Tegan Rogers speaks to Nathaniel Statton about his upcoming production of Peter Shaffer’s ‘Black Comedy’…
The Badger: So tell us a bit about the play.
Nathaniel: It’s about a group of obnoxious people who are thrown together in an apartment one evening. After a fuse blows there’s a blackout and everyone’s plunged into darkness. Disaster ensues as they stumble around, confessing secrets and revealing lies to one another.
B: So why ‘Black Comedy’? It seems like quite an ambitious choice?
N: It is pretty ambitious. I saw it a few years ago, and it’s the funniest play ever. I’ve never seen another play like it: it’s totally unique.
B: So what was it like having to coordinate the actors – especially at the beginning of the play when they really can’t see each other?
N: Yeah, at the start of the play the stage is in actual darkness – it was pretty difficult for everyone involved, especially since there’s quite a lot of furniture on set, so the actors had to memorise where everything is. But once the lights go off and they’re pretending to be in darkness, that was when things got interesting: trying to draw out these big dramatic performances from actors who can’t make eye contact with each other; having to be really upset whilst remembering to bump into things.
B: So did the actors require a lot of guidance to get it right, because surely that must have been pretty big task?
N: Yeah, we did some workshops and rehearsals where we actually did turn off the lights, and got them to walk around the set to get them used to being in the dark. It was hard at first but the actors got used to it pretty quickly. It was big challenge but I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
B: How long have you actually been working on it for?
N: We did the proposals for it last term, and started going over the script then. We held the auditions in week one, and we’ve pretty much been working on it for the whole time since then.
B: That must have been pretty tough for a third year, trying to schedule everything in. How have you managed?
N: It’s a lot of work. My social life has suffered. We come to rehearsals for about seven hours, then run off to get back to our dissertations.
B: Oh my God! Has it been worth it?
B: Do you have any advice for budding directors at Sussex?
N: Well first of all don’t do it in your third year, if you want any kind of social life. But it’s an amazing experience, working with so many interesting people, and bringing together the whole production. Seeing it all come together, it’s really satisfying.
B: So how did you get into directing plays?
N: Well I’m not really into acting; I joined the drama society so I could get into directing. I spent most of my childhood roping my friends into making films, so it’s just kind of a natural progression from that, to doing something on the stage.
B: Was it tough directing a comedy? Did you have to rely heavily on the actors to make the humour translate?
N: Well they’re all naturally very funny people. That’s definitely what I was looking for in the auditions. We had them doing improvisations and watching their reactions, so you kind of just discover how funny they are. A lot of the jokes are physical jokes, and it’s taken a lot of work to get the timing right. But with a lot of work, it evolved really well.
B: Have you changed anything about the play? Because it’s set in the 60s, right?
N: That’s right. In terms of dialogue there’s been a bit of rewriting, because some of it was a bit dated. But we’ve tried to keep pretty close to how it was meant to be. We’ve probably made it slightly more surreal than the original.
B: How so?
N: It works on using stereotypes, and deconstructing them over the course of the action. We started by really accentuating these stereotypes at the beginning.
B: It sounds great. Any final words?
N: Well I’m not being biased, but it is genuinely a really hilarious play. Even scenes I’ve watched twenty five times I still can’t help laughing out loud at. It’s definitely worth checking out.
B: How does it compare to the production you saw? That’s not a trick question!
N: [Laughs] It’s better!