Derek Anderson directs next month’s premiere of Eyes Closed, Ears Covered, starring Danny Boy Hatchard at London’s Bunker Theatre. He recalls the initial impression the script had on him and how sensitively he and author Alex Gwyther tackled the play’s themes around domestic abuse and mental health…
Irresistible dark humour, gripping plot twists and unexpected moments of gut-wrenching tenderness. When writer Alex Gwyther originally sent me Eyes Closed, Ears Covered, I couldn’t put it down, having immediately fallen in love with his play. I thought it was very visceral, incredibly emotional and had everything I wanted in a piece of theatre.
The catalyst for the thriller came as Alex witnessed two teenage boys, clearly playing truant from school, causing trouble on a train. He started to imagine a story about two boys with troubled past and dark secrets on a daring and dangerous adventure.
As the initial idea of a character-driven drama grew, the themes and issues developed organically as the world of the play came to life. Not initially setting out with any agenda or to tackle any specific topics, the challenging subject matters such as domestic abuse and mental health emerged as Alex created and developed his characters.
I feel that the way in which the characters and their situations came first is the very reason that these issues are explored in the play with such honesty and truth. Rather than being the main focal point in the writing, they have been allowed to grow naturally, which in turn has heightened the action and conflict in the play.
“How far would you go to relive a memory, if that memory was all you had to live for?”
Though the play is set in the 1980s, these issues are obviously just as relevant today. One in five children in the UK today have been exposed to domestic violence. A shocking and alarming statistic. In Eyes Closed, Ears Covered, there is a glimpse at the possible consequences of children who are suffering but have unfortunately fallen off the radar of potential support.
To ensure that we treated this subject with respect and sensitivity, Alex and I conducted months of research into the effects of trauma on children and domestic abuse to help understand the mindset of those who had experienced harrowing ordeals. Some of our discoveries were surprising and quite distressing but, hopefully, we have managed to handle them with the care they deserve.
One of the most appealing prospects of directing this play is the number of challenges it requires solving! Set in several locations, the writing is incredibly fast and fluid with the action snapping and changing in a split second. The scope for theatricality is potentially quite epic.
For the production, movement director Jonnie Riordan is working on a unique and beautiful physicality for the boys’ various journeys alongside Jon McLeod’s sound design and compositions, which propel the story and enrich the world of the play. Set and costume designer Alyson Cummins has created a bold set featuring several tricks and illusions, which along with the work of lighting and video designer Norvydas Genys, is a constantly evolving space.
With the incredible cast of Danny-Boy Hatchard, Joe Idris-Roberts and Phoebe Thomas added to the mix, Eyes Closed, Ears Covered is sure to be an electrifying production in the intimacy of the Bunker Theatre. Entertaining and harrowing in equal measure, it will keep the audience on the edge of their seat right to the very last line.
Eyes Closed, Ears Covered runs at The Bunker Theatre, London from 6 to 30 September 2017.