Spotlight On… Director of Brimstone & Treacle, Matthew Parker

Brimstone & Treacle opens at The Hope Theatre, Islington on 2 May 2017 and runs until 20 May – 4 May is already sold out so book your tickets now: The Hope Theatre Box Office

I’m really looking forward to seeing this production and I always thoroughly enjoy productions at The Hope Theatre – so I caught up with Matthew Parker, award-winning Artistic Director of The Hope and also Director of this in-house production.

Fergus Leathem as Martin

What inspired you to choose Brimstone & Treacle as your next in-house production?

It’s a controversial masterpiece about good and evil, identity, religion and what it means to be British. Who wouldn’t want to tackle a one act play that explores all of those monumental themes? Plus – and crucially for me and the Hope – it is a gender balanced cast (2 women and 2 men) with roles for two actors over 50. 

It’s about racism – the horror that lies behind the twitching floral curtains of middle England homes. It attacks what it means to be British and the lengths people will go to inside their own heads to “reclaim their country”. Coming off the back of 2016’s Brexit vote it really couldn’t be more timely if it tried! It’s the 40th anniversary this year and I am always fascinated to look at these 20th century classics with a 21st century audience and ask ourselves “what has changed?”. It’s scary to see just how little that matters has actually changed in terms of attitudes to race, gender and religious tolerance. 

It’s a controversial piece of theatre, what do you think the strengths of Dennis Potter’s writing are?

The piece examines the nature of good and evil, and asks whether miracles can occur from an act of evil – from the visitation of the devil rather than an angel. So it’s challenging; make step audience think. It’ also has elements of horror and the classic thriller about it. 

And it is funny – and the fact that it is funny as well as violent is shocking in itself. Even at our first read through some of the team were laughing away whilst some others were staring at them in horror, thinking “how can you be laughing at that?”. As a director, work that creates different reactions within audiences has always attracted me. I’ve wanted to have a crack at this play for many years. 

How do you feel that the space at The Hope Theatre will lend itself to this play?

The Hope is a fabulous space in which to create intimate and atmospheric theatre. The audience feel part of the action – connected to the actors in a way that is rare in theatre. And that connection is felt by the actors too. It creates a real live wire experience. And for a play like tis that contains some scenes of a potentially disturbing and violent nature, that intimacy will create quite an atmosphere!

Olivia Beardsley as Pattie and Stephanie Beattie as Mrs Bates

Did you have any ideas of who you wanted to cast when you selected the piece or particular qualities that you were looking for in your cast?

No. I always look for people who are gorgeous to work with. Talent is so important but it’s not the be all and end all for me. They also need to be collaborative, open and fun. To take the work seriously but not themselves. I feel very lucky with this cast – they are all at various stages of their career but pulling together and learning from each other loads. As am I. 

Stephanie Beattie was in my production of STEEL MAGNOLIAS last year and blew everyone away with her astonishingly heartbreaking performance as M’Lynn. Joining her as her on stage hubby is Paul Clayton, an actor with an amazing career spanning TV (Peep Show, Him and Her, Coronation Street) and theatre including RSC, Chichester, Royal Exchange, West End. They are joined by 2 graduates of Drama Studio London; Fergus Leathem, who last year appeared in Game of Thrones (and is part of the Hope Box Office team so it’s great to finally get him onto the stage here and not just handing out the tickets!) and Olivia Beardsley joins us less than a year from graduating and I’m super-excited to get to work with her at this early stage of her career. She’s definitely one to watch!

Is the rehearsal process changing your initial vision for it?

Oh every day the play surprises me. There is so much detail in the writing and that’s wonderful to work with. It is both very funny and very shocking. And it has moments of breaking theatrical conventions from heightened naturalism to something a little more odd. Something I tend to call “Whoo”. As in “it all goes a bit Woo here” meaning magical or odd or supernatural etc. I love working on plays with Woo in them!

Paul Clayton as Mr Bates

What do you hope that the audience will take away from the production?

The comfort that good will always triumph over evil. And the knowledge that they7 have watched 4 excellent actors giving a performance of a show they will never forget. 

Finally, why should everybody buy a ticket to come and see Brimstone & Treacle at The Hope Theatre next month?

Because it’s funny and challenging and moving. It’s written by one of our greatest writers and is so rarely seen that this is a fabulous chance to catch it. Plus it’s just 90mins straight through so you can be back down in the lovely Hope bar by 9.15!

Thanks to Matthew for chatting to Break A Leg during a busy time (rehearsals are well under way and the production opens next week!) – I urge everybody to go and see this play!

All rehearsal photo credits: Headshot Toby



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