Q: Hello! Who are you and what have you got on this term?
A: I’m Alexander Hartley, and I’m directing The Fastest Clock in the Universe, which is on at the BT Studio in second week. It’s a dark, claustrophobic, overwhelmingly nasty play, so if that sounds like your cup of tea, then come along for some bedtime brutality. 7.30 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, second week.
Q: What’s great about black box theatres? Does the BT work particularly well with your show?
A: Everyone talks about how you can’t hide anything at the BT. That goes for the set, the actors, and the audience. We haven’t got all that much by way of staging tricks—the whole set is clearly laid out from the beginning, it’s quite transparent: a cluttered flat. The actors are so close to the spectators, it’s like a constant close-up for two hours—it’s almost cinematic. So it’s very intense, and the actors have got nowhere to hide: every detail of their performance is going to be seen and picked up on. The third aspect, and the most exciting, is that the audience have got absolutely nowhere to run, and that’s why the BT is perfect for this play. We want the audience to get swept up in the nastiness, in the cruelty, to be so close to it and unable to run away. In many ways it’s an unsettling play, an unsettling experience.
Q: Tell me about the audition process.
A: Sure, we ran forty-five-minute paired audition slots, with two actors, and we did improvisational exercises that were designed to get these two people (who had never met each other) to work as a team in broadcasting aspects of a relationship to an audience. The scenes themselves were improvised. It was a really illuminating auditions process. And in many ways the rehearsal process has just been an extension of the auditions; we’ve been doing the same sort of work, and the cast have continued to take to it. I’m amazed most rehearsals by their ingenuity and their commitment, it’s an exhausting play to perform. I was also really excited to be able to cast three freshers in a cast of five.
Q: You’ve decided to cast a woman in the role of a boy; do you think more casting should be done ‘gender-blind’ or would this not always work?
A: I don’t know about ‘gender-blind’ casting: everyone is constrained by the various prejudices socialised into them, and it’s dishonest to pretend you can ignore those prejudices when casting. More honest is to try to face up to them and work against them. Casting a girl to play a boy is a political action, but so is casting a boy to play a boy. In this case, there is so much in the play about sex and gender—there’s a male character who is utterly uncomfortable, in fact unable to speak, when there is a woman in the room—and by casting Emily to play a boy we’re trying to develop and comment on these ideas that are already there in the play. But the audiences will be free to make what they will of that.
Q: Why do enjoy watching violence and the deranged so much on stage?
A: That’s a question with pedigree! We love to watch violence partly, I think, because it’s not happening to us, it’s happening to someone else. If the play’s any good, we’re getting caught up empathetically in what’s going on, so you feel like it is happening to you, but then you get to stand up at the end and dust yourself down and you’re fine. It’s like virtual reality. You have the pain without the damage. There’s the relief, at the end, that you’re undamaged. But putting yourself in that position is what makes theatre so exciting.
Q: What was has been the biggest challenge to overcome?
A: Definitely the fight sequence: it’s a brutal thing to have to act, but it has to come off even worse for the audience—they have to believe it’s actually happening. Fights are a strange thing because you have to have them choreographed in minute detail, but for the actors it all has to be felt in the moment. I’m really happy with where we’ve got to, though: every rehearsal is exhilarating to watch.
The Fastest Clock in the Universe will be showing at the BT studio, 7.30pm, Tuesday – Saturday of 2nd Week
Image // Daniella Shreir