Guest Blog: Director Harry Mackrill On WORLD'S END at the King's Head Theatre
World's End is the debut play from James Corley - an LGBT love story premiering at the King's Head Theatre, which will be the closer of the venue's ever popular Queer Season.
Director Harry Mackrill (who was recently announced as one of the King's Head's new artistic associates) talks about why he chose to work on this piece, his inspirations, and how important it is keep making new LGBT theatre.
There is a moment in World's End when two young characters sit and discuss the importance of courage. Sure, it may be in the context of playing a video game, but it's an incredibly powerful sentiment. And for me, it sums up the process of making new writing. Unlike tried and tested plays, often which rely on previous experience of a 'canon' of work, new writing is scary for everyone - writers, theatre-makers and audiences alike.
But you have to have the courage to jump into the unknown. And when I read the initial draft James sent me, there was something in there that struck a chord. I knew this was a story that would resonant with audiences and be a gift for the four actors who perform it. The play explores a first love between two neighbours, Ben and Besnik, as they - and their single parents (Viv and Ylli respectively) - navigate the world of the late 90s as the millennium approaches and the conflict in Kosovo reaches its climax.
The 1990s doesn't seem that long ago, to me anyway, and we're surrounded by its influence all the time - from the Spice Girl's latest tour to Friends endless streaming on Netflix - but when it comes to LGBT representation and equality, the past two decades have changed lives (in the UK at least) immeasurably.
Growing up in the East Midlands under Thatcher's Section 28, I didn't see myself reflected anywhere; gay or queer was an insult to hurl on the bus or in the dinner queue. And if gay culture managed to edge its way into the leafy suburbs, like when Russell T Davies' Queer as Folk came out (excuse the pun) in '99, I was so scared of the reality it portrayed, the only way I could deal with it was to close my eyes.
As a young person growing up, if you can't see a reality you recognise reflected back at you, invisibility seems the only cure. I simply didn't understand myself because no one had taught me how - society seemed intent on teaching me I was wrong.
Thank God then for writers like Russell - and to name check only a few (playwrights), Phyllis Nagy, Jonathan Harvey and Tarell Alvin McCraney. Despite a world that often wants to close its eyes to communities that seem 'other' (and therefore dangerous), it is new writing that can allow audiences across the world to understand the common ground we all stand on. As I learnt from the writing of Maya Angelou, who quoted Roman playwright Terence: "I am human, nothing human is alien to me".
It is because of these writers - and I was lucky enough to work with Tarell for the National Theatre's Queer Theatre readings in 2017, alongside my role as Associate Director on Angels in America by Tony Kushner - that I have been able to embrace my sexuality and draw from my own experience for the work I create.
I'm grateful for all those artists and individuals who have fought for the steps towards equality - and now that I am in the privileged position to make work, I want to add to the LGBT+ stories out there.
And I'm not the only one. Adam Spreadbury-Maher, artistic director of the King's Head, has championed the queer voice since taking over the venue, and has been instrumental in supporting World's End since its first draft almost two years ago. It has really found its rightful home, closing the theatre's annual Queer Season.
Rehearsals have been a joy. The play demands a lot from its cast - we cover six months in the lives of our quartet in 90 minutes, and discuss everything from Nintendo to the challenges of single parenthood. When it's all boiled down, the play talks about the importance of having courage in who we are. And what I want more than anything is for audiences to leave the theatre feeling more sure in who they are themselves.
But, at its heart, World's End is a love story, and we need more love stories.
Photo credit for rehearsal image: Bettina Adela
Photo credit for poster image: Kate Harding