We got to speak to Director Emily Gray about her thrilling new production of the classic tale Frankenstein with a new spin on the story’s setting.
How did you get into directing, was there a particular performance you saw that resonated with you?
I got into directing through a show I was in as a student – it was a version of Peer Gynt at Cambridge Arts Theatre and the wonderful Director Irina Brown noticed that I was far more interested in the whole piece rather than the part I was playing. She asked me to assist her on her next show, a huge tour of West Side Story, which was my professional directorial baptism of fire!
What has been your favourite production you have directed?
Well, at the moment it has to be Frankenstein, as I am so absorbed in it. I have had a playful and rewarding time working with the National Youth Theatre; the Rep Company is so diverse and talented and together we have made what we hope will be a thrilling and original version of this much loved tale. As far as we are aware it’s the first piece of theatre to have a Virtual Reality sequence embedded into it, which is a genuinely exciting experiment.
Where did you train?
I directed a few shows when I was at Cambridge University and went on to train as a Director at the Central School of Speech and Drama.
Can you tell us about your current, show Frankenstein what can people expect from the show?
The story has been updated to a time in the near future in a fantastically imaginative way by our writer, Carl Miller. Whilst Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein debates the nature of humans acting like gods in creating new life, our version asks questions about humans developing AI and the potential consequences of creating artificially intelligent beings. Audiences can expect to get caught up in the mystery of the story and intrigue of this contemporary telling.
What message would you like people to take away from your production of Frankenstein?
I’d like audiences to leave thinking about the ethics of AI – where is it a force for positive development and how can we avoid its destructive possibilities. The show is about taking responsibility for the things we create and being alive to the consequences of our actions; hopefully it will be a provocative piece as we offer up both positive and negative elements of virtual reality and artificial intelligence.
Where has been your favourite place to direct a show at?
I directed two summer shows at Regents Park Open Air Theatre, which has a back drop of gorgeous trees. On a sunny afternoon when it’s full of families it has the most wonderful culturally communal atmosphere and sometimes the birds that decide to invade the stage are highly entertaining.
What advice would you give to people who want to get into the same role as you?
Get all the experience you can in every aspect of theatre – I spent my early career casting, producing, performing, doing technical work, making props, running workshops, as well as being assistant director and movement director on shows with experienced directors. It takes many years, I believe, to build the craft of directing and an understanding of all areas of theatre making really helps with this process.
What is the most rewarding thing about your work?
Working with creative people and sharing the work with audiences. My method as a director is collaborative; I listen to the creative ideas in the rehearsal room and lead the process of bringing them together into a collective whole that is far greater than the sum of its parts. When the alchemy of theatre works its magic, it is often due to the creative investment of all those involved and audiences are usually good at sensing and enjoying this.
What’s been a funny moment for you directing. Any mishaps you want to share!?
I’ve directed a lot of mask theatre in my time as artistic director of Trestle and it’s always funny when an actor comes on stage in the wrong mask and plays out the action with a different character face; I have also seen a performer come on stage thinking they are wearing a mask and when it dawns on them they haven’t actually got the mask on it’s hilarious to watch.
Who are your influences and inspirations?
Peter Brook is my greatest influence in terms of 20th century directors. He is a master of assimilation and I have absolutely followed his wisdom on collecting many interests and influences and then honing your directorial skill into knowing which idea or influence to use when. As he says, there are no secrets to directing, it’s all about bringing people and ideas together into a collective experience that everyone wants to share with an audience.
Is there a show you would love to direct?
Into the Woods by Stephen Sondheim. It’s a wonderful combination of fairytale storytelling and fantastic music; the show had such a profound influence on me as a teenager that one day I would love to have a go at directing it.
Can you tell us about your evolvement in Mercury Musical Developments?
Recently I have developed and directed three new musicals and enjoyed being part of the burgeoning diversity of and interest in reinventing the form of new British musical theatre. I’m so excited to be starting as Executive Director of MMD in November and look forward to supporting the amazingly talented writers we have in this country.
What’s next for you?
Trestle has a full mask show I directed, Rachel – the true story of a Holocaust survivor, on tour this autumn and I’m working as Movement Director for Pursued by a Bear on a new piece called Nothing on Earth, which celebrates the lives of three extraordinary, but unknown women. Then I start at Mercury Musical Developments once Frankenstein is on. It’s a busy autumn.
Where can people follow your work on Twitter/Facebook/YouTube etc?
Frankenstein is presented by the National Youth Theatre 2019 REP Company and runs at the Southwark Playhouse from 25 October – 30 November 2019 www.nyt.org.uk
The REP season also includes Great Expectations, at Southwark Playhouse from 18 October – 28 November 2019, plus a Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Criterion Theatre from 6 December – 17 January 2020.