Interview: Theatre in 5 questions with award winning director Emily Aboud

Emily Aboud
Director and playwright Emily Aboud

Director and playwright Emily Aboud received the Evening Standard's Future Theatre award, and her latest directing project, Flip! is touring the UK in October and November. Written by Racheal Ofori and produced by Fuel Theatre, here she talks about the play, how she'll feel on opening night and why the best theatre is a gig.

Watch the video interview here.

How would you describe the play Flip!?

So Flip! is a two-hander about two best friends who want to become influencers.

And it's dystopian because it's taking where AI is now and making it worse - it's on the path already.

So it's sort of dystopian comedy about two best friends whose friendship completely gets destroyed. One of the character's relationship to herself, her sense of self is destroyed because it's all for the fans and nothing for herself.

How do you choose what projects to work on, and what drew you to Flip!?

Oh, I'm really good at rejecting offers, which is bad because it's not financially smart. But yeah, I'm really interested in plays that are playful or, inherently theatrical or political.

That sounds boring if I say it like that, but that's what clown is, that is what drag is. That's what a lot of my past work utilises, those very direct political theatrical forms.

So, I wouldn't particularly say I'm very interested in naturalism, but that's not true because I'm dying to do Chekhov. But I'm drawn to fearless and political shows, which is what Flip! is.

I think I was really lucky because I didn't interview for it. It was that Racheal [Ofori], the writer, had seen some of my work and wants me to be myself with her work, which is really great.

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Review: Octopolis, Hampstead Theatre - Academics, an octopus and David Bowie

Jemma Redgrave and Ewan Miller in Octopolis_3_credit The Other Richard
Jemma Redgrave and Ewan Miller in Octopolis, Hampstead Theatre 2023. Photo: The Other Richard

Princess Diana's famous line: 'there were three people in my marriage' is given an eccentric twist in a line from Marek Horn's Octopolis: There were three people in my marriage... and 12 legs.

The legs refer to Frances, an octopus living in a tank in the home of Professor George Grey (Jemma Redgrave). She and her recently deceased husband have been studying Frances.

Anthropologist Dr Henry Giscard (Ewan Miller) is sent to stay at George's University-owned home and immediately clashes with the prickly, grieving Professor.

George continues to write papers on Frances, and Henry has his research to gather information for, but they find begrudging respect for each other in their mutual love of David Bowie - and debates about Frances.

Henry believes he can prove that Frances believes in a God, but George thinks that is nonsense and has her own ideas with which to dismiss his theory.

Their heated discussions about animals, humans, feelings and souls are peppered with asides, little observations of each other often delivered with deadpan wit.

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Review: It's Headed Straight Towards Us, Park Theatre - fun but lacking in bite

Samuel West (Hugh)  Nenda Neururer (Leela) and Rufus Hound (Gary) in It's Headed Straight Towards Us at the Park Theatre small. Pamela Raith Photography (041)
Samuel West (Hugh), Nenda Neururer (Leela) and Rufus Hound (Gary) in It's Headed Straight Towards Us, Park Theatre 2023. Pamela Raith Photography

Actor Hugh Delavois (Samuel West) has never made it big but has a steady stream of bit-part work. Meanwhile, drama-school chum Gary Savage's (Rufus Hound) star burned Hollywood bright for a while but has since faded under a cloud of being a drunk and unreliable.

Hugh is jealous of Gary's catalogue of past roles while despising his reckless and unpredictable behaviour. Gary sees Hugh as uptight and an uninspired performer.

In It's Headed Straight Towards Us, these frenemies are thrown together while filming on location on the side of a volcano in Iceland.

It is Hugh who has the more significant role and the bigger Winnebago, and Gary, when he remembers where he is, behaves like he's the biggest name on the film's poster.

When a natural disaster cuts them off from the rest of the unit and leaves them isolated, it is 21-year-old runner Leela (Nenda Neururer) who has to keep the peace while trying to manage their 'rescue'.

It's an interesting time to be watching a comedy set in the entertainment industry, given the news headlines surrounding a certain comedian/actor.

While some did, I couldn't laugh at Gary's lecherous behaviour towards Leela, even if it's intended by writers Ade Edmonson and Nigel Planer as a satirical poke at 'old school' behaviour.

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Review: Infamous, Jermyn Street Theatre - a light introduction to a richly interesting woman

Caroline Quentin and Rose Quentin in Infamous_Jermyn Street Theatre_ photography by Steve Gregson 4 sml
Caroline Quentin and Rose Quentin in Infamous, Jermyn Street Theatre. Photo by Steve Gregson

Can a woman be famous and respectable? That's the question posed by April De Angelis' play about Lady Emma Hamilton, but I'm not sure it's the right question in the context of this story.

Real mother-and-daughter actors Caroline and Rose Quentin play Emma at different stages of her life.

In the first half, Rose plays the young, flirtatious and ambitious Emma, set on catching the eye of newly victorious admiral Nelson. The fact that she's married doesn't give her a moment's reflection.

She's risen from poverty via maid, model and dancer to a place in society where she's not only a lady by marriage but the 18th-century equivalent of an influencer. And just as social media influencers continually seek clicks, Emma is determined to build on her fame.

Caroline plays her mother - put upon but grateful to have escaped her own dodgy and dark past. Age and experience have given her a more grounded outlook on their situation.

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Review: Pygmalion, Old Vic Theatre - Performances designed to extract laughs rather than meaning

Pygmalion old vic

This was my first Pygmalion. I've not seen My Fair Lady either (musical 🥴), but I know of it, I know the story, so I was curious to see a production.

This Old Vic production kicks off with a stagey bustle of posh people sheltering from the rain outside the Royal Opera House with snatches of different conversations, complaints and commands to find taxis.

Flower girl Eliza Doolittle's basket (Patsy Ferran) gets knocked to the ground, and, cor blimey guv'nor, it all kicks off.

Eliza is thrown into the path of arrogant and rude linguist Henry Higgins (Bertie Carvel), who has a knack for pinpointing exactly where people are from by their accents.

If she can learn to speak 'proper', Eliza has a chance of working in a flower shop rather than hawking flowers on the streets. She solicits elocution lessons from Higgins, who simultaneously wagers a bet with Colonel Pickering (Michael Gould) that he can pass Eliza off as a lady.

It is a play where prejudices and concerns expressed in the early scenes hang over the story. It's not a case of whether Eliza will 'transform' into a lady but what happens as a consequence. Indeed the transformation is seemingly rapid, but more on that later.

One of my favourite scenes is Eliza's first outing, where she's nailed the posh accent, but her language is natural to her upbringing. It's cleverly performed by Ferran.

It's also one of my favourite scenes because it's when the sensible Mrs Higgins, Henry's mother, appears played by the brilliant Sylvestra Le Touzel.

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Review: Vanya, Richmond Theatre - Andrew Scott does it all but does it deliver?

Vanya Richmond Theatre andrew scott poster

Chekhov's Uncle Vanya - 'Vanya' - adapted by Simon Stephens and starring Andrew Scott playing all the characters? Well, of course, I had to buy a ticket, it's ANDREW SCOTT, but I was equally curious about the concept and what it would add to the play.

I've seen a few productions and am familiar with the story. Note: If you are not, it's worth glancing over a plot summary in prep, but more on that later.

Chatting to the woman sitting next to me, she had never seen a production before and asked if it was a comedy. "It depends on how it's done", was my reply. Chekhov's plays can be funny.

I followed up with: "Are you familiar with classic Russian literature? Tragedy of inaction, that sort of thing?"

"Yes, love that", was her reply.

Vanya is part unrequited love story, part exploration of a life's purpose. It's about those toiling away on a rural estate to support the 'genius' professor who came into possession of it via his first marriage.

His daughter Sonia, brother-in-law Vanya and mother-in-law work hard to generate funds for his city life. When he visits with his new young wife, Helena, it throws the estate in turmoil.

Simon Stephen's adaptation sees a more naturalistic and modern dialogue. The setting is transported to Ireland, which allows Scott to use his natural accent.

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Review: As We Face The Sun, Bush Theatre - energic, fun and tinged with the bittersweet

The Bush Young Company in As We Face The Sun at the Bush Theatre. (Photo by Harry Elletson) 6
The Bush Young Company in As We Face The Sun at the Bush Theatre. Photo by Harry Elletso

As We Face The Sun at the Bush Theatre is part coming-of-age drama, part exploration of the impact of grief on a group of school friends. The story centres on a group of 14/15-year-old classmates at a West London school after the death of one of their friends and how that shapes them and their friendships over the next 10 years.

Performed by the Bush's 18-25 Young Company, we first meet them loud, energetic and excited for a school trip. There is joking and joshing with individual personalities coming through from the quiet to the loudest and most confident.

However, this energy gets overshadowed as each deals with loss in their own way and starts to grow into adulthood and life after school. In one poignant scene when they forget and let loose, their fun is pulled up sharp when the mother of their dead friend is spotted.

The group's annual get-together in memory of their friend's birthday, held at the same venue with the same food, playlist and dance routine, starts to look more like nostalgia than a memorial.

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Review: Dumbledore Is So Gay, Southwark Playhouse

Charlottte Dowding  Alex Britt  Martin Sarreal - Credit to David Jenson
Charlotte Dowding, Alex Britt & Martin Sarreal in Dumbledore Is So Gay, Southwark Playhouse Aug 2023. Photo: David Jenson

Fans of Harry Potter will no doubt enjoy the references to the Wizarding World, but Robert Holtom's play Dumbledore Is So Gay is, in essence, a gay coming-of-age story.

It starts when Jack (Alex Britt) is 12 and joins in with his friends' homophobic name-calling out of fear of being on the receiving end. Meanwhile, his dad (Martin Sarreal) insists the TV is turned over when Graham Norton comes on because of his sexuality.

Jack's relationship with his parents and best friends Sally (Charlotte Dowding) and Ollie (also Sarreal), on whom he has a crush, plays out through his teen years, culminating in a devastating event.

But what if, like Hermione, you could use a time-turner and go back and change certain events in your life, make different decisions based on hindsight and experience? Would the outcome be different?

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Review: A Mirror, Almeida Theatre - a play that continually surprises

A Mirror Almeida promo poster

I was intrigued about A Mirror before I even got to my seat. Its description on the website doesn't give much away (and I don't like to read any interviews until afterwards).

The Almeida foyer is decked out ready for a wedding celebration. But alongside pink ribbons and pastel balloons, there is a huge Oath of Allegiance on the wall and notices from the Ministry of Culture reminding you of the rules and regulations.

That contrast in tone - celebration and authority - is emblematic of Sam Holcroft's play which has you thinking you are watching one thing, only for the curtain to be ripped back to reveal something else.

A Mirror is about making theatre when the state decides what is and isn't suitable to be put on stage. And from the moment you step into the decorated foyer, you are part of the narrative.

Inspired by Holcroft's visit to North Korea, Adem (Michael Ward) submits his first play to the Ministry of Culture for approval.

It ends up in the hands of Čelik (Jonny Lee Miller), a slightly sinister senior official who happens to have a love - and knowledge - of theatre. He doesn't want to necessarily follow a check list of suitability, but he does have firm ideas about what theatre should and shouldn't be.

He sees talent in Adem if only it can be channelled into material appropriate for public viewing.

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Review: Spiral, Jermyn Street Theatre - growing unease and suspicion

Spiral image - Ben Wilkin
Abi Hood and Kevin Tomlinson in Spiral. Photo: Ben Wilkin

Last year Abi Hood's play Monster had one particularly shocking scene which has lingered in my memory; in contrast, Spiral is a play of unease and suspicion.

It centres on the friendship between Tom, a teacher (Jasper Jacob) and Leah (Abi Hood), an escort, the motivation for which has one or two grey areas and the impact that has on their other relationships - Tom's wife, Gill (Rebecca Crankshaw) and Leah's boyfriend Mark (Kevin Tomlinson).

Tom and Gill's teenage daughter Sophie has gone missing taking nothing with her, and they are coping in different ways. Gill has turned to drink and the church, while Tom meets with Leah, who looks a bit like Sophie.

Leah isn't in a good place herself. Her mother is no longer around, and she lost contact with her father when she was a child. Mark, who came to her rescue at a low moment, isn't the guardian angel he first appeared, rather, he is increasingly controlling and abusive.

His moods swing between the kicks he gets from her escort work, which he encourages her to do, and jealousy if punters show the wrong sort of attention.

I was mentally screaming 'leave him' from very early on.

But it's Leah and Tom where the unease really centres. They meet more and more to share chips and conversation; are they fulfilling an innocent need for each other? Is it merely that Tom's way of coping is to try and recreate his relationship with his beloved Sophie? Is Tom a much-wanted father figure for Leah?

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