Maggie & Pierre: An interview with director Eduard Lewis
Eduard Lewis, director of Caught (at the Pleasance Theatre, Islington) and assistant director of the Old Vic’s The Lorax, brings Canadian classic and one-woman show Maggie & Pierre to the Finborough Theatre in its European première. The Upcoming caught up with Eduard to discuss the challenges of directing one actress in three roles, ideas of relevance surrounding older texts and the influence of the individual in politics.
Was there any one production or play that inspired you to become a director?
I think the most influential play I’ve seen was Complicite’s Measure for Measure. I remember being struck by all elements of the show, the inventiveness of the design, the ensemble work and thinking the overall vision of the piece was astounding. It also made an 18-year-old interested in watching Shakespeare, which is no mean feat. Even though it took me almost three years to find directing after watching that production, it has always stayed with me.
What initially drew you to Maggie & Pierre?
It was a combination of the challenge of the piece and what the play says to an audience today. Whenever I choose to direct a piece I always make sure it challenges me, I want to make sure I’m pushing myself out of my comfort zone. When I first read Maggie and Pierre I knew it was one-woman show and I was surprised to see that there were scenes with dialogue with the characters speaking directly to one another. Beginning to think how I might approach this in the staging excited and scared me in an equal measure!
I also think with the way the piece presents and examines the celebrity of politics made it feel apt for now to be its European première. With what’s been happening with Trump over in the US and even here with Corbyn and Farage a few years ago – the impact an individual can have on the cultural and political landscape of a nation is astounding and I think it’s something we mustn’t forget.
Had you been following Justin Trudeau’s successful election in Canada?
Yes I had, I think he’s a really interesting character; a real mix of the intelligence and athleticism of his father but also the heart and compassion of his mother. Maggie and Pierre really gives you and understanding for who he is: you learn where he came from, what made him the person he is today and the legacy he brings with him too.
The play originally premièred in Toronto in 1980. Why do you think it has taken so long to reach Europe?
I’m not really sure because the themes and the ideas in the piece are universal, and at its heart the play is about a marriage under strain. I think maybe it’s the combination of the under-representation of Canadian theatre in the UK and the fact it’s a one-woman show. With a piece like this it’s really important for the actor and director to have a real connection to the characters and the work. I’ve been really fortunate that Kelly has had that connection and understanding from day one.
Kelly Burke plays three different characters, including the titular Maggie and Pierre. Was it a challenge to maintain distinct direction for each?
I think it’s certainly a challenge to keep all three characters in your head at once but Kelly has had experience in doing one-woman shows before and we’ve got a great team behind her too. As well as myself we have Nina Zendejas, our voice and dialect coach, and Jonnie Riordan, our movement director, who’ve been working with Kelly and myself so we can ensure that each character has a distinct voice and physicality that runs through the whole play.
Sadly, playwright Linda Griffiths died in 2014. Did you have any contact with her co-author Paul Thompson as you were preparing your production?
Yes, Paul and I have been in regular touch over email throughout the whole process and it’s been a vital resource. To be able to gain an insight into how both Linda and he approached making the piece, and also to be able to send over questions as they arise, has been invaluable.
Despite being set in the 60s, the idea of celebrity politics feels startlingly modern. How did you go about making the play relevant while respecting the narrative’s period trappings?
I don’t want to give away any spoilers but the the opening moments of the piece do tie in the notion of celebrity politics today. Nevertheless, I don’t think much needs to be done to make it relevant for an audience today – it’s all there in the text. What we’ve been concentrating on is the form of the staging and how we can find contemporary and interesting ways of keeping the story moving. In the original piece there were around 14 quick costume changes, which for us is something we’re trying to avoid as we don’t want to hold up the storytelling or have moments where the stage is empty. So for us it’s about finding interesting ways of using movement and sound to help us achieve those changes and transition between scenes.
Do you get tonal whiplash from working on something like The Lorax and then Maggie & Pierre?
Definitely not! If anything it’s exciting, I really like changing from one thing to another – it’s what I love about working in theatre, it throws you into different worlds. One moment you are in a world of loraxes and truffula trees and the next you’re in Canada in the 60s and 70s learning about Margaret Trudeau running off with the Rolling Stones.
Was there anything you learnt working on The Lorax that you have been able to apply here?
I think the main thing I’ve been able to apply to Maggie and Pierre is to always inject a sense of play and fun into the work you make. Regardless of how serious or sincere the piece you’re making is, if the company hasn’t had fun making it or performing then I think that comes across to the audience.
Maggie & Pierre is on at the Finborough Theatre on 19th, 20th, 21st, 26th, 27th and 28th June and 3rd, 4th and 5th July 2016, for further information or to book visit here.