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Eyes Closed, Ears Covered director - 'It's wonderful bringing a play to life from scratch'
Almost two and a half years ago now, writer Alex Gwyther shared an idea with me for a new play that he wanted to write. Two teenage boys skip school and jump the train to set off on a daring adventure but there is a another motive than simply bunking the day off school. I was intrigued and asked if he could keep me updated as it developed.
Cut to 12 months ago when we reconnected and he mentioned that the idea had grown into a play called Top Bunk. He sent me a copy to give him some thoughts but he hadn’t actually asked me to direct it. That was probably very beneficial as I read it with a very open mind and I wasn’t worried about how I was going to stage it or how to make it work.
I read it a couple of times and thought it was very visceral and incredibly emotional. I was blown away by the mix of humour, gripping plot twists and moments of gut-wrenching tenderness. I had immediately fallen in love with the piece and knew that I had to direct it.
Together we began to organise readings and workshops to both cultivate the text and also gather interest from potential producers and venues. Working so closely with a writer for the first time was an incredibly creative feeling and Alex was brilliantly collaborative. The play developed dramatically in that time and even changed name to Eyes Closed, Ears Covered.
Before long we started to get interest from various venues across London. Joel Fisher from the Bunker Theatre read the play and had the same reaction as I did. It felt like a perfect fit for the show as the intimacy of the Bunker Theatre would really enhance the electrifying production we wanted to create. We were going to put on the show!
When Alyson Cummins and I began the design process we didn’t want there to be any logic to a particular part of the stage as the play is set between a police interrogation room and then very sharply splits into various flash backs set in several locations. The writing is incredibly fast and fluid with the action snapping and changing in a split second and I was determined to not slow down any of the action for scene changes.
This sense of an always evolving and shape shifting space was greatly enhanced by the work of lighting and video designer Norvydas Genys and sound design and composer Jon McLeod. They have really helped push the production to another level by creating a bold and striking world in which the boys inhibit in the play.
Knowing that the majority of the play needed to be staged imaginatively but with just the actors on the stage as opposed to large scenic elements, I wanted to work very closely with a movement director who could really define the world and the physicality of the journeys that the two boys undertake.
I contacted movement director Jonnie Riordan who I had worked with at Frantic Assembly. Having not worked with a movement director on a play before, it has been a revelation working with Jonnie. Not only has he managed to bring a unique and beautiful physicality for the boys’ various journeys in the play but really pushed my own way of thinking when staging drama.
It has been a wonderful experience creating not just a production but being part of bringing a play to life from scratch. It is a well-used cliché to say that creating theatre always requires an incredible amount of hard work with lots of challenges and plenty of risks and with new writing possibly is even more so. That said, I have no regrets on embarking on this very long journey and I am incredibly proud of what a large group of people have managed to achieve with very modest resources but an endless amount of creativity
By Derek Anderson
Eyes Closed, Ears Covered runs until 30th September at the Bunker Theatre.