Class Privilege, Gentrification and Contemporary Gay Culture: James McAndrew discusses his production of George Johnston’s new play, Snapshot.

Abigail Bryant interviews director James McAndrew

Firstly, congratulations on directing your first, full-length new play. Are you excited for its showcase at the Hope Theatre? 

Incredibly excited. I’m very lucky to have such a challenging play to work on, and to have such an amazing team of cast and creatives collaborating on it. The Hope is also the perfect venue for us to showcase the work in, as both an intimate and exciting theatrical space as well as a venue with a reputation for taking risks on new work and emerging artists. Since graduating from drama school in 2015 I have worked on a variety of small projects, rehearsed readings etc and have picked up some very useful assistant director experiences. So Snapshot feels like a culmination of all that, a chance to start proving to myself and to my peers that I can handle a new play, with a big team, in a highly-regarded venue.

Snapshot explores poignant and complex ideas around sexuality, possession, and mental health. In your opinion, what makes theatre a good medium for approaching such issues?

It is the immediacy and intimacy of theatre that makes it such a great medium for approaching such issues. The fact you are literally in the same room as these characters makes you almost complicit in their actions. Theatre is brilliant at exploring such ideas indirectly, the characters don’t stand around for the whole play discussing their sexuality and mental health, it is through their actions that we discover how these issues affect their lives (and ours).  The issue of possession – in our case an older, well-connected man helping a young artist kickstart his career in exchange for sex – is fascinating to explore in a theatre. During our preview period many audience members have watched these scenes through their fingers and there are audible gasps at particular moments. Only in theatre could you provoke such a visceral and physiological reaction, simply because it’s happening right in front of you.

The writer of Snapshot, George Johnston, has had an interesting career, with plans in both writing and politics. How and where do the two intersect, especially today? 

I first worked with George as an actor a couple of years back and realised straight away how politically engaged he is. In life he leans in a very clear direction, but in his writing he is brilliantly able to present a complex debate – in this case around issues such as class privilege, gentrification and contemporary gay culture – without appearing to fall down on either side. His writing also makes you sympathise with people you might naturally resent because he gives each character such a weight of detail and humanity while avoiding caricatures and stereotypes. Working with him on each new draft of the play was interesting, often trying to boil down his writing in order to deliver some punchy socio-political commentary, while avoiding sounding too journalistic.

What aspects of 21st century living are specific to this play?  How is this explored on stage and through the play’s characters? 

Phones are used a lot in this play, George’s writing is very well observed and the way live our lives, smartphone in hand, is woven into the rhythm of the play. The action of some scenes is entirely dictated by phone/laptop procrastination. Our cast are using their own phones for the show, so we have to ensure they’re on airplane mode so they don’t actually get distracted themselves! The pace of life in a big city is also very much part of the play’s DNA, with events driven by everything from the morning commute to the night tube.

What can we expect to take away from Snapshot? What feelings and questions do you intend to provoke from your audience? 

I hope people leave Snapshot feeling oddly uplifted, but with serious questions around the characters actions. The play’s greatest strength is that the characters don’t give you an easy ride. From one scene to the next your allegiances will change drastically. The four characters do terrible things to each other, but its asks whether you could’ve done anything differently if you were in their shoes. Life backs us into corners we often can’t escape from without either lashing out or buckling under pressure. That is ultimately what this play is about and I hope it provokes a strong reaction.

Abigail Bryant

Snapshot plays at The Hope Theatre until June 10th.

For more information about Snapshot and where to buy tickets click here.

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