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Director Abigail Graham on Death of A Salesman, Molly Sweeney, Love Actually, Mike Leigh and more

Abigail Graham is a freelance theatre director and artistic director of OpenWorks Theatre. Her work includes Black Sheep, DEBRIS and Molly Sweeney.

Abigail is currently right in the middle of rehearsals for Death of a Salesman at the Royal & Derngate. The production runs in Northampton from 8 to 29 April 2017, before touring to Cambridge, Bath, Malvern, Exeter, Canterbury, Portsmouth, Edinburgh and Truro. Graham’s production is the first independent tour from the Royal & Derngate. No pressure.

 

Abigail with Mike Leigh

Hi ya! Royal and Derngate is quite a good theatre isn’t it?
Yes. The team are wonderful, a really  creative, supportive atmosphere.

 

What was the last new play you saw and left thinking – ‘bloody hell!’?
Castorf’s version of The Brothers Karamasow at the Volksbuehne in Berlin. It was epic.

Why should we come along to see your Death of A Salesman?
Firstly, it’s an extraordinary play, and we’ve got a brilliant team of actors and creatives; all of whom are working to open this classic up to a new generation of theatre goers.
It’s also a mind bending, time bending play – like being sucked into a whirlpool; Miller takes us into Willy Loman’s head and that opens up exciting staging possibilities as you leave objective reality and enter a more subjective world.  The creative team and I have enjoyed meeting that challenge and we hope the audience will enjoy coming on that journey with us – being sucked into the whirlpool too if you like. The cast are incredible – at the end of week two I’m pleased to say they’re all being really brave. So all being well, audiences will be in for a really good night out.
Crucially, Miller wrote it to ‘put a timebomb under the bullshit of American capitalism’…and considering the current political climate, it feels like a good time to be having that conversation.

Molly Sweeney was a quite successful wasn’t it. Do you have fond memories of that time?
Yes – having Brian Friel as a pen pal was really humbling. I miss him.

Death of A Salesman

Your production is the first independent tour from the Royal & Derngate. Nervous?
Not really, I’m looking forward to the play meeting audiences from all over the country. With a play as political as this one, I reckon it will be really interesting to see how people from opposite ends of the UK respond to it.

What’s your No 1 piece of Directing advice?
Keep learning.

Death of a Salesman is a classic text full of broken and misplaced dreams. Is it a metaphor for life?
I hope not.

Are you looking forward to Love Actually for Comic Relief?
(Let’s hope the hot French guy is in it thought.) Will Emma Thompson be re-enacting my favourite bit? You know the bit I mean….

Does Tim Piggot Smith have any dressing room demands?
I.e cayenne pepper, and rose-scented candles, rooms must maintain a constant temperature of 68 to 75 degrees etc etc. Not as far as I’m aware….

Can you tell us a bit about OpenWorks Theatre company?
Sure – I set up OpenWorks in 2013 as I believe you can only change who goes to the theatre if you change who makes it. On a very basic level, we are working to create a holistic relationship between art, outreach and audience development. It started out with each member of the creative team having a paid mentee who was in rehearsals afternoon a week, they then act as ambassadors for the show amongst their peers; giving word of mouth only discount codes to members of their community who haven’t been to their local theatre independently before.
It’s now evolved; our current commission, a new play by Caroline Bird, was inspired by a Looked After Young Person who was a trainee on our last production. I can’t say too much, but we were chatting about zombies and it all came from there. Following an exploratory week with him and his peers, Caroline has gone away to write the play, and we hope to return to the group and workshop it with them and some actors, and then when we go into production to keep them as trainees who will act as ambassadors for the work.

Mike Leigh is your hero, isn’t he?
I love his work. I saw All or Nothing in the cinema when I was at university; I had never seen acting like it. I guess he’s one of my heroes because he just keeps doing his thing his way, making the work he wants to make the way he wants to make it. He came to see Molly Sweeney at The Print Room. We ended up chatting for about an hour after the show.

Is there anything you’d like to add, Abigail?
Nope. Have a lovely week.

Death of a Salesman will run at the Royal & Derngate from 8 to 29 April 2017.

 

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