Part of the Tobacco Factory Theatre’s mission statement is to incentivise theatrical talent to stay in Bristol, as part of this they offer an annual Graduate Director’s Slot for an exceptional graduate from Bristol Old Vic Theatre School to direct a show in The Brewery. This season the slot is filled by Iain Macdonald, with The Deep. Becky from the Tobacco Factory asked him some questions.
“Oor journey begins in the black and continues intae the day.
Naebody knows where wur goin.”
What is it that made you get into directing?
When I was younger, like a lot of people, I wanted to be an actor. The first serious thing I did was take part in Scottish Youth Theatre’s Summer Programme in Glasgow, playing Mr Beaver in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe with a cast of other young people from all over the world. Following that I was asked to tour with SYT in a TIE show funded by the NHS called Dying for It. We had a huge amount of success with that tour over a two year period performing in schools and festivals all over Scotland and Ireland. I think through doing that I decided rather than be an actor, I enjoyed working with actors more. My interest lies with storytelling, I think as a director I get to look at the story as a whole, and I like that. I suppose the other thing was that since I came from a small community on the fringes of Scotland, I never saw much professional theatre growing up so I wanted to make sure that future generations got the things I didn’t in the hope that I wouldn’t be the only one from that part of the world that realised a career in theatre is a possibility.
Why did you choose The Deep and what’s it about?
I was born in the Western Isles of Scotland, but soon crossed The Minch (the body of water that separates the isle of Lewis and mainland Scotland) and grew up in Thurso, the most Northern town on the British Mainland. I learned to read, write, love, hate and dream all with the harsh North Sea wind blowing in my face. The smell of salt, fresh off the firth is something that will always bring me comfort and the sound of waves crashing against rocks is still my lullaby. Like many boys from coastal towns, I never learned to swim because heaven forbid I ever fall in and have to struggle while the sea wraps it’s long, cold fingers around my neck. There is an unrelenting pull that comes from the sea, pulling me back – I cannot explain what this is or why it is, but all I know is it’s the life blood that informs the work I do. I read books about it, I watch programmes about it and I often dream about it. In fact, a lowlander friend of mine (or Sassanachs as I call them, lovingly) once said to me, “You’re just a fish in a jacket!” and I felt pretty proud about that.
The Deep appealed to me not only because it was about the sea, but because it deals with both the joy and pain it can bring. In the play, a young man sets off for another season on a trawler boat but as the crew await arrival on fishing grounds, the boat is destroyed and the men are left floating in the blue abyss. We are told the story by a young man who is one of the unlucky crew members; complete with dreams and hopes, fears and loves. The play is about human amid fear and the hopeless optimism we have as people.
I’m also interested in the Scottish/Icelandic connection. The original play is Icelandic and was written by Jon Atli Jonnason. Due to the part of Scotland I’m from, which was part of Norway until the early 15th century, I’m fascinated by the Scandinavian connection between the two countries.
How have you researched the play and the background?
I think growing up by the sea for 20 years is all the research I’ve done. Just being aware of a communities dependence on the sea and seeing both the joy and disaster it can bring is enough research to being going on. As a rule, unless the play is about a specific moment in history or set in a particular period, I don’t get bogged down by research. I just read the play. My main responsibility is to make sure the story is as clear as possible. Plus, going into a rehearsal room with reels and reels of notes and pictures, I think, can often be a bit counter-productive.
How does it feel to have your first run since graduating from the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School?
I’m very excited to share the play and I’m very proud to be doing it with the Tobacco Factory Theatre. It’s a theatre I’ve been to and worked in during my time at BOVTS so it’s great to be connected to it. I live in Southville as well so I see the positive effect the theatre has on the community and I’m glad that, through The Deep, I will be part of that positivity.
Can you tell us more about what the audience can expect?
I think one of the advantages of a one-man for an audience member is that it’s just the two of you – he’s only got you and vice-versa. So there’s a real sense of partnership and dependence. My hope is that the audience get really attached to the character who is a bit simple minded at times, but simultaneously very profound. There’s not much in the way of set, certainly nothing that the character can hide behind so he’s really only got you. As it’s about a fishing disaster, naturally it’s a sad story but it’ll be hard not to feel uplifted at the end, perhaps with a greater appreciation for life.
Can you sum up in about 5 words, why people should come and see The Deep?
It’s an honest human story about hope amid fear
How are rehearsals going so far?
I’ve never done a one-person show before so it’s all quite a new experience for me. What i’m enjoying most about is the amount of focus I can have on the actors and his performance – I’m not having to worry about relationships between characters, different scenes and things like that. I can just really hone in on him and the story.
We started rehearsals by just reading through the play, stopping at any bits we felt unsure of or had questions about. We broke the play down into manageable chunks as on the page it can look quite daunting as just one big entity. We got it on its feet very early on as I think the more Joshua got used to be up there, on his own, the better.
We’ve carried on like that, working on each chunk and eventually put them all together. As we are less than a week away from opening, we have just been running it a couple of times per day. It’s tiring and also as it’s quite an emotional piece, it can get quite difficult at times. The play itself is a tricky one as the character is both in the story, having everything happen to him in real time but simultaneously he is on outside, telling us about something that has already happened. Judging the balance of the play is proving slightly tricky, but as long as the story is clear and the audience are with us, it’ll be plain sailing.
Doing this play made me think about the sea and what my earliest memory of it was. I then got curious as to what everyone else’s memories were, and if they were similar to mine or completely different. I asked my friends, family and some colleagues. These are their memories –
“I was on the beach in Ayr with my cousin. He ran towards to water and moments later he came back, yelping like a dog. He had stepped on a jellyfish. It was then I noticed hundreds of jellyfish had been beached, littering the shore with the shiny blue bodies.”– Iain MacDonald, Director of ‘The Deep’
“Paddling in the sea at Thurso beach with my Grandad and cousin and having our feet washed in the kitchen sink after.” – @helencmackay, via Twitter
“Out for a drive when I lived in Singapore with my family. We came across a completely deserted beach and decided we would spend the day swimming. After, when coming back to the car we noticed the multitude of signs that read, “Warning! Shark infested waters.”– Isabel Gray
“Mine is from inside a small fishing boat in a very choppy sea. Don’t know what age I was but definitely under 5. No memory of getting into the boat or where it took me but strong memory of the waves splashing onto the deck and being a bit scared and feeling a bit ill.”– Catherine MacNeil, Arts Development Co-Ordinator
“Family ritual as we drove to Norfolk in summer- the first to spot it would call out: ‘I can seeee the seeeeea!’ The rest of us would reply the same in excitement. I still play this game, to the bemusement of my course mates in Ireland.”– Alice Forrest
“Dover. I sat in an inflatable ring just letting the waves throw me onto the shore, over and over.”– Joshua Manning, actor in ‘The Deep’
“Harlyn Bay in Cornwall when I was tiny, the cold sand between my toes, popweed and freezing sea chasing me up and down the shore, my mum and dad there with a big fluffy towel and a bottle of water to rinse me off and warm me up in then chips. Also the caves in the cliff side, I’d pretend they were my house. Still my favourite beach in the whole world.”– Amber Chapell, Freelance Stage Manager
“Being in a pram by Dunnet Bay and listening to the Atlantic. I’ve been listening to it ever since.”– George Gunn, Poet & Playwright
The Deep runs at the Tobacco Factory from 4th-15th September.