Following his acclaimed revival of John Osborne’s A Subject of Scandal and Concern, director Jimmy Walters returns to the Finborough Theatre to helm The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus. Commissioned by the Finborough, this is the first London staging of Tony Harrison’s play for nearly 30 years. Jimmy gives us an insight into the production’s creative process…
The really exciting thing for me about directing The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus was the opportunity to meet and be in dialogue with Tony Harrison.
We start the story in 1907 on an ancient rubbish tip in Oxyrhynchus in Egypt. Oxyrhynchus is now a wasteland, but in its heyday, it was one of the most opulent cities in North Africa. We meet Bernard Grenfell and Arthur Hunt, two archaeologists and real life figures who were sent by Oxford University to excavate fragments of poetry and plays. They become so wrapped up in their work that they find themselves in one of the stories they have discovered and become part of a satyr play.
We then meet the satyrs who are half-man half-goat creatures of the woods with big phalluses – and what we’ve seen so far in rehearsals has been hilarious. I think the audience are in for a real treat! Without giving too much away, the play takes us quickly into the modern day and brings many themes to the surface I think people will really be able to relate to.
“Tony Harrison‘s work is not vanilla. It is unapologetic, it makes us question everything to do with our own existence, and when executed correctly, it is one of the most extraordinary things to watch.”
This is a huge challenge as a piece. Get it wrong and it all falls to pieces; get it right and you will be watching one of the most extraordinary pieces of theatre and this is all down to Tony. There are moments when I think about what this is going to feel like watching it, and I’ve never been more excited with anything else I’ve presented to an audience.
We have Tom Purbeck and Richard Glaves playing Grenfell and Hunt, who transform into Apollo and Silenus in the story. They are both very different performers and complement each other greatly. Tom has spent the last few years in television and audiences will be familiar with him from Tyrant and The Hollow Crown, but I first saw him as Ariel playing opposite Ralph Fiennes in Sir Trevor Nunn’s The Tempest. His otherworldly style of performance stayed with me, and for Apollo, we needed an actor who was daring and not afraid to take risks. Tom is that actor.
Richard comes from a theatre background and the two of them work together brilliantly. The satyrs and Kyllene are joys to watch and the performers have created a tight unit which works magnificently.
But as I mentioned at the beginning, the exciting part for me was meeting Tony Harrison. I’ve never sat with the playwright before taking on their work and to be in the presence of a mind like that was one of life’s great privileges. Tony’s work is not vanilla. It is unapologetic, it makes us question everything to do with our own existence, and when executed correctly, it is one of the most extraordinary things to watch. We would love for you to come and see it!
The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus runs at the London’s Finborough Theatre from 3 to 28 January 2017. Follow @MyTheatreMates on Twitter for details on our competition to win a pair of tickets to the show.