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."

Harry Mackrill - World's End
Harry Mackrill

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.

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Review: Hansard, National Theatre - exceptionally witty, acidic and punchy drama

Simon Woods' debut play Hansard, a political drama, is set in 1988 but feels like it was written for now. Certainly watching it on the day Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced he was going to prorogue Parliament added an extra frisson of meaning to some of the lines.

Hansard poster national theatre

Set in the Cotswolds home of Tory MP Robin Hesketh (Alex Jennings) he is reunited with his wife Diana (Lindsay Duncan) having returned from working in London for the week.

Thatcherism is in full swing, the UK economy is riding high on an economic boom and the Poll Tax is on its way but all is not right in the Hesketh house and it's not just the foxes digging up the garden or Diana's hangover.

A two-hander it starts off as the sort of bickering long term couples almost enjoy, the familiar digs and quips but the comments become increasingly barbed and weighted.

Diana isn't the traditional Tory wife, she doesn't like the Tories for a start and isn't shy about it but Robin doesn't hold back in his opinion of her more liberal, left-leaning views either.

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Review: A Very Expensive Poison, Old Vic - feeling conflicted about this

I haven't felt this conflicted about a play for a long time.

A Very Expensive Poison running times

Lucy Prebble's' new work is based on a book by Luke Harding about the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko.

The play opens with Marina Litvinenko (MyAnna Buring) talking to a lawyer about getting justice for her husband in the face of a British Government reluctant to damage diplomatic relations with Russia.

We then jump back to when Alexander (Tom Brooke) first got sick, then back again further to his life in Russia. It threads together how the Russian ended up as a British citizen, a target for the KGB and the investigation into his poisoning

Gripping yarn

It's a gripping yarn but where I'm conflicted is in different styles of storytelling employed.

By turns, it is an edge of the seat thriller, witty satire and a Vaudevillian style farce and is the latter which sits uncomfortably.

The fact is a man died a prolonged, drawn-out unpleasant death in a state-sponsored assassination but many of the Russians of the play are presented as a mixture of 'Carry on the KGB'  and an Austin Powers movie villain.

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Review: Branden Jacobs-Jenkins' Appropriate, Donmar Warehouse - family drama that hits a nerve

An Octoroon was the first play of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins I saw and it blew me away.

Appropriate-Donmar-Warehouse-poster
He has such an imaginative and bold approach to difficult themes I rushed to get tickets to another of his plays, Gloria, at Hampstead Theatre. Again I wasn't disappointed.

So I had great expectations as I walked into the Donmar to see Appropriate which is receiving its UK debut.

Set in a crumbling plantation house in Arkansas, the Lafayette family has gathered to sort out their late father's belongings and sell the estate.

Emotional baggage

They all bring emotional baggage and scars of past events.

Older sister Toni (Monica Dolan) is recently divorced, has a teenage son who has been in trouble for dealing drugs, was close to her Dad and executor (and chief visitor) of her father as he became a recluse and required day to day care.

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Review: Juliet Stevenson in The Doctor, Almeida - Principles, prejudices and listening to your PR

Robert Icke has certainly made his mark while associate director at the Almeida. Highs include Hamlet with Andrew Scott and Oresteia with Lia Williams although there was also Mr Burns.

The-Doctor-Almeida-programme-ticket

He leaves the Almeida with a challenging piece, his adaptation of the early 20th Century play Professor Bernhardi by Arthur Schnitzler.

Set in a modern hospital, the protagonist is the formidable Ruth Wolff (Juliet Stevenson) dubbed 'BB' (big bad) by her team when she isn't around.

She is an astute and skilled doctor, a leader in Alzheimer's research, focused, inflexible and forthright in her views to the point of rudeness.

'Leaders should lead' is her mantra but playing the game - the politics of management - isn't her strong suit and gets her into big trouble.

A reasonable refusal?

When a 14-year-old girl is admitted with sepsis from a botched home abortion, Wolff refuses to allow a Catholic priest to give her last rights because the girl hasn't given her express wish for the priest to be there and she doesn't want her becoming distressed.

Wolff wants her to have a peaceful death but that message gets lost in the row that ensues and she comes across as obstinate.

It is easy to see the escalating maelstrom that could be prevented by a simple apology but Icke throws so much petrol on the bonfire it's obvious she never stands a chance.

Petrol on the bonfire

Because Wolffe is Jewish, albeit non-practising, she is seen as bigoted.

Because the 14-year-old girl had an abortion, albeit self-administered, the pro-life campaigners see Wolff as pro-abortion.

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Review: The Night of The Iguana, Noel Coward Theatre, modern women and a minister on the edge

The women of Tennessee Williams' play The Night of the Iguana were in many senses ahead of their time.

Night of the iguana poster

Based on Williams' 1948 short story and set in 1940s Mexico, the play's central character Rev Lawrence Shannon (Clive Owen) is enveloped in a scandal. On an official break from his ministerial duties after preaching atheistic sermons, he's taken work as a tour guide but after sleeping with an underage girl on his tour, the group has turned against him. 

He has retreated to a hammock at the budget hotel run by his friends Maxine (Anna Gunn) and Fred although the latter has recently died. 

The hotel is perched on a cliff - a brilliantly imposing set by Rae Smith - which puts the protagonist literally and figuratively on the edge.

Finding connection

Here while facing off the ferocious and unrelenting tour leader Miss Fellowes (an unrecognisable Finty Williams) and the sexual advances of Maxine he finds a connection with the whispy spinster Hannah Jelkes (Lia Williams) who is travelling with her aged grandfather Nonno (Julian Glover).

Hannah is devoted to Nonno, has an inner strength and sensibility which both calms and inspires Shannon who is prone to nervous attacks and depression.

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Camden Fringe Review: All The Little Lights, Tristan Bates - brittle and tense

"If he knew I'd seen you, he'd kill me and worse"

CoLABorate All the little lights Jan 2019-311

What could be worse than being killed? For Joanne, the victim of child sex grooming gang you don't want to imagine but delivered in such a throwaway manner its potency is subtle. 

Jane Upton's play, All The Little Lights was inspired by news headlines about the Rochdale child sex abuse ring, not an easy or comfortable topic to broach. 

It is delicately handled, the story told through the eyes of Joanne (Lucy Mabbitt), her friend Lisa (Erin Mullen) and young newcomer Amy (Emily Fairn).

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Review: Actually, Trafalgar Studios 2 - complex and gripping college date-rape trial drama

Is saying 'actually', the same as saying 'no'? This is a question posed very early on in Anna Ziegler's play about two students whose drunken date night ends up in a rape accusation. 

Actually Trafalgar Studios-41
Yasmin Paige and Simon Manyonda in Actually at Trafalgar Studios 2

It is the first term at a prestigious university. A time for making new friends, enjoying the freedom of being away from home, finding out who you are and where you fit in.

Amber (Yasmin Paige) is Jewish at turns shy, awkward, talkative and forward. Tom (Simon Manyonda) is black, good looking and confident, occasionally to the point of being 'dickish', something he acknowledges.

When we first meet them they are on the fateful night out. It appears from the nature of the conversation that they are in the early stages of getting to know each other.

The narrative jumps back and forth piecing together the events leading up to the alleged rape and the college hearing that results from the accusation.

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Why I won't be renewing my London theatre friends memberships

For a long time, I've paid an annual fee to be part of various London theatres 'friends' schemes but over the past 12 months, I've been assessing their value. 

Theatre sign
Ultimately they are a way for theatres to raise extra money but I already buy a lot of tickets so the perks for paying extra need to be worth it. 

Early access to tickets is pretty much the USP for theatre memberships and the reason I joined so many schemes. I like good seats, I like to be as close to the stage as possible.

I guess the fear of missing out has kept me renewing the memberships over the years.

Barbican offer discounts

Only the Barbican offers discounts on tickets and given that membership also gives you discounted cinemas tickets and free access to exhibitions, it's the only scheme which can pay for itself.

In recent years, theatres have been making a concerted effort to be more accessible to a wider variety of people. Hallelujah to that, it is really important.

But sometimes it has eroded the perks of friends memberships.

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Review: The Colours, Soho Theatre - quiet ordinariness is this play's secret power

Harriet Madeley's The Colours is a verbatim play based on interviews with people with life-limiting illnesses and those working in palliative care.

Morfydd-Clark-and-Mark-Knightley-in-The-Colours-Photographer-Hannah-Anketell
Morfydd Clark and Mark Knightley in The Colours: Photo: Hannah Anketell

While researching the play, Madeley herself was diagnosed with a potentially life-limiting illness but rather than fraught emotional meaning-of-life drama this a piece of quiet ordinariness - which is its secret power. 

It starts in darkness projecting the audience by way of a soundscape to the seaside but what it is, in reality, is a therapy session at a Welsh hospice.

Sands of time

Sand is a physical motif throughout. It represents the shoreline, the beach from patients' therapy sessions but also the flowing sands of time as seen from the bucket at the back of the stage.

We are introduced to two cancer patients and another with motor neurone disease, getting snatches of their conversations with family, doctors and their thoughts through diagnosis, initial treatments and then palliative care.

The tone, for want of a better comparison, is like animation series Creature Comforts which is voiced by ordinary people.

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