buxton Fringe/LIC ***** Irish Post & Fringe Review), Being Friends (Bush Theatre), Constellations (Tristan Bates Theatre; **** Remote Goat), The Bear and The Proposal (The Other Palace, *****)
Anna Clart: Branden Jacobs-Jenkin’s work
Anything Branden Jacobs-Jenkins does reminds me to stop worrying about genre or rules. Breaking the fourth wall during a naturalistic scene? Sure, why not? Modern language in an 18th-century setting? Fuck it, it’s fun. Workplace dramedy in Act I, PTSD reflections and sociological critiques in Act II?
The audience will live. People don’t go to the theatre to watch you demonstrate your masterful grasp of Aristotelian unity and Chekhov’s principles, they go to be surprised, to laugh, cry, feel something. Read any of Jacobs-Jenkins’s plays—from Gloria to An Octoroon to Appropriate—and you get a sense of an artist staring gleefully at his toolbox and wondering what he can mash together next. The results are exhilarating.
Anna Clart is a German-Canadian director and playwright. She began her theatre practice in Berlin’s Freie Szene, where she co-founded a collaborative company and fell in love with Pina Bausch.
After moving to London for an MA Directing at LAMDA, she now centres her practice in the UK while continuing projects abroad. Recent credits include Oh!, The Light Princess and Reverb.
Chelsea Sheldon: Matthew Lopez’s The Inheritance
I always strive to meet the event. When I say, ‘the event’, I mean what is the big thing happening in a scene that I need to react to whether that’s as an actor, writer, or director. It can be hard to find, especially if a script has a lot of circumstances happening within it. The Golden Rule I always try to follow is ‘meet the event and soften into it’. This, for me, results in the best performance, raw and honest, which is always lovely to see when actors find it. It gives me joy as a director to witness an actor find this in a rehearsal room.
Initially, I thought high-tech sets and animated costumes were the best way to gain attention and tell a story – but after witnessing the pure excellence of The Inheritance in the West End, my mindset completely changed. The set is minimal, Eric Glass played by Kyle Soller performs a monologue towards the end of the play, and there is nothing flashy about it. Just a person standing there recalling events – and it’s beautiful. There’s nothing artificial about it, just storytelling in its purest form. Just an actor, meeting the event and softening into it. And it’s perfect. I’m on the edge of my seat the entire time and he never moves, just stands there, and tells his truth. I’ve seen fantastic performances but I’m yet to witness another performance quite like that; I look forward to the day I do.
Chelsea Sheldon graduated from The London College of Music with a first-class degree in ‘Acting and Theatre-Making’; her training consisted of writing, directing, comedic acting and classical
acting for stage/screen. Over the last few years, she has worked on perfecting her craft.
From writing tailor-made showreel/showcase scenes to directing brand new writing, Chelsea is no stranger to the creative side of this industry. Believing that collaboration is the heart of any performance, she has recently worked in different London theatres either performing her own pieces or partnering with other creatives to bring their work to the
Instagram & Twitter – @chelseamsheldon