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Jack Bradfield: “If you make too many adjustments too quickly, you can fly the plane out of cloud cover upside down.”

It was 2018. I was at Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and I went along to Pleasance Dome to watch an alien themed show called Lights Over Tesco Car Parkdirected by Jack Bradfield. 

He is Artistic Director of Poltergeist, and trained on the Royal Court Writers’ Group 2017. 

Anyway, Lights Over Tesco Car Park was a festival highlight, and I often think about how engaging and smart it was.

Flash forward over half a decade and Bradfield has won the Sir Peter Hall Director award and we are talking on the telephone.

How has his May been, I ask. “My May has been really eventful,” he declares. “I’m working on Robert Icke’s Player Kings in the West End as Associate Director. I suppose I am at that point in most freelance director’s careers where you are juggling about seven projects or ideas and checking which ones are going to progress and which ones you are going to have to put in the back drawer for a little while,” he says. 

“Suddenly you get broad, and you start thinking about lots of different ideas,” he says. “Of course, I’m starting my prep for Abigail’s Party, which I am really thrilled about. It’s really exciting.” 

More on that in a second. 

First, though, Bradfield has been selected from eight finalists for the 2023 prize, that is awarded by the Royal Theatrical Support Trust. The fantastic annual award, named in recognition of the RTST co-founder and Royal Shakespeare Company founder Hall, offer its winner the chance to direct a fully funded production in a UK regional theatre, as part of its main season, prior to taking that production out on tour.

Bradfield will now direct Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party for Northern Stage’s main stage, with the support of the venue’s artistic director Natalie Ibu

The application process, he says, was exhilarating. “I directed two actors in front of a panel, which is where that process leads you up to. It was a big gauntlet to throw down; negotiating a room when you’re the director but there are ten panel members,” he says. “The flipside of the process being rigorous is the confidence that you want to direct the full show.”

“I’d say apply, apply, apply, I’d also say pick the plays you’ve always loved. Because I loved the play I loved the process,” he adds.

In any case, this brilliant accolade provides an emerging director with a first-time, career- opportunity to originate and direct a fully funded production as part of a main season of plays at a mid-scale British regional theatre and to take that production on tour to other mid-scale regional theatres. 

On Lights Over Tesco Car Park, he says that he learned that you must keep going and working on the work that you want to make. “Having that friendship was such a blessing because it was a topic and a world and a way of making theatre myself and the Poltergeist collective were so excited about. The thing it really made me do is to go back to my craft. And that is useful. Because it sharpens how you direct and what you can make,” Bradfield recalls.

What are his creative reference points for directing theatre? “I have a few little mantras. Such as if you make too many adjustments too quickly, you can fly the plane out of cloud cover upside down,” Bradfield says. He pauses. “Sometimes it’s about a slow process, arriving at things that you want to make and not feeling like you must rush.”

He says that he is looking forward to making an Abigail’s Party with heart and humanity: “I think Abigail’s Party is ripe with contemporary resonance.”

“I also think it is a fascinating play to work with because it has been preserved in aspic slightly. The BBC Play for Today production is fantastic. Yet at the same time what that does is it preserve a version. Everyone knows it and can quote it to you. What is a real gift for this play is that it feels like a moment to explode it a bit and see how it speaks to now.”

And with that, a play that he has been working on for years, The Habits, is announced as part of Hampstead Theatre’s Autumn and Winter 2024/5 season.

It’s clear that Jack represents what RTST stands for as the future of the theatre industry, embodying innovation, dedication to audiences outside the M25 and a commitment to storytelling that captivates audiences.

I’m a believer.

Abigail’s Party runs 13-28 September at Northern Stage and then tours