Kay Michael chats to Niger Asije – editor of the New Current

Kay Michael

Niger Asije, Editor of the New Current caught up with Then Silence Director, Kay Michael ahead of our performance at INCOMING Festival on June 7th. You can read the full interview at www.thenewcurrent.co.uk

Hi Kay how’s it going, you all set for your the festival?
I think so! It’s the Saturday night before the big day; I’m sitting in my living room, with a cup of ginger tea, listening to Olafur Arnolds. Keeping it chilled.

Have you been able to get any rest between Then Silence and A Local Boy?
Not a huge amount unfortunately, no! A few weeks after A Local Boy ended I started working on Clarion at the Arcola Theatre, Mark Jagasia’s hilarious and dark debut play about the state of the British press. It’s good to have worked on a string of shows since January, but I’m definitely looking forward to a long summer!

The reaction to A Local Boy was fantastic, did you expect to get the type of reaction you got?
We were thrilled to get the reaction we did. I’ve never had a standing ovation on a first preview! We were very lucky to be opening the show in a college in Dartford, and so our first audience was made up of 16 – 18 year olds who absolutely the show. It spoke to them; it was in their language, talking candidly about things that related to them. I always knew Dan Murphy’s writing was very funny, but it was extremely heartfelt too, and so not only did it make them laugh, but it moved people too, especially the relationship between the mother and son.

What does it mean for you to bring Then Silence to Incoming Festival?
It means a lot. Then Silence is a risky choice. It’s a translation of a 2009 play from a Norwegian writer, who although is award-winning and really very well known in his home country, just hasn’t been heard of here. The production itself – as it is now – is unlike anything I think I’ve seen. It’s challenging. Both those things excite me as a theatre-maker, and I’m glad Incoming Festival are invested in at as much as we are. Empty Deck, my theatre company, are launching at the festival with this show, and we have big plans ahead, so we’re very excited to have the audience and support to begin our journey.

Any nerves ahead of the run?
Yes! I really have no idea how the audience will respond. I’ve been interrogating this play for two years now with my designer and a whole host of actors, and we feel we’ve finally come to something that really stretches the play and makes it sing. We’ve only had two weeks to put together what we’re showing on Sunday, and this is all a development process for a full production run in the autumn. I’m wanting feedback to see where we can take things forwards. It’s a big unknown at the moment, so yes: nervous but very excited.

Tell me a little bit about Then Silence what can we expect?
It’s a play that defies the ordinary logic of character or setting. 3 actor-characters explore 10 scenarios, trying to make sense of various situations human beings find themselves within, and as they do so they discover what it might mean to be ‘nothing’. Expect to be intrigued, confused, to laugh hysterically, to be distressed, stunned, and left feeling like you’ve lived through a hundred years within 70 minutes. (That’s something my designer said today after watching a run…)

What was it about Arne Lygre text that interested you so much?
His writing is just so different to anything I’d read before. He stretches time, splinters ideas of character and identity, and talks about epic themes such as disasters, bereavement, and existential crises. I’ve likened him to Jon Fosse, Martin Crimp, Pinter and Beckett in the past. There’s something very elusive yet extremely powerful about his writing; it touches a nerve.

What has been the biggest challenges you’ve faced with the show?
The play is riddled with challenges! The biggest has probably been in getting away from the need to answer the typical ‘Stanislavskian’ questions such as ‘who am I?’; ‘where am I?’, ‘what do I want?’, when analysing the characters and their situation. Pinning the play down in a concrete reality only imposes something onto the play which I just don’t think is there. The actors working with me on this have very much worked from themselves, which I am incredibly grateful for. It’s been very brave of them.

Have you always had a passion for theatre?
Yes. I can’t remember the first show I saw though. (I remember the first gig I went too funnily enough). I acted a lot when I was younger, and continued even after university for a while, but I knew at that point I just wanted to direct.

What was your directorial debut like, a pleasant or stressful experience?
The year after graduating from uni I decided that I really needed to direct a full length play having done only short new writing, to see if I could really do it and if I wanted to seriously pursue it professionally. I was working off intuition for the most part in the rehearsal room, and was sure I didn’t know what I was doing, but I loved it. I staged Philip Ridley’s play Mercury Fur in a found derelict flat in Leamington Spa, which was crazy really. We had to remove tonnes of used syringes from the overgrown garden and even a dead cat from one of the rooms before installing our own lighting rig and making it safe for an audience! I don’t remember it being stressful, just a lot of fun and adventure.

Looking back would you do anything differently?
Specifically about a show, or generally with where I’ve got to as a director? I suppose to answer both: No. I’ve made mistakes and ‘failed’ at times, definitely, but I’ve learnt the most from those experiences.

What 5 words best describe Then Silence?
Intense roller-coaster ride of experiences.

Do you have a favourite theatre quote?
Ahh I have so many quotes scrawled in note books, but I can’t remember any off the top of my head! That’s bad isn’t it. ‘Everything must come from the heart. Must be lived.’ I just looked that up – it’s Pina Bausch.

What has been the best advice you’ve been given?
To let go.

To up and coming directors what would be the best advice you would offer them?
To keep trying to make the work you want to make.

And finally, what do you hope people will take away from Then Silence?
The drive to keep on living as best as we can and to love with a full heart.

This interview was commissioned by The New Current. All content Ⓒ The New Current 2015.