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Forty Winks: the Director’s Preview

Chaz Doyle tells us about Forty Winks, our next show and his return to directing after a 3-year gap.

What drew you to directing the play?

I saw Forty Winks when it premiered at The Royal Court back in 2004. A new piece by Kevin Elyot, my friend had suggested we get tickets as he’d heard good things, and we weren’t disappointed. The show itself is short, but I remember leaving with so many questions. It just stuck in my mind and would always pop back in whenever I would talk about shows or famous actors I’d seen on stage (Forty Winks being Carey Mulligan’s West End breakthrough).

As a play, there’s nothing spectacular about it. No singing nuns or mechanical swans. It’s just conversation. It’s a complex conversation between people with a past they’ve never quite resolved (a theme for SLT this year). In this case the characters mostly all went to school together. Fourteen years have passed and the return of one of them puts the cat amongst the pigeons. There’s more to it than that, but I’m not giving anything away.

The joy of the piece is in the writing. Kevin Elyot use of phrasing and punctuation is always there to lead the tone of the conversations. After a few scene reads and basic “putting it on its feet” it became obvious that the script was providing us with most of the context we needed to make this work. Choice of words, the trailing off to ellipses, even the stage directions of “Beat” (which I almost always ignore), were all in there to move us and the audience along the journey. I would say that there are definite elements of Shakespeare in the way that Elyot puts his words on to the page.

How do you think the audience will relate to the themes of the play?

All the characters are believable. Lovable. Charming in their own ways. This means that the audience will be drawn to them. Understand them. The protagonist’s insomnia. The ex-girlfriend’s now motherly concerns. The best friend dealing with a life-threatening condition. Where we tread into the darker side of the play, we are lead there confidently, having met these people and warmed to them. Again, Elyot’s writing is what makes this shift easy for me as a director.

You’re known for your love of a challenge in creating a set – can you give a hint of what we might expect for this show?

Ha! I’m always up for a challenge and never more so than with my own show! For this show I needed two very different spaces and I wouldn’t be lying in saying that I went through about 7 different designs before finally settling on one. No hints, except that the play takes place in two locations that we visit twice each…

As a final note, I’d just like to say that after 3 years of not directing, this has been a brilliant show to return with. I have a mostly-new cast of actors, who are all fantastic, and have been fortunate to have a great team behind me to make it all happen.

I also feel privileged to be working again with the SLT Youth Group, who are always so professional and dedicated, both the actors and the teachers.

Forty Winks runs from 20 – 24 November at the Old Fire Station, and tickets are on sale here.

Photographs by Mat Hill