What inspired you to direct Nine Night?
Firstly, it is funny as hell. Or heaven. Or purgatory. Depends on your beliefs of the afterlife. Just kidding. But really it is funny, much funnier than my lame joke. I belly laughed in the first few pages, I could see my family, my community, my world in the text. I sat here thinking "she did not just say that to her", "he did not just..." Etc. But what most inspired me was how Natasha captured a moment that we all have or will experience; the loss of a loved one. Seeing what it does to those around you, what it does to you, how it changes everything. It's a unique moment in life. It's intense, brutal, fragile. Natasha really captured that.
Do you recognise any of the characters or traditions in your own family?
In my own family? No comment. I like my life and I intend to keep it for as long as possible.
My parentage is Ghana and Jamaica. I have however grown more closely connected to my Ghanaian heritage, but I've been to many Nine Nights and am connected to my Caribbean community. I could identify every character within my life, somewhere. In my family, my grandma's friends, parents and grandparents of my closest friends.
Traditionally, I could see links between Jamaican rituals of death and Ghanaian ones. This says something interesting about the moving of Africans during the slave trade. Although I can't be absolutely certain that Jamaicans came from Ghana, it was quite thrilling to see how many traditions and beliefs are similar still, after so many years and even passed on generationally and geographically.
Do you have a particular favourite line or exchange from Nine Night?
Yes. When Great Aunt Maggie says to her mixed race great niece, Anita 'Yu tun rasta?'
What can you tell us about the cast?
They are special. Such an incredibly beautiful and talented bunch. They all connected with the play, it's humour, it's conflicts, it's sadness. They believe in the story so much. They are all hilarious too. Each one of them made me laugh out loud in the auditions and some even reduced me to tears.
What is your process in the rehearsal room?
I love music so I play lots of it in rehearsals. I like a dance warmup, but the freestyle kind and not the choreographed kind. I love games and encouraging playfulness and spontaneity. This is so important for me. The audience should never know where the play is going so I engage the actors in challenges and exercises that force them to be 100% present and alive and sensitive in every beat of the play. I like table work too. Finding the world together and developing a shared understanding of the story. And then I play the rest by ear. See what the actors respond to best. But I don't usually like to rehearse scenes without the actors being off-book.
What has been your favourite production to direct so far?
The Mountaintop by Katori Hall. It was at the Young Vic in 2016 and was my JMK award winning production. Everyone and everything came together so beautifully, the synergy was off the chain. I was incredibly proud of our collaboration. It was a real team effort. Rajha Shakiry designed the set and costume, George Dennis designed the sound and did some brilliant composing too. They are both part of the design team alongside the extraordinary Paule Constable who is no stranger to the NT stages.
What advice would you give to aspiring directors?
Keep going. Don't do a play that makes you feel like you compromise yourself. Be kind; being a dick might sometimes get you what you want but making other people unhappy for the sake of your art is a cruel thing to do. Apologise if you should and need to. Give people space to breathe. Do your homework but be prepared to let your dog chew it up; you're dealing with people, and people know people better than books do. Don't be fake, people can usually tell. Be you. You are the vessel for the production. Know thyself and trust your instincts.
Can you describe Nine Night in three words?
Hilarious. Poignant. Moving.
Why should people come and see Nine Night?
Because it's a brilliant play, and one that everyone can connect with. And when will they get to see a play like this anywhere else?
Nine Night is in the Dorfman 21 April to 26 May. Find out more