Q&A with Narvik Director Hannah Tyrrell-Pinder



Photo by Decoy Media

What is the play about?

Narvik is a play about one man’s experience of war and how those few years have shaped the rest of his life. It’s also a play about memory and the fact that we don’t necessarily get to choose which people, places and images stay with us throughout the years – some ghosts refuse to be laid to rest no matter how hard we try.

What made you want to you to commission this play?

I wanted to commission Lizzie to write a play where music and text were of equal importance as I was excited by the prospect of working with a playwright/singer/songwriter. When I approached Lizzie with the idea of creating a play with songs she responded with the idea behind Narvik – an exploration of wartime, bravery and betrayal.

Why do you work with new plays?

I think working with new plays is a particularly rewarding experience as it’s a genuine collaboration between writer and director – you’re both on a voyage of discovery throughout the development and rehearsal process. I also like the fact that a new play is a totally blank slate for all the creative team and the actors, no-one has to forget or ignore previous productions of the work or try to be innovative for innovation’s sake, our only job is to serve the text and the playwright’s vision.

How does Narvik fit in with your previous work?

I think there’s a definite through-line to the plays that I’ve developed and directed with Box of Tricks. The same themes crop up time and again: trust, betrayal, intimacy, vulnerability basically all the perils and pitfalls inherent in being a human having relationships with other humans!

What do you hope audiences will get from watching the play?

I think I’ve got the same hopes for an audience’s relationship to Narvik as I would have for any play I’m directing – that they connect with the characters, and care about their fate and that the themes of the piece in some way cause them to reflect on their own life and experiences.

And, obviously, I’d like them to enjoy their couple of hours in the theatre and in the case of Narvik come out humming some of the songs!

 How did you get into directing?

I directed my first piece of theatre while at sixth form, did some more directing at university and after graduation went to Mountview to study on their Postgraduate Theatre Directing course. I had a pretty clear idea of the career I wanted to pursue from a relatively early age so tried to plan my route into theatre, making the most of the opportunities that presented themselves along the way.

 How does it feel to see your work on the stage?

I like watching my productions, seeing the shared vision that you and the playwright (along with the cast and creative team) have developed over weeks and months come to life is just wonderful. It’s obviously nerve-wracking sharing productions with an audience for the first time as you don’t know whether they’ll share your love of the piece, but watching a good performance of a show you’ve directed when an audience is connecting with it is just brilliant.

What was the best bit of advice you were given when you started out?

I think the best piece of advice I was given early on was to get actors up on their feet as soon as possible in a rehearsal process. Although I do a lot of textual analysis in the rehearsal room I’m someone who learns by doing, so it’s only when actors are given the chance to move around and start to inhabit characters that I see a play come to life.

Why should people come and see Narvik?

People should come and see Narvik because it’s a beautifully written play by a talented playwright with the bonus of some gorgeous live music – what more could you want?!

What is next for Box of Tricks?

After Narvik, Box of Tricks will be remounting last year’s site-specific rural touring piece – Chip Shop Chips by Becky Prestwich – on a national tour. The last tour sold out each and every night, so we’re looking forward to hitting the road again and tucking into more fish and chips!

Narvik opens at HOME from the 31 Jan-4 Feb and then tours till the 25 March


Award winning playwright Deborah McAndrew on Cyrano



By Steve Pratt

Her First World War drama An August Bank Holiday Lark won both UK Theatre Award and Manchester Theatre Award for Best New Play 2014. Other credits for Broadsides include The Grand Gesture, A Government Inspector, Accidental Death of an Anarchist, Vacuum and The Bells.

As an actor, she has worked extensively in television, radio and theatre. She is best known for her role as Angie Freeman in Coronation Street in the 1990s.

Did you know Cyrano de Bergerac before working on your adaptation?

I am just very familiar with it, the story is something I kind of get. When things make a mark they stay very vivid in my imagination and that’s how it is with Cyrano, particularly the film with Gerard Depardieu. It’s one of those stories that I felt like I knew. I knew him and I knew her and they are characters I can inhabit, spend time with and re-imagine

What are the practicalities of writing for Northern Broadsides?

There’s always a couple of nuts and bolts things to pin down – like how many actors have I got?  which is a key thing for me in doing this kind of adaptation because it affects the style. If they say you have four you’d be doing something like a 39 Steps pocket version. Cyrano has 13 in the cast, meaning the main characters don’t have to double up roles. There are six main characters who don’t double and an ensemble of seven. I have done plays with similar size casts. I am quite confident handling big cast. All the Broadsides shows with the exception of Vaccum have been large casts.

What’s it like being part of the Broadsides ‘family’, having written and acted with the company?

I began my work with the company in 1995 and have been part of Broadsides stable. Conrad (Nelson, the director) and I met in the Dream. Within the Broadsides family I have developed my writing career and it’s home, a place where the style and approach is very comfortable for me. It has been a very important part of my career and life. When Con is directing Shakespeare I am person he sits down with to do the cuts. We cut Hamlet together and Winter’s Tale. It’s a collaborative thing

What sort of working relationship do you have with director Conrad Nelson, to whom you’re married?

It helps having Con directing because I do trust him. He reads the script I have written and he knows what I need. He knows where the ideas come from, especially with the original plays. He just gets it. When we are talking about theatre we use the same language and have the same view of things. Our approach is absolutely unrelenting in its rigour and we don’t forgive ourselves any imperfections we identify. I’ve not been in rehearsals very much for my plays, partly a geographical thing and also I have a home to deal with. But the partnership has really worked.

The original Cyrano is entirely in rhyming couplets but you’ve changed the form.

It’s pretty much still all in verse but I’ve jazzed it up so there are different kinds of verse forms within it and some prose. It’s quite an instinctive thing in trying to make the form fit the content. It’s what serves the play and not what’s pickled in aspic although it’s important a lot of this play is in verse or a kind of heightened prose. I wanted what serves the story right there at that moment rather than dictated by the verse form which makes you add syllables you don’t need. I hate having to look for rhymes and put stuff that’s really awkward into actors’ mouths,

Sometimes you write roles with specific actors in mind – why?

You can make it fit beautifully like a tailored jacket. It’s part of the pleasure for me. I love writing for actors I know and giving them a part that fits them. I know when it goes out there on stage it will work and, for the audience and story, will be told fluidly and seamlessly. I don’t want to see the mechanics, I don’t want to see acting.

Why re-examine the role of Roxane, the girl with whom Cyrano is in love?

I suppose I am coming at it from 21 century woman’s sensibility but I have not done anything that is not there in the original. She’s still a woman of her time but I have seen a couple of productions in recent times where Roxane, not just on the page but in the production, was lamentable because she was portrayed as being an airhead. It’s not what’s in the play. She’s not a stupid girl. I want to make sure we get what’s in the play.

Why is Cyrano relevant to today?

The themes of love, loyalty and disguise are timeless. But I also think this is about a bloke with what we today would call body dystrophic disorder. Okay, he does have a big nose but he’s the only one who has a problem with it. Everyone else stops noticing it after a while. Cyrano is a man who can’t get past his own nose. His fear of rejection and ridicule is absolutely crippling and that’s something we can all identify with to some extent.

Do you ever consider writing roles for yourself?

I’m not interested in writing roles for myself or directing my own plays either. Theatre is a collaborative form and as a theatre-maker I have inhabited the extreme ends of the process – the beginning, as a writer, and the end, as an actor.

A you happy with the roles you’ve had as an actor?

I suppose I have spent my whole acting career living with the frustration of being a short woman because roles for them are very few. There are only so many parts I can get to play but as a writer I can be all of them. As a young woman I went to see Hamlet but didn’t identify with Ophelia. Just like the boys we want to be Hamlet but those roles are not there for you when you are a short girl with a northern accent. The field is so narrow. Interestingly in my imagination I want to be all those people and when you are a writer you can be all those people. I have done a lot of radio acting where I am not so limited by what I look like.

Do you still get recognised from playing Angie Freeman in ITV’s Coronation Street in the 1990s?

The punters still recognise me. But it’s not a case of how does a girl in Corrie end up as a playwright? More how does a playwright end up in Corrie? I went to university not drama school. I wrote plays at school and at home. Corrie happened and sent my career in a different way.

What’s next?

The Chester Mystery Plays for 2018, an adaptation of Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall for Bolton Octagon and I’m also working on a new play. I’m also,author-in-residence at a high school. As an actor, I’m doing four more episodes of the BBC Radio Four drama Stone with Hugo Speer, which I’ve been doing for ten years. I play a copper – if you could see me you would never cast me but it’s only my voice. I’m busy but you wont hear a word of complaint from me.

Cyrano opens at the New Vic Theatre from the 3-25 February and themn tours till the 27 May


The Machine Stops- Interview with director Juliet Forster and composer John Foxx

Caroline Gruber (Vashti) -Pilot_Theatre-The_Machine_Stops-Dress_Rehearsal-Photo by Ben Bentley -Pilot_Theatre-The_Machine_Stops-Dress_Rehearsal-12.05.16-Web_Res-68

Juliet Forster – Director

How did you first find The Machine Stops?

I came across the story in 1998 and the truth is it came from the fact that my husband used to read to me and still does at bedtime. He might not be happy with me for telling you that, but it’s true. He would find short stories to read to me. This one particular night he had a book of British short stories and he was asking me which one I’d like, he said he’d read out the first line of each of the stories that look interesting and I could choose which one I wanted to hear. He read the first line of The Machine Stops: “Imagine, if you can, a room which is hexagonal in shape, like the cell of a bee.” It was just so – my imagination caught fire. I didn’t even know it was EM Forster but straight away I was saying ‘that one that one’.

So it was love at first sight – and it’s stayed with you?

It settled in my mind. I thought it was an excellent and dramatic story anyway, but in 1998, 99, it was well before the internet was such a part of our lives and before we all had personal computers in our homes, but it was so prescient. It was the time everyone was thinking about the Millennium Bug and I started to think it would be the perfect story for the time, looking at our reliance on technology. I never got a production off the ground, but it was one of those things that hovered in the background of my mind. Then when I came to York I remember mentioning at the time that I thought it might be a good piece to do for the studio. I began investigating the rights and having conversations but it was just getting pushed back.

It has become a more relevant story year on year, the way that technology has grown and all the things that are in different formats, with skype and twitter and multi-channel conversations, all these things have become more and more every day for us. The idea that people are glued to their screens and we are becoming more isolated from each other – even in the world of theatre – makes it more relevant, the fact of increasing pollution in the world – in the story people have moved underground to escape pollution – makes it more relevant.

It just kept becoming more relevant and I kept pulling it out of the desk drawer and thinking that this is the one I really want to do. Eventually it all came together at the right point. The EM Forster estate came back and said that others were interested – which I did know – but they said because I had been so consistently in touch, they asked did I want to do it or not, because now was the time. I said ‘yes, let’s do it, let’s get on with it’.

It’s not one of his best known works is it?

People are surprised it’s E.M. Forster. I think this is his only foray into sci-fi. Although there are the hallmarks of his writing in this work, it is still very different in terms of its imaginative leap. It’s much closer to the work of HG Wells and writers of that ilk. People are surprised that they have never heard of it, I think that’s really interesting. In the auditions I asked every actor who came in if they knew the story before they had been called to the audition and I saw about 50 actors. There were only two who had. One who was quite young and she had studied it at school and the actor who is playing Vashti had read it at school many years before and it had really changed her relationship to literature. So it was only two out of the 50 actors that we auditioned who had actually heard of it before. Everybody was saying they couldn’t believe they hadn’t come across it before.

I think people think they should have heard about it.

Science Fiction. E.M. Forster. Shouldn’t it be unstageable?

Don’t say that! I think it’s a really dramatic story. In my career as a director I have done a number of adaptations and I read all the time. I’m a real reader. I very rarely come across something that makes me think ‘that would make a great stage play’. So when I do come across something and I do feel it, there’s usually something significant in it.

I know what you mean, from the description it ought to be essentially unstageable but it is really focussed on this one person’s room, Vashti, the woman who lives in her room on her own, so in terms of the story and initially staging it there is an easy solution – and actually every other room across the entire world is identical so it does work in terms of the simplicity of the staging.

Also the story hinges on a relationship between a mother and son – although it’s not quite how we might imagine a mother-son relationship might be, because it is so affected by the fact that they haven’t really grown up with each other and he’s not really been mothered by his mother . So you have those two things where you have a really strong relationship and a conflict at the centre, and the continuity of the staging means it’s actually not too big a challenge. It’s really stageable.

Have there been any complications in bringing it to the stage?

One thing has cropped up in the last few years: I thought initially I could tell the story with just the two main characters, Vashti and her son, but the more I got into it the more I thought the machine itself was such a massive and dominant and important part of the world that I felt it had to be more than two actors and there had to be something that gave you some of that sense of scale. It has become a cast of four, so that was something that did develop over the past few years about how best to put it on stage.

Tell me about working with John Foxx.

I was a massive fan of his back in the early eighties when I was very young and just loved his music.

I also picked up on the work he did later on. I had always felt like his music would really fit this piece. His music is so amazing and he’s such a pioneer of this electronic sound. He kind of paints pictures in your mind with his music, he really builds worlds for me. And he’s really inspired by that sense of dystopia and a predominance of the machine in his work and that dehumanising effect. I suppose he was just such a perfect fit – but I also thought it was a long shot to actually get him. Very fortunately a very old friend of mine had made contact with John’s son which meant we had a way through to his manager. I was able to get in touch with him, he read it when he was at school then re-read it when I put the proposal in and he hadn’t realised just how more relevant it had become so he said yes. It was really up his street then he brought Benge in so we could have a completely analogue score which is the real advantage of the two of them working together. Having both of them is exciting in itself and feels really appropriate to the piece.

It must feel like you’re really finding your feet with this piece.

I do feel like I’m coming into my own again because in the early part of my career when i ran my own company I was able to take my own ideas from scratch and work them up rather than produce established texts – which I also really love doing – it’s that thing of being able to take something and really make it your own. It’s also great to bring in a really multi-disciplinary approach to best deal with the form that you want and the content you want on stage, it feels really nice to be getting back to grips with the centre of my own creative process.

It must be an exciting time to be at York Theatre Royal?

We’ve got the secret bank holiday play which I’m one of the directors on at the end of May and in autumn I’m preparing for 2017 season which has been curated by a group of women including myself, with some interesting work coming up. I’ll be preparing and getting that in place.


It is a really exciting time. We do a range of work at York, but I think sometimes you have to push a bit to get the things you really want to do. Sometimes you can rely on being a bit too safe. We are heavily reliant on our box office income as a theatre, so we want to do things that we think people will want to see and things that are a bit more experimental, but I think something like The Machine Stops fits really nicely between those two things. So it is quite experimental and it is a fascinating story and a really strong writer.


JOHN FOXX – Composer

In some ways your involvement in a theatre show is a surprise, in others – it makes perfect sense! Why have you decided to be involved?

Well – I like the people involved in the project. Juliet is a true straight arrow. Firm but fair. She gets things done. I also like York and Yorkshire, having lived in Leeds for a while, when I lectured at the Art College there.

You’ve long been known as a musical innovator. Is that something we’ll hear when we come to the show?

Oh I hope so – Working with Benge again was a treat -we used some truly merciless electronica, as well as some fairly delicate treatments – The intention is for the music to feel like some shape-shifting 3D presence in the theatre.

I’m guessing you’re a fan of the book? I also assume that’s why you’ve said yes to the project?

That’s right – I read it when I was at school in 1964 – long before the internet arrived  You read it again now and it’s still so incredibly prescient – foretelling the web and its effects from 1909 is quite an achievement. Forster got it right.

Given your long musical career, is there a particular highlight for you?

Oh, I guess making Metamatic in a tiny studio in London and feeling completely alone and isolated. Then everything changing shortly afterwards, it all opened up like magic – electronics inexorably going from eccentricity to mainstream dominance. And it’s still going – everything is made like that now.

The great challenge now is how to maintain the humanity in there. I guess that’s always the problem with technology.

How does it feel to be a cult figure!?


With Ultravox and with your solo career and other projects, you’ve provided the background to a lot of lives. Is that particularly gratifying?

Well – given that so much luck and chance is inevitably involved,  things do seem to have worked out just fine for everyone. I like situations where there are no losers. That’s the only true satisfaction..

How involved are you hoping to be with the production?

Oh, Benge and I will need to do some fine tuning – but all with Juliet’s guiding hand.

Looking forward to seeing it on stage?

Very much.  And Mr Forster will be watching in the wings.