Interview - Josie Davies

19 March 2016

by Kate Wyver

Josie Davies, co-producer of the highly acclaimed Lemons, Lemons, Lemons, Lemons, Lemons at NSDF last year, is returning to the 2016 festival as director of Mark Ravenhill’s political drama Over There with the Warwick University Drama Society. “We built a kind of community at last year’s festival and there was already so much support by the time we went with the show to Edinburgh,” she says, so she’s excited to approach this year with a more directly artistic view.

Over There is predominantly set in Berlin between 1986 and 1991. The action centres on a pair of identical twins who are separated by the Berlin Wall. “The play is about the twins’ relationship,” Davies explains, “condensing the East/West divide into a human conflict.” The area of history explored is often explained in “a very textbook way” but seeing it from the perspective of the separated twins, Davies argues, “makes it personal”. The reality of putting up borders and divisions is still extremely relevant today. 

The characters personify each half of the divided nation, with a third character embodying America. Their rehearsal process was very research-based, “and that research directly influenced a lot of the characterisation”. The team has music composed to reflect the play. “It’s been such a collaborative process,” she says.”‘It wasn’t exactly director-driven, I see myself more as a facilitator. The cast really have brought so much to the process.”

“I’ve always found German history fascinating,” Davies says, “particularly the Berlin Wall and German reunification, and the fact that Over There explores such recent history with the twins makes it very exciting.” It was the form of the text that made her want to direct it. “It is written with very few stage directions so it gives a lot of freedom directorially. There are, however, some very challenging stage directions – without giving away any spoilers – but that really forces you to be creative with it.” She explains that the stripped-back nature of the text is a gift for the director, and her production relies 100 per cent on the text and the performers. “Choosing not to have any set or props opened a lot of possibilities theatrically.” 

There has been a lot of speculation about the Warwick trend of political theatre, following Walrus Theatre’s Lemons, Barrel Organ’s Nothing (part of NSDF 2014) and Breach Theatre’s The Beanfield (which is also at the festival this year). “I think partly it’s because we’re on a campus,” Davies says, “which means that everything the student body is feeling – and these are the things young people are often politically engaged with – is kind of amplified.” Warwick’s theatre scene is very active, “and we respond really well to each other, so when we have these brilliant politically engaged pieces I think that reflects in your own work”.

Over There was one of the first entries to this year’s festival, having originally been performed at Warwick before last year’s festival, so reviving it has brought new challenges to the team. The biggest change is the scale of the show. “It was done in a very small theatre in Lemington Spa with an audience capacity of about 50.” They are going to be performing in the round at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, which seats four times the amount of the original audience. “It has made the whole production much bigger. It’s almost become more political because more people are going to be able to engage with it,” Davies says. “It’s going to be a very exciting challenge to transfer.”

The lunchtime discussions about the shows with all of the visitors and participants were a highlight at last year’s festival, and Davies can’t wait for more. “The feedback is really valuable because you never quite know how the wider theatre community is going to respond to your work. I hope people bring really challenging questions that make me think a lot about the production.” She is open to criticism: “I think I will ask people to be more brutal. I want to learn what people hate about Over There as a production because that would be how I’d learn the most.”

If there’s one thing she’s learned from NSDF last year, it is “just how human everybody is. It can be very intimidating but this year I’m just going to go with the knowledge that these are all normal people. We’re all just here because we love theatre.”

Kate Wyver (@KateWyver)