Between the Animal and the Superman: Interview with Rope Directors Edward Spence and Nick Palmer

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With only a little time before Rope opens, Edward Spence and I, who are co-directing the play, thought it would be a good idea if we interviewed each other simultaneously. We might well have been wrong, but the results are below.

Nick: So, I’ll kick us off. What do you like most about the play?

Edward: I think, as a piece of theatre, it’s essentially quintessential melodrama, with a very dark psychological undertone looking what drives us. Also, it’s very witty, stylish, and engrossing. What about you?

Nick: It’s very naturalistic. You have one enclosed room and it hearkens back to that idea of the one room murder mystery, but you know who killed the victim. It’s got interesting points about humanity, justice, and society.

Edward: You had your main stage début with Breaking the Code a couple of months ago – have you found Rope any different?

Nick: It’s a different play.

Edward: [laughs]

Nick: This has been less intense because I had a week less than normal for Code. So we’ve had a bit longer, but also had a Christmas break. It’s been hugely rewarding. How have you found it?

Edward: It’s been very rewarding seeing our amazing cast mine the text for every nuance that it has and working with you is always a joy. It’s been a really special experience and I can only hope we’ve done Steve Kantor proud.

Nick: What do you think is the central theme of the play?

Edward: Humanity, morality and particularly in the way we’ve set it, social class elements too, although we don’t have a political point to make. You have various age groups within the play and you see their different reactions to music, literature, art and murder.

Edward: How has it been working with a co-director?

Nick: I like working with a co-director because it means having that person to rely on. It’s an extra pair of eyes to spot things and you can focus on different bits and bring different strengths. The best thing is that you’re much better than me! I sort of coast, which is nice.

Edward: [laughs] That’s a lie!

Nick: What about you?

Edward: Theatre, in its very essence, is conversation. Theatre is collaborative. When you have two co-directors, you have two minds looking at the same thing with separate but complimentary visions. You can’t help but bounce off each other’s ideas and other people’s ideas can work better than what you had previously envisioned.

Nick: Audiences may well be familiar with the Hitchcock film. What does this version do differently and what can audiences expect?

Edward: Much like the Hitchcock film we have updated it. He updated it to the late 1940s. The film is very theatrical and stage-like, but there will be things that Hitchcock touched upon that we haven’t and things that he missed out that we’ve brought to the fore.

Nick: Yeah, he was known for being really lackadaisical as a director!

Edward: [laughs] He was very good at what he did. What do you think audiences will take away from it?

Nick: I hope that they’ll take away enjoyment and entertainment – that it’ll be a bit different than some of the things they might normally see in this crime thriller genre. It’s not a happy play, but I think it’ll be suspenseful.

Edward: Speaking of directors, did you find yourself drawing any inspiration from anything in particular? 

Nick: I’ve tried to have symmetry in the framing of the action, because we’ve got this chest which is almost a character in itself, but I think it would be talking myself up too much to say I’ve drawn on anyone, because anyone I’m going to say is a lot better than me. How about you?

Edward: Well, you and I agree on a lot of things, including directorial styles. I’m a huge fan of Stanley Kubrick. I think all of his films are exquisitely put together and each frame is a work of art. Also, Martin Scorsese, Sam Mendes, and Richard Ayoade, who we both worship. They’re quite visually distinct directors. I drew a lot of influence from Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal and we drew on the Noir influence for our lighting as well.

Nick: What’s your directing history?

Edward: My first piece at this theatre was The Open Couple. It was a nice environment, because it was the same process you and Rick Lamoure, who directed the fantastic Children of the Wolf, went through. Most of my experience directing is co-directing with you, actually! Outside of theatre, I’ve directed a few short films, trailers for shows, and directed a series of Christmas-themed shorts.

Edward: What are you looking forward to in the second half of the season?

Nick: I really look forward to the studio pieces because I like the intimacy that you get, but there are a lot of good directors and good plays coming up and I’m really looking forward to seeing all of them.

Nick: What can audiences expect from you next?

Edward: I’m directing Butley, which I’m very excited for. I’ve got a peerless cast and one of the wittiest plays ever written. I have a few roles in upcoming films too – Not Fox Films’ Felt Up and Pixie Thug’s Arrivals. You?

Nick: I’m going to take a break from directing for a bit. I’m in Butley and I can’t wait for that.

Edward: Last one – How would you commit the perfect crime?

Nick: As in murder?

Edward: Yes.

Nick: I don’t really agree with any sort of killing. I do eat meat, though, so the perfect crime is bacon.

Nick Palmer & Edward Spence

Rope plays between 18 Jan-23 Jan. Rope tickets