Review: These Demons, Theatre 503 - atmospheric and funny but not quite the thriller it sets out to be
Review: Portia Coughlan, Almeida Theatre - a play that got under my skin

Theatre in 5 questions with director Sara Joyce - "We wanted to fight for her without making her inherently likeable"

Sara Joyce  Aimée Kelly  Gill Greer  Eliza Clark (c) Rebecca Need-Menear
L-R Sara Joyce with fellow Boy Parts creatives: Aimée Kelly (actor), Gill Greer (adaptation) and Eliza Clark (novel). Photo: Rebecca Need-Menear

Theatre director Sara Joyce's previous work includes Dust by Milly Thomas and Fringe First winning The Last Return. Here she talks about her new project, Boy Parts, what drew her to working in the theatre, her favourite theatre and how she'll be feeling on press night.

Boy Parts is described as a pitch-black psychological thriller adapted by Gillian Greer from Eliza Clark's novel and is at the Soho Theatre from 19 October. 

This is an edited version of the interview; scroll down to watch the full interview.

What made you want to work in theatre?

I wanted to work in something to do with entertainment or storytelling. I was acting, and I thought: well, I'm going to be an actor, and I don't think I saw anything outside of theatre as accessible.

Maybe it was just narrow-mindedness, or I didn't really think about it. And I think luckily so because I love it.

And then there's the question of why you keep working in theatre. I enjoy the event of it. I was thinking about it this week in rehearsal, and it feels a bit like you're planning a party that's going to be on every night.

There's something both vital and redundant about it at the same time.  

I love rehearsals. I love making things from scratch and figuring things out. And I love the shared experience with a team - people coming up with ideas you'd never think of.

It’s the community of it - it's such a cliche to say - but especially post-pandemic. I've got a huge belief in just being around people and theatre.

And the way in which we make it is together, but then also how it's received is together, and it has to be live, and I love the liveness.

It’s fun. It's difficult, but when it's difficult, it's interestingly difficult. It’s a joy and a privilege.

For those who’ve never been in a rehearsal room, what might surprise them about the process?

Mechanical is maybe not the right word, but the fact that it does just take a lot of talking and trial and error.

I don't use this in a negative way, but it's quite mundane: you're repeating, you're trying things. It's like cooking or something.

If I hadn't been in the rehearsal room before, I think there's something spectacular, finished, and accomplished. And we don't really know what we're necessarily going for, you might know a feeling, but the getting there is just like anything else. You're just figuring it out.

Aimée Kelly in Boy Parts (c) Rebecca Need-Menear
Aimée Kelly, Boy Parts. Photo: Rebecca Need-Menear

What drew you to the play Boy Parts, and how would you describe the play?

So Boy Parts is an amazing book by Eliza Clark, who's incredible. And Gillian Greer, who's adapted the book for the stage, sent it to me.

She had read the book and had the idea that it would work well as a play. Actually, I don't think it's that obvious.

I've known Gill for a few years creatively, and something in the book spoke to her that she knew instinctively would speak to me.

There's a woman and artist at the centre of it who is just trying to be taken seriously for the work that she makes.

She’s trying to navigate the world in such a way that she feels less out of control. And she goes about it in a very questionable way, which is intriguing.

She's not immediately likeable. The book is this incredible read where your narrator is not a particularly nice person, and yet there's something compelling about her.

And immediately, Gill and I were on the same page - and Aimée [Kelly], who's in the play and Eliza - that we didn't want to sanitise this person or her world. We wanted to fight for her without making her inherently likeable.

That was the real draw.

I think it's also exciting that there's potentially a whole audience for the book who aren't a typical theatre-going audience.

To see the response to what it's like to imagine a world and then to see it realised on stage makes me nervous because everyone's going to have their own iteration, but it's really exciting.

How will you be feeling on press night?

I'm nervous any night I see anything I do, that's just a given because you've got new audiences. I think the difference with press night is you've hit the end point where you can continue working.

Really what press night marks more than anything is the decision to back off from continuing to make changes and leave the actor and the writer alone.

And it's good to have that, but it's a short amount of time we have to make something new, so I'll probably be wishing I got to do that scene one more time.

I'll be nervous but excited to share it, and I think I'll be really proud. There's a real pride in seeing the alchemy of the whole thing together.

What is your favourite theatre to watch?

I love dance theatre if I'm allowed to say dance. I was at Teac Damsa at Sadlers Wells last night, which is Michael Keegan-Dolan's company, and I just was: Gosh, I'd love to do that.

The Hofesh Shechter and Crystal Pite sort of choreographers who are inherently theatrical because it removes text mostly; there's obviously sometimes some text, but what you're left with is feeling.

And I suppose for me, that's the thing I enjoy about any piece of work because I'm boringly logical and cerebral, to be immersed in something that is much more about how it's making you feel. Or you have to sit with how it makes you feel.

It just lets me switch off. I love a good musical as well: Singing and dancing.

Enjoyed this? Check out some of my other interviews:

Theatre in 5 questions with award-winning director Emily Aboud - includes chat about Emily's new play Flip! which is touring the UK

Theatre in 5 questions with writer-director Rebecca Holbourn who talks about her play Violated

You can find all my videos - interviews and reviews - on my YouTube channel