A quick chat with director Peter Houghton, director of Black Swan’s up coming production Day One, A Hotel, Evening

Director Peter Houghton
Director Peter Houghton

Director Peter Houghton took some time out of his busy schedule to talk about his latest production Day One, A Hotel, Evening with Aussie Theatre’s Perth correspondent Craig Dalglish.

Written by Australia’s most produced playwright, Joanna Murray-Smith and presented by the Black Swan State Theatre Company, Day One, A Hotel, Evening is filled with love, seduction, envy, desire and revenge. These are the strands that wrap around two business partners and their wives shiny lives… and it all starts very simply on day one, in the evening, in a hotel room.

What excites you about Day One, A Hotel, Evening?

It’s a play that sits between comedy and the very real temptations of middle age – affairs, lies, disappointments, realizations and hefty doses of self-delusion. And it does all this with real style and wit and originality. In addition to having a great play I’ve also got a great cast, which this play really needs. I have a talented group of very experienced actors who can handle the style and bring their own humanity to bear on the subject matter. So….. I’m excited!

What do you hope audiences take away from the performance?

Well, a lot of things actually. This is not a morality play, but it does perhaps suggest that once we make certain decisions in life those decisions set in motion certain events that we may not be entirely in control of. Apologies for that cryptic response but I’m protecting a quite brilliantly plotted play!

Audiences will laugh and squirm at the increasingly excruciating situations that these characters are drowning in. It’s a hoot – but it’s also a compelling portrait of modern indiscretions.

As director what has been the hardest thing for you in working on this piece?

Capturing the cadence of Joanna’s writing in this very particular text. It’s also been the greatest pleasure. Like all good writing, and particularly comic writing, the rhythm of the language is crucial. The other difficulty has been limiting the anecdotes in rehearsal! The problem is that when you’re rehearsing a play about infidelity the anecdotes are fascinating!

The easiest?

Well, in this case spending time with the cast. They are all delightful. They’re funny and talented and self-aware. They understand the play and they inspire me.

What qualities do you look for when you are casting?

It’s different for every role but for me the human being is important. My job as director is much easier if I have intelligent, emotionally available actors who are willing to take a chance on my direction. People who will give things a go and take the plunge. And for me, I really need people with a good sense of humour, because that points to timing and a developed sense of self awareness. I can’t do anything in a room without humour. I’d rather go fishing.

You also directed True Minds, also written by Joanna. What excites you about Joanna’s writing?

She’s one of the only writers in this country who dedicates herself to the job of communicating directly with audiences. And there’s a difference between expressing yourself and communicating. We live in an age of personal expression which I think differs from the role of the playwright and dramatist, which is to stage quite democratic conflict and allow audiences to ride a rollercoaster of real argument. Too often playwrights use characters as cyphers for their own polemic but Joanna allows her characters real difference and flirts quite openly with opinions, ideas and world views that differ sharply from her own. So I see her as a true dramatist – a writer with the courage to allow her enemy a true voice. Sometimes that causes confusion amongst pundits who characterize her as an apologist for various conservative viewpoints. What they’re unused to is a play that doesn’t preach and a writer with enough self-confidence to allow an audience to make up its own mind. And I love the comedy in her plays where all pomposity is pilloried, regardless of its ideological origins.

How did you get into directing?

I’m an actor and playwright as well. I have always done all the jobs. I’ve designed sets and stage managed and done lighting design…. I’ve even written reviews! Writing plays is the hardest job…. Writing reviews is the easiest.

What is the first piece of theatre you directed?

I directed a Ross Mueller play called No Man’s Island.

What is the most valuable lesson or piece of advice you have learnt since then?

Do what you love with people you love and respect. You can’t lose.

Who or what has been your greatest influence in pursuing your career?

So many people…. I’ve learnt valuable lessons, hard lessons and inspiring ones from every show I’ve done. Mistakes and triumphs and everything in between. As I get older it’s the people and the friendships I value most. I genuinely love the rehearsal room. And I love actors as a breed. They’re such a wonderful combination of courage and vulnerability; they’re almost always funny with wicked, filthy senses of humour. And they’re gypsies, who live in an eternal now; they feed off moments and live for the excitement of releasing real sparks in human interaction. That’s sexy.

What advice would you give others looking to a career in directing?

Find good plays that you can relate to and work really hard on them. Love and honour the work and you’ll have a rich and rewarding career. Be generous to others and respect the lessons and experience of older artists. And look for inspiration everywhere, not just in the art itself.

What is next for you after Day One, A Hotel, Evening?

I’ve got a couple of playwriting commissions I need to progress, one for Bell Shakespeare and an older one from MTC. I’m going to a Beckett Festival in Northern Ireland in August, they bought a production of Endgame I did for Melbourne Festival a few years ago. And then I’m doing a big commercial show in Melbourne in September which is a secret… To be announced shortly… And then, who knows?

What do you enjoy the most about theatre in Perth?

I’ve only just arrived but there’s quite a bit of buzz about a few shows here which is great. I’m looking forward to seeing them.

Day One, A Hotel, Evening

15 June – 30 June 2013
Heath Ledger Theatre – State Theatre
Tickets through Ticketek

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