Double Bill – the Directors’ Preview

Elaine Heath and Penny Allen, directors of Ten Men and Heather respectively, introduce us to their two short plays which form an intimate double bill next week

What attracted you to directing these particular plays? How did you discover them?

Elaine: I first discovered Ten Men when I was jointly directing a Michael Frayn play with Franklyn McCabe, the writer. As a cast outing, we went to see it at the Brighton Festival and it just stuck in my mind. Frank’s writing was so strong; it had humour, honesty, pathos and a real feel of South London that I responded to.

Penny: I discovered Heather at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2017. It was one of about 14 plays I saw in a 48-hour period, and of all them, this is the one that stayed with me. I found it unsettling and invigorating at the same time – it challenged my own personal preconceptions and prejudices, as well as opening up new thoughts about our relationships with writers through their work.

The staging of the play is also really different and the themes are realised through three scenes each with a very different feel. It’s only a short play, around 50 minutes, but it still feels very epic in its scope.

Penny: What’s it like to direct a two-hander? What’s been challenging about this particular play for you?

It has been great to work with Jennifer and Deesh. We gave a lot of time in the early stages of rehearsal to workshopping the characters and it was wonderful to work with two actors who are prepared to try new things and take chances.

Before I started rehearsing, I was most concerned about the final scene, which is quite technical in comparison to the other two. But in fact, it is the second scene, which is the least stylised of the three that has been the biggest challenge. The complex relationship between the two characters, and power tug of war has been brilliant to work through with Jennifer and Deesh.

Elaine: John Bindon was a real person – what can you tell us about him without giving too much away? How have you found the experience of directing one actor?

John Bindon, “Biffo” to his friends, was a fascinating character. He crammed so much into his fifty years on earth; so much, that not every story appears in the show. Bindon mixed socially and partied with David Bowie, for example, and it’s possible he is the John, from “John, I’m only Dancing”. Whilst he was working as Head of Security for a Led Zeppelin tour of the US he was responsible for such a violent backstage fracas that it resulted in Zeppelin’s management and John Bonham being arrested! His life reads like a film script.

Matt, my actor, has immersed himself in Bindon’s history, and has brought so much to the rehearsal room. Together with David, my Assistant Director, this has been a collaborative piece. Working with Matt has been a very organic process as he has had input at every stage. My only real challenge working on a one-man show has been not to burn out my performer, to give him time to recharge and refocus so he is always fresh and energised.

What do you think audiences may take away from these plays?

Penny: This is a tricky one as the relationship between an individual and a play is a very personal one. But I hope they find it as cathartic an experience as I did. Thomas Eccleshare is an award-winning playwright and he presents the themes in a really exciting way. This play may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the topics it explores are far bigger than the play itself and so I hope each audience member will take something away with them.

Elaine: Experience so far has shown that what people will take away from this play is a desire to find out more about Mr Bindon!

Heather & Ten Men runs from 19 – 23 March at the Old Fire Station, and tickets are on sale here.