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Director, Mr Martin, shares his thoughts on Bull and Far Away, coming to the Powell Theatre on 20 and 21 March…

Tell us a bit about these plays…
So, these are two absolutely brilliant plays. Both modern masterpieces, in my opinion, written by two writers working at the top of their game. Bull, by Mike Bartlett, is a razor sharp, brutal little play in which three people – Thomas, Isobel and Tony – working at an unnamed job (though it’s strongly suggested it’s working for a stockbroker, or in some sort of financial service) are waiting to meet with their boss, Carter, to see which of them is being let go. The play occurs in real time, starting about thirty minutes before Carter arrives, before exploring the meeting and then the aftermath of the decision.

In Far Away, by Caryl Churchill, we have staged just the opening scene, which introduces us to Joan, a young girl staying with her aunt, Harper, at her house in the country. Joan has woken during the night, and seen something she shouldn’t have, occurring in a large shed or barn on the property. I won’t give too much away, as there is a slow reveal of what exactly she has seen, but suffice it to say it’s full of tension and dread. Although it’s only the first scene, it actually works as a perfect miniature play, with a lovely narrative coherence.

And why have you decided to stage these plays at this time?
Whenever I choose a play to stage, I approach it with two guiding objectives: will it work for, and challenge, our young actors; and does it have something to say about the world we live in? I think both of these plays deliver that in spades. Bull has only four characters, of whom two never leave the stage. It’s a wordy play, full of excellent, muscular dialogue, and has proved a delicious challenge for our students as they get to grips with shaping the relentless text, with is demands on pace, rhythm and intent. It’s a play that confronts toxic workplace behaviour, and this is something we have seen increasingly highlighted in the news and on social media in recent years. The culture at this firm is utterly horrendous, and it is very much a dog-eat-dog world, where only the most vicious people, willing to do terrible things to their colleagues, will survive. We’ve really enjoyed exploring just how far people will go to get what they want, and at what point does banter stop being banter.

Far Away is a different challenge. It only has two characters, and requires huge concentration and energy from the actors. It’s a deliberately paced piece, and the actors have to be really precise in just how much information they reveal on every line – not just in their word, but in their actions; one character is trying to tease information out of the other, and one is desperately trying to hide the truth. It’s a great piece that touches on the way in which violence in society causes confusion, and promotes secrecy and shame. It also asks the audience to think about the things we say to children, and to remember how much they see, and hear, and how sharp they often are in understanding that. As someone with two young children, it’s been a timely reminder!

And how are the students rising to these challenges?
They’re doing amazing work. They’re both quite adult plays, so we’re only working with a Year 12 cast on them, but it’s such a privilege to see them getting better and better every rehearsal. The themes and the language are difficult, but they are showing great maturity, sensitivity and commitment, and they’re not fazed at all by the complexity of the scripts. I don’t want to jinx it, but I have rarely felt as proud of two pieces as I do these. We’ve also got two casts doing Bull, so I’m loving seeing where the choices are similar, and where they are completely different – it’s really helping me to see the plays through fresh eyes.

All we need now is an audience – the brilliant work these young actors are doing deserved to be seen!