We chatted to James about returning to Theatr Clwyd to direct For the Grace of You Go I.
Hi James, could you explain more about what Alan Harris’ For the Grace of You Go I is about? It follows the story of Jim who has a condition called Depersonalisation Disorder which makes him feel like he is in a film. The world is a film set and his life is a series of scenes in which he plays the lead character, but over which he has no control. He feels like nobody believes him, or believes in him. When he watches the cult movie I Hired A Contract Killer he feels kinship with the suicidal protagonist and takes out a hit on his own life. It’s a comedy, obviously.
What was it about Alan Harris’ play that caught your attention? It’s such a bizarre, brilliant set up. Alan brings extraordinary imagination and creativity to his writing. He conjures vivid, technicolour worlds that nevertheless feel absolutely tangible and real, and which he brings thrillingly to life. It’s a very funny play, it’s deliciously theatrical, it’s quirky and surprising. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it has a lot of serious and important things to say. It’s a very human play. Alan is such an astute analyst of the human condition and he writes with huge heart and compassion. It’s a play about isolation and feeling outside of the mainstream, about trying to find a foothold in a world that can sometimes feel strange and alien and scary. After the last year, I think we can all relate to that.
How does it feel to be returning to Theatr Clwyd? Joyous. I have spent the last year in my one-bedroom flat in London overlooking the A2, so to be back in beautiful North Wales making theatre surrounded by mountains, fields, sheep and huge skies is balm for the soul. Tamara Harvey (Artistic Director) and Liam Evans-Ford (Executive Director) run a building that is rare and wonderful in its welcome and nurture of artists and the team of people who work there are ridiculously talented and faultlessly lovely. Walking into Theatr Clwyd feels like walking into a big hug.
How has it felt to be finally welcoming audiences back to the theatre? Wonderful. And emotional. After so long away it was spine-tinging to hear the front of house calls on our opening night, see the doors swing open, watch people take their seats, hear the hush descend in anticipation of the play beginning. All those magical little moments we too easily took for granted before they were taken away from us.
Do you think that this year has given an opportunity for the industry to re-evaluate the type of theatre that we should be seeing more of? The great thing about theatre is its ability to reflect our lives at any given point in our history. Playwrights have always interpreted and distilled the complications of the world we live in with great clarity and insight. At an epochal moment in our history when everything feels so unsettled and confusing, playwrights will write new plays to help us understand the world better and directors will revive classic plays to be understood anew in the context of today. I hope we see lots of theatre that celebrates the indomitable human spirit and champions kindness, compassion and hope for the future.
What do you hope that the theatre industry has taken away from the last year or so? The value and importance of what we do. More than ever, we need community, to share experiences with other people. We need to tell stories and we need to hear stories to help us try to make sense of a confusing world. We need theatre as a space in which we can learn to understand other people better, ourselves better, our friendships, our relationships, our families. We need to be entertained, to laugh, to cry, to sing, to applaud, to have a drink in the bar afterwards and talk about the show.
By Emma Clarendon
For the Grace of You Go I continues to play at the Theatr Clwyd until the 25th June.