Square Rounds is the seventh production from Proud Haddock, founded in 2014, and the first of its two this autumn to mark the centenary of the end of the First World War. Founder and artistic director Jimmy Walters talks to us about milestones, introducing a new generation to the work of playwright Tony Harrison and the company’s future plans with artist Grayson Perry. Time to get booking!
Proud Haddock returns to London’s Finborough Theatre with Tony Harrison’s Square Rounds. Directed by Proud Haddock artistic director Jimmy Walters, the production runs from 4 to 29 September 2018, with a press night on 6 September.
Fritz Haber, a German Jewish chemist, has been ordered by the Kaiser to develop a deadly poison gas to help Germany win the First World War. Despite the protestations of his wife, Haber hopes that his new invention will be an opportunity to escape his status as an outsider in German society. Little does he know, however, that his invention will go on to be used to exterminate his own people in the Holocaust just 25 years later.
American inventor Hudson Maxim is concerned for his country and the frightening technological advances employed by America’s new European enemies. But he is also jealous of his brother Hiram – internationally famous for his invention of the machine gun – and deeply suspicious of his brother’s cosy relationship with the European powers.
Tony Harrison directed the play’s premiere at the National’s Olivier in 1992/1993 with a cast of 25. Now, 26 years on at the 50-seat Finborough Theatre, the full six-strong, all-female cast of up-and-coming stars are: Eva Feiler, Gracy Goldman, Rujenne Green, Amy Marchant, Philippa Quinn and Letty Thomas.
After Square Rounds, Proud Haddock continues its commemoration of the centenary of the end of the First World War with John Gray and Eric Petersen’s 1978 Canadian play with music Billy Bishop Goes to War, also helmed by artistic director Jimmy Walters and running at London’s Jermyn Street Theatre from 31 October to 24 November.
Square Rounds runs from 4 to 29 September 2018 at the Finborough Theatre, 118 Finborough Rd, Kensington, London SW10 9ED. Performances are Tuesdays to Saturdays at 7.30pm, with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 3pm. Tickets are priced £10-20. CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE!
Talking to… artistic director Jimmy Walters
Having begun his career as an actor, Jimmy Walters quickly found his penchant for directing instead. He worked on a number of productions at theatres including the Pleasance, Courtyard, Pleasance and Riverside Studios as well as on tour and at the Edinburgh Fringe.
In 2014, Walters founded Proud Haddock, launching with a Julius Caesar, which was the first-ever production staged the Saatchi Gallery. This was followed by Proud Haddock productions of A Naughty Night with Noel Coward at the Old Red Lion, A Subject of Scandal and Concern at the Finborough, Mrs Orwell at the Old Red Lion and Southwark Playhouse and, earlier this year, The Dog Beneath the Skin at Jermyn Street Theatre.
What was your initial motivation for founding Proud Haddock?
I really felt inspired from working for other companies and assisting. I was looking at the producers and artistic directors I was working for and thought that I’d love to do that myself one day. That and telling stories.
Why did you want to revive Square Rounds?
After The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus, we struck up a really good relationship with Tony Harrison. He was kind enough to invite me to his big 80th birthday bash and I then met lots of his team. I felt like we had relayed Trackers onto our generation, and it very much spoke for now. I wanted to do the same with Square Rounds, which I felt was as topical if not more so. Square Rounds also immediately preceded Trackers when it was first staged at the National Theatre so to also do both shows at the Finborough felt appropriate.
The original NT production had a cast of 25 in the Olivier. How can you do it with just six in the 50-seat Finborough?
The show is actually very intimate at its heart. A couple of Proud Haddock shows have come under criticism in the past for feeling over-produced for the space they were in so I wanted very much to adapt this one to play the Finborough space specifically and that means scaling down the cast size as well. In terms of how exactly we do it, you’ll only see that by buying a ticket.
This is your third production at the Finborough. What do you like about staging work there?
I really like the bold choices the Finborough makes when commissioning plays, and I enjoy working with its artistic director Neil McPherson. Neil knows and understands the theatre’s audience inside out so you feel very comfortable trusting his judgment. I also like how, whenever you step foot into the space, it feels like a completely different world depending on how each production is staged; whether end on or in the round. It’s also not a million miles away from where I live, and they have great pizza downstairs.
Square Rounds is the first of two Proud Haddock productions marking the centenary of the end of the First World War. How important do you think it’s been for theatre to mark this milestone?
Oh, hugely important. A few years ago, the last surviving First World War veteran died, marking the end of an era. That period of time has now turned from being contextual to historical. Photos on a mantelpiece will start becoming photos in a textbook – that is an enormous change. Theatre as a medium has the power to showcase many of these powerful stories from that time to the younger generation.
Tell us about Billy Bishop Goes to War.
Billy Bishop was a real Canadian fighter pilot; he was the best of his generation. Billy Bishop Goes to War is a touching story about what happened to him, with plenty of heart. I can’t wait to come into rehearsals for that immediately after Square Rounds. It’s a musical, and the first time I read the script I completely fell in love with it.
And beyond that, what does the future hold?
We will be doing our first feature film next year, where we are lucky enough to be working with Grayson Perry.