A chat with ‘TWO’ director before opening time at Hull Truck

In rehearsals for TWO at Hull Truck theatre
In rehearsals for TWO at Hull Truck theatre.

Paul Watt catches up with Director, Mark Babych to find out more about the journey to the stage for TWO.

Q. What is your first memory of this play?

A. One of my first jobs in theatre was directing 3 new plays written for a summer youth theatre project at the Octagon Theatre Bolton. It was here that I met Jim Cartwright for the first time – this was the man who had written the legendary ROAD which I had seen at the Royal Court Theatre in London when I was still a student and it blew me away. I had never seen the language and characters of the North portrayed in this way. It was gutsy, poetic and raw and now here I was a fledging director stood next to one of my writing heroes, both of us battling with opening a new play. At the time Sue Johnston and John McArdle were flying high from their success on the TV show Brookside and it was really thrilling seeing them at work and bringing Jim’s play to life. I will never forget that first performance in Bolton, John and Sue were incredible, and Jim’s play hit me like a train with its suckerpunch of an emotional ride; from raw comedy to brutality to downright devastating. Its stayed with me for a long time and I’m thrilled to be in its company again.

Q. What was it that drew you back to the show?

A. It’s a really beautiful piece of writing and one which I know our audience will love. This will be the second time I have directed it, but I am approaching it very differently now; maybe with the benefit of more years, or simply the joy I get from being a parent and having a loving and supportive relationship. I can see the depth of longing that these characters have (or don’t have) in their search for happiness and joy. It’s a play about people needing to connect with each other (and sometimes failing), I think that’s a very powerful and resonant theme to be exploring and presenting in these difficult times.

In rehearsals for TWO at Hull Truck theatre
In rehearsals for TWO at Hull Truck theatre.

Q. How do you think local audiences will resonate with the play?

A. Even though the play was first performed in 1989 our aim is to make a production that feels universal and timeless. Whilst rooted in the North it isn’t hard to see how it can relate to anyone anywhere on a very basic human level. Everybody rows, everybody knows a clown, someone in need of company, a friend. Everybody has moments in their life where they will have experienced something like what the characters are going through, or at least know someone like them.

Q. TWO is our first co-production with Stephen Joseph Theatre Scarborough since you’ve been with us, how does it differ from previous co-productions?

A. We are really excited to be working with our friends at Stephen Joseph Theatre and it will be the first time since I began working here we have been able to stage something specifically for the round which is a format that really excites me. The process of co-producing demands a close and collaborative working relationship where all of us are working to produce the best piece of theatre for our audiences. Our colleagues in Scarborough have been extremely supportive of everyone trying to reach the same artistic goal. It’s a fantastic theatre with a magical space and we can’t wait to play the production there.

Q. In rehearsals, how have you and the cast approached playing so many characters and the fact the stage will be in the round?

A. With any character we will have a number of ideas that we try and experiment with – the process of rehearsal is one of constant discovery and an initial thought can sometimes blossom way beyond the original germ of an idea. In fact, the other afternoon we were rehearsing a scene where we were struggling to locate a particular character and their backstory. Finally we unlocked it by giving one of the characters a look in on their costume and asked the question: ‘who would they be married too?’ and boom!… there he was revealed before our eyes! I’m not going to say which character that was, we’ll leave you to guess! Apart from that, we are led by the clues in the text that then stimulates conversations and ideas about people we have known, or met, or seen in our lives who are similar. The actors then make a series of choices that get refined over the rehearsal period.

Staging in the round means that the story has to be told with a 360-degree awareness of where our audience will be. So, I am always moving around the space and seating to ensure that I feel as included as possible. Often that will mean adjusting a position slightly so even if I have someone’s back to me, I can read their facial expression from their onstage partner. Little turns of the head and shifts in weights, thoughts played in the air, left and right can help enormously when dealing with a scene that doesn’t have too much movement in. I love directing in the round and the actors find it really thrilling and alive as a space.

Q. What are you most excited for?

A. The audience reaction – as always!

TWO: 5th to 28th March.

Website: Hull Truck

[Paul Watt – Hull Truck Theatre]