INTERVIEW: Spotlight On… The Wild Party director Rafaella Marcus

In Interviews, London theatre, Musicals, Plays by Helen McWilliamsLeave a Comment

I was delighted to be invited to interview the director of The Wild Party which is going to be staged at London’s Hope Theatre from 10 to 28 January 2017. 

Rafaella Marcus is artistic director of Mingled Yarn Theatre, the company behind The Wild Party. She trained in Theatre Directing at Birkbeck. She has directed at theatres across the country including Theatre503, the Arcola, Southwark Playhouse, the St James, Sheffield Theatres, and the Oxford Playhouse. She was long-listed for the JMK Award 2016.

Thanks for talking to Break A Leg. Tell me about The Wild Party and your vision for it.
The Wild Party
started life as a long narrative poem by Joseph Moncure March published in 1928 – it was made into two musicals, which is how most people know it but they’re very loose adaptations – we’re going right back to the original text. I heard it read out loud a couple of years ago and it just got stuck in my head. It has this fantastic opening line, “Queenie was a blonde, and her age stood still”, which you have to drawl in an American accent – the whole thing demands to be read out loud, which is really where the idea for a show came from. I started to think about how you could perform the poem as something more than a poetry recital and still get across the giddy sexiness of it, and the darkness, the wildness of it.

I wanted to keep the original text as whole as possible but bring in a physical and a musical aspect to it. I took my cue from the poem’s references, which are silent movies, jazz, boxing etc – it’s not particularly interested in being a “literary” poem – and our production is very wrapped up in the same popular entertainment of the time, vaudeville and music hall, but with a few contemporary nods thrown in as well.

Did you have initial ideas about casting and what you wanted actors to bring to the piece?

I knew I wanted it to be a two-hander from the beginning. I love working with pairs of actors because the chemistry has to be spot on – it’ll only go right if they’re in sync and if something goes wrong they have to be able to save each other. I wanted to cast a duet of actors that were going to hark back to the great double acts from film, music hall, vaudeville and slapstick: Laurel and Hardy, Hepburn and Tracy, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, even Tom and Jerry.

We found two brilliant actors, Anna Clarke and Joey Akubeze, and their first audition together just fizzed with energy. They have great chemistry together but they’re also not afraid to be silly or grotesque or clownish.

What do you hope the audience will take away from the production?

I never expect audiences to take any one particular idea away with them as the way everyone watches is so individually shaped by what they’ve brought to the production. But I hope we can play a bit with expectations of what the 1920s were like – it’s a very aesthetically appealing era and that makes it instantly familiar, and anything familiar is begging to be made strange.

In a more timeless sense, I think the poem is about how closely linked sex and violence are, and how transactional both can be. The poem is very blasé about things we take incredibly seriously: it touches on domestic violence and rape without batting an eyelid. There’s a great bit about the party guests being “hardened”, people who just lived with violence and cruelty as part of their everyday lives. But it’s sexy and exciting too, and the poem treads a very fine line with it.

Have rehearsals altered your initial thoughts, at all?

Rehearsals have been much more playful than I was expecting, which is wonderful. A lot of our initial work on creating the party guests was just pulling up YouTube clips and bits of music and all three of us doing silly impressions that we built into little stories about who each guest was, how they moved, how they spoke, etc etc.

Anna and Joey are both fantastically physically agile performers as well, so there’s a lot more lifting and spinning and flinging and dancing than I first anticipated.

What would you say to encourage people to buy a ticket?

A lot of people have asked me how you adapt a poem for the stage, and the answer for both me and the audience is “Let’s find out!” Whatever you’re imagining, forget it because it’s not going to be like that at all. It’s an extraordinary bit of writing – you’ll come away with big spiky shards of it lodged in your brain – performed by two funny, brilliant, surprising actors. There’s some cracking music too.

Finally, any advice for budding directors?

Be bold, be smart, and above all, be kind to others and yourself. Support other young creative,  they are your allies and your collaborators, not your competition. You have to make the work that only you could make, and you have to work out how to support yourself practically and emotionally in order to do that.

Huge thanks to Rafaella for a great interview, I look forward to watching this later on in the month!

Helen McWilliams
Helen McWilliams is a Midlands-based reviewer, but is happy travelling anywhere and everywhere to pursue her love of the theatre. Since 2013, she has been combining her passions for writing and theatre in her Entertainment Views site (formerly Break A Leg). She also enjoys interviewing actors, writers and other professionals from the business.

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Helen McWilliams
Helen McWilliams is a Midlands-based reviewer, but is happy travelling anywhere and everywhere to pursue her love of the theatre. Since 2013, she has been combining her passions for writing and theatre in her Entertainment Views site (formerly Break A Leg). She also enjoys interviewing actors, writers and other professionals from the business.

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