‘Three Days of Rain’ is being performed at The Little Theatre this February. Emma Bamford caught up with director Pip Nixon for a chat about the play …
What is the play about?
The central idea of the play is, “what if you could meet your parents when they were young?” As in, would they be as you expected, would you be surprised or shocked or even horrified? Did they make the decisions they made for the reasons you think, or was it actually more complicated?
The play is set in one apartment in two time periods. In the first half, set in 1995, a brother and sister along with their best friend are meeting to hear what is in their father’s will. It doesn’t go as expected, and we watch everything combust and lots of secrets come to the surface as they try to figure out who their parents really were. In the second half, set in 1960, the same actors now play their parents, and we get to see what really happened as some of the mysteries of the first half are solved.
What made you want to do the play?
Well put simply, I thought it was brilliant. I hadn’t read it or seen it before, so when a friend gave it to me I didn’t know what to expect. I thought very quickly that it was one of the best plays of the last 25 years. It has kind of quick, lucid fun to it that I like very much, but also has a brittle, romantic tone that slowly emerges until, come the end, I found it very moving. I like the idea of New York in the rain, and the nostalgia of it, and the idea of seeing what your parents were really like.
But in terms of actually directing it, I was looking for a play to do upstairs that I thought suited me. This is my fourth time directing at The Little Theatre, and so far I’ve done quite intense actor-led dramas. This is in that mould. I like working with actors, and to help them take on a big challenge. I also wanted something that I felt I understood, and that I could see working on the big stage. And ideally, I wanted to do a new play that was high quality but people wouldn’t necessarily have seen. ‘Three Days of Rain’ has played twice in the West End but unless you were lucky enough to see one of those productions, it’s probably new to you. Hopefully it is something fresh for our audience.
What were you looking for in the actors – what did they have to be able to do / convey?
I always think I will enjoy casting a play – it will be a wonderful and light-hearted series of auditions as the play is delightfully brought to life. In practice, however, casting is more of a teeth-pullingly agonising process. On this, I saw lots of really good actors, but finding actors who could convincingly play both parts, and handle the technical side of that – as in, they need to do two different American accents and do a stutter or look like they could be in a soap opera etc. – and then who actually linked together so you could believe they are brother and sister, believe they could be a couple etc., was all very difficult. I saw some terrific actors, but not necessarily actors I could slot into the play, so it took a while to get the set of three who were both good enough for the parts and right for them. Plus they’re all very beautiful, so even if you hate the way I’ve directed the play, you can gaze in wonderment at the gorgeous actors. It’s my Plan B.
This is your first main-stage play. Are there any differences in directing in the studio to directing upstairs?
Technically there are loads. This play features rain and fire, and a substantial set, so those things are all new to me. I have tried to assemble a team of very experienced people so I can draw on their expertise. Rob, our stage manager, or Martin and Jenny doing our lighting, or Lisa handling props,
Jenny doing our prompting, Kevin who designed our set – they are all very experienced and very good, so I’m tremendously grateful that they are on board to bring this play to life. In many areas, I haven’t a clue what I’m doing, so I’m trying to be disarmingly honest about my idiocy and seek help.
But when you’re in the rehearsal room with your actors, and we’re working on a scene together and trying to make it work, it’s no different at all. A play is a play, and this text pops off the page when you get it right, so at this point it has been a lot of hard work but only in the best sense. Allow me to doom myself by saying that nothing has gone wrong yet.
How have you found the whole experience?
Hard work, but rewarding. I don’t come with anything laid out beforehand, I like to work it out with the actors, so I’ve just been delighted that they have such energy and engagement. We all have a love of the play and a tremendous enthusiasm for it, and that is exactly what you want when you are rehearsing. I’ve also really enjoyed how bold they are – as actors they are not waiting for me to say “go,” they make a decision about a scene and run with it so I can see it and help shape their performance. That’s very rewarding. The big downside of directing is that you don’t get to moan much – if you’re acting you get to moan all the time and I love moaning so I miss that. But so far I actually haven’t wanted to moan. Which is something I am now moaning about.
Why should people come and see the play?
It’s a superb piece of modern drama – and hasn’t been performed in Leicester before. It is going to showcase three tremendous performances. The play, the team and the cast are all terrific – if the production is anything less than excellent, it’s entirely down to me.
What would you do if you were stuck inside for an actual three days of rain?
I would love it. When you’re tucked up warm inside, I find the sound of rain endlessly romantic and reassuring. Rain on the windows, a good book, a cup of hot chocolate, good company to occasionally look up and share a smile . . . I wouldn’t mind a bit.
‘Three Days of Rain’ plays between 1-6 February. Tickets