Interview: Director Harry Mackrill on his new play, working on Angels In America and dream casts
"I can’t begin to describe everything I’ve learnt from some incredible directors. Their passion and dedication is perhaps the most immediate thing that comes to mind."
Director Harry Mackrill lastest work is World’s End, the debut play from upcoming writer James Corley at The King's Head Theatre and he's recently been announced one of the theatre's new artistic associates.
As an associate director, he's worked on two epic productions at the National Theatre: Angels in America and Peter Gynt and spent a year at the Kiln Theatre.
I asked him about his latest work, the role of an associate director and if he knew Angels was going to be such a huge success.
Tell us a bit about World’s End the play you are directing at the King’s Head and what drew you to the work?
World's End is a story, set in 1998 against the backdrop of the approaching Millennium and the Kosovo war, which charts two neighbouring families – both single parents – and how their sons fall in love whilst playing Zelda on the Nintendo.
This is a play about first love. When we meet Ben and Besnik they are both dealing with their own fears and insecurities about the outside world, but together they find security and passion.
I think James [Corley] has written two wonderful LGBT figures in the two characters, but the love they find in each other is something that is universal.
It is a profoundly moving, visceral piece of storytelling. I am drawn to work that embraces stillness, and James understands the power of simplicity.
It’s a gift to be able to work on the play – both in the writer-director relationship, but also with the actors and seeing the characters come to life.
How would you describe your directing style and what was your approach for this play?
I’m not sure I’m best placed to answer this question – I have set of rules that I approach each production with.
My main passion for directing comes from a love and respect for actors: what they do and the fact that they are brave enough to do it.
I think my role as the director, in the rehearsal room, is to create a space that is supportive and rooted, so that actors can do their best work.
As this is a play about love, my motto to the whole company has been that love can make people behave badly – and we have to embrace that messiness and ugliness of love in this play.
All four of them have jumped to the challenge and create such raw and passionate performances – I am amazed.
The main stylistic challenge with the play, however, is how to keep the action fast-paced between the two settings of the flats.
Rachel Stone, designer, and I – along with the whole creative team – have worked hard to create a fluid style of storytelling to really embolden the text and the actors.
You are associate director for the National Theatre’s Peter Gynt, worked in a similar capacity on ‘Angels In America’ and at the Kiln Theatre - what is the role of the associate director?
There are two different definitions of the job: you can be associate director of a building or a production. I’ve done both.
To explain what it is at the NT on Angels and Peter Gynt, there’s a ‘director’, ‘associate director’ and ‘staff director’.
How are they different? Essentially how you should look at it is that I have been with the project for a long time with pre-production and have been dropping in and out of design and casting sessions.
It’s about how I can store everything that Jonathan and Richard Hudson, the designer, have in mind and filter that to the other departments and keep a track of that and maintain all the new information coming from rehearsals.
As an associate of a building you have a different kind of role – I deputised for Indhu Rubasingham (Artistic Director) at Kiln Theatre.
I oversaw the literary work of the theatre, as well as being part of the team that looks at the organisation as a whole.
I also had the great privilege of managing the Resident Director post – a role I began in – and taking the step to mentoring people.
What are the best qualities for a director and associate director and is there common ground?
I think all directors really need are empathy and some visual flair.
What have you learned as associate director that you’ve carried forward to your work as a director?
I can’t begin to describe everything I’ve learnt from some incredible directors.
Their passion and dedication is perhaps the most immediate thing that comes to mind – and of course, I’ve taken (or stolen!) ideas and ways of working from all of them.
I’ve also been able to see the pressure that is placed on the director and hopefully been able to be more objective about it when I’m in the driving seat – it’s not always easy but it does help.
‘Angels In America’ was a huge hit at the National Theatre and transferred to Broadway, did you have an inkling that it would resonate so strongly with audiences?
Before we even opened the play was sold out – so we knew we had something special.
That all really begins with what an iconic play it is and how it’s influence is felt today (look at plays like The Inheritance, and even all LGBT work, including World’s End) - then add a director as visionary and exciting as Marianne [Elliott] - it was obvious she would do something epic with the play - and a company as prestigious as we had and it all added up to the hit it was.
You’ve already worked with some amazing actors but who would be in your dream cast?
The four actors in World’s End are incredible. We have had the most wonderful time in rehearsals and its amazing to see them grow during the run … so they’d be up there again.
But if Beverley Knight ever wants to do the ‘Amen Corner’, I’m here.
What’s next for you?
You tell me! For now, I’m just incredibly pleased with how people are taking to World’s End … it’s been a passion project for so long, and I hope as many people as possible come down to the King’s Head to see it.
World’s End will run at The King’s Head Theatre until 21 September.
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