In their most ambitious production yet, the RSC’s Other Place theatre
I spoke to Owen Horsely about the challenge of directing the show and he described it as being ‘epic.’ The story spans from 1945 to 1984 and follows three characters, a young kid in the 60s called Martin who goes to America attracted to socialism. “The play follows Martin who really holds on to those beliefs in the far left,” Owen explained. “It’s about his journey in the span of time and how he begins to slowly move towards the right throughout the play.”
At the same time it tells the story of a Russian working for the Soviet Army and comes over to the UK and a single mother fighting for freedom. “It’s a really interesting play and of course David Edgar’s writing is wonderfully witty and very clever,” Owen said.
Not familiar with the play before working on it, Owen first became involved when the RSC did a workshop for the play back in 2016. “It was first done at the Barbican in 1983 and it was a very different play,” Owen said. “We completely reconfigured the play, originally we had a cast of 25 and now we have a cast of ten. We have added a chorus and they lead us through the play in a historical type way.”
Described to have ‘startling parallels to the political revolution of the Millenial Generation’, Owen says it is almost like history repeating itself. “When I was young there was less differentiation between right and left, but now with people like Corbyn and Trump, there seems to be very clear parties and divisions. This is similar to what was happening in the country in the 60s and 70s,” Owen explained. “So this play is looking back at the last time this happened, which is really interesting to see as history is literally going in circles. I think it means that maybe we need to look at the story of Maydays and see if there are any lessons to be learnt.”
When first approaching the play, Owen emphasised how it was really about articulating and understanding the arguments David writes. “His arguments are extremely articulate and there is lots of dense terminology so we had to unpick that,” he said. “When it comes down to it, it’s about human beings and how human beings react and change with politics so the show really is a human story.”
The way the show has been cut feels very modern, and Owen’s slick direction gives it pace and style. Cleverly, the show shifts in every interval, so the audience shift from being in the round, to traverse and then end on. “Act one is about the rise of socialism so we wanted it to feel very collective, then act two is set in Russia so the seating feels a lot more threatening and then finally we wanted the story to feel more direct,” Owen explained. “Allowing the space to be different for the audience keeps it alive, and there is even action in the foyer during the interval that leads them back into the theatre, so it feels very immersive.”
“You have people changing around a whole theatre in 15 minutes and we have 93 costumes in the show – so it’s really epic.”
Thinking of the audience, Owen thinks it will attract audiences of the RSC and David Edgar’s audience too. But he hopes it will be a real mix of people who have lived through this period of history and a younger generation who are able to see the parallels. “What would be amazing is if we came out in the café in the interval and someone in their 20s was talking to someone in their 60s about the show,” he said.
Most of all, Owen emphasised how although it is a play about politics, it’s about how politics are personal. “The point is to find empathy and understanding for both sides of the coin, because these days with Twitter and Facebook we are very quick to judge and attach things to hate,” he said. “I worry about that, because I think it stops people having conversations with people that have different opinions.
“I just hope that there is a conversation because we can look at a story in the 70s, relate to it, and feel like we can learn from it. I hope people leave having a little more curiosity, patience and that they’ll think about their arguments more.”
On at the RSC’s The Other Place until the 20th of October, tickets and information can be found online here.