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The Night Heron – the Director’s Preview

Director Lisa Thomas introduces Jez Butterworth’s The Night Heron, which opens on Tuesday, 8 October.

Jez Butterworth’s reputation may well play a part in attracting audiences to this show – why do you think that is?

He creates very engaging and complex characters with multiple facets, and gives them inventive and often hilarious dialogue and situations. He also writes plays about things that no-one else really does – they feel very original. Audiences loved his breakout play Mojo for its rapid-fire wordplay, while his later, more feted plays such as Jerusalem and The Ferryman have that richness in the words but deeper, more complicated plotting. They also present a portrayal of country life as weirder and deeper than you would ever imagine – something that he foreshadowed in The Night Heron, which is only his second play.

What is it that draws you to this play?

I fell hard for the cranky but fiercely loving relationship between the two main characters, the unembarrassed foregrounding of religion and allegory and the way that the play is packed with funny exchanges yet tragic at its heart. One of the cast described the play as being like an onion – the more you unpeel, the more you find. We’ve had endless discussions about what it means. And we’re still not sure!

You’re a very experienced director, but have you found any particular challenges with this play?

As always with a play with a very specific setting – in this case the Fens just beyond Cambridge – there is a need to try and evoke the local accent. All three lead actors have basic accents that tend to the West Country and we have used this, but added specific Fenland characteristics to try and give an impression of that accent without it becoming too hard to understand (something that was commented on in reviews of the first production). So we give a sense of place through the accent, but aren’t slavish in pinning down every last detail.

The other challenge has been treading the line between comedy and tragedy. I hope we’ve achieved it through a delicate understanding of the play by the actors, who have been outstanding in finding that balance.

No spoilers of course, but tell us about the characters we’ll meet?

The two main characters are a pair of unemployed Cambridge University gardeners. Jess Wattmore (Jack King) is fragile and deeply religious. His house – or shack-mate – Griffin (Tom Watts) is a more robust character who will do what it takes to survive, be it legal or not. They’re joined by a female ex-con, Bolla Fogg (Caroline Doyle) who’s really just looking for somewhere to lay her head, but she can still be fearsome when provoked.

Local types include Neddy Beagle (Chris Bennett), fellow gardener and go-to heavy, the very ‘special’ special constable and strimmer Royce (Martin Copland-Gray) and Dougal, former leaf-blower and unlikely founder of a religious cult (Rob Wallis). And then there’s the mysterious Boy (Louie Chapman). Who is he and why is he there?

The Night Heron runs nightly from 8 – 12 October at the Old Fire Station, and tickets are on sale here.

Rehearsal images by Megan Jordan and Lisa Thomas.