As a journalist, interviews are quite an easy, care-free way to write an article, as you’re ultimately responsible for a small fraction of the content. At least they’re usually easy. But recently I sat down with Nishant Raj and Jamie Jones, the dynamic directing duo behind upcoming comedy, RolePlay. It’s best to imagine the following as spoken over a constant barrage of laughter from all parties.
Owl Eyes: My first question is: What is RolePlay?
Jamie Jones: RolePlay is a comedy, but there are serious turns to it, it’s about a couple, they’re engaged, and they’ve got their in-laws coming around for the weekend.
And just as they’re about to get ready, a dessert fork goes missing. And this is a huge, huge issue. And so Julie-Ann, the fiancée, is out, and in drops Paige, an ex-stripper. And intro is Mickey, an ex-boxer, and they decided they’re just going to stick around for the evening! And so –
Nishant Raj and Jamie Jones: hilarity ensues!
OE: That was beautiful.
NR: We’ve been at this too long.
OE: And how’s it shaping up so far?
NR: We’re very happy about where we’re at.
JJ: We’ve still got a little bit of time left: just under two weeks left until opening night. But we’re getting through it. We’ve rehearsed everything a few times now, we’re able to stumble through it. Still working on piecing it together, recognizing where journeys are, but each individual moment is looking quite good.
NR: I think the fortune we’ve had is, we’ve had a great cast. So as directors, we’ve been able to spend a lot of our time, which isn’t the most, but we’ve been able to spend our time handling the polishing and the finishing touches, rather than having to be really intensely getting them into character, because they brought so much to the table to begin with. So that’s been really helpful.
OE: St Andrews has a very dark turn to it. We like to do big serious plays all the time, and you guys are doing something very different. How is directing a comedy different from what other people are doing [as directors]?
JJ: This is why I think [Nishant and I] work quite well together as a team. Even though it is a comedy, you do still have to treat it like an actual play. You do have to get into character, and journeys, and things like that.
NR: That’s where you get the emotional truth. You know the thing they say about comedy needing to be based on emotional truth, so there’s obviously those elements.
JJ: There’s that sort of bollocks that Nishant likes quite a lot. Whereas I just enjoy telling people to do funny shit.
NR: So we complement each other quite well. I’ll be asking, “Why is the character doing this?” and Jamie is like –
JJ: “You should fucking throw the apple in the bin.” Just you wait until he throws the apple in the bin. It’s hilarious! I’d say we complement each other quite well in the way we work.
OE: You’ve actually answered the next question I was going to ask –
JJ: You can ask it again, you’ll get the same answer.
NR: Then you can ask it a third time, and we’ll give you a different answer, because we’ve set up an expectation and then defied them.
JJ: Yep, yep. #RuleofThreesforcomedy.
OE: I understand that there are some peculiarities in the way that Alan Ayckbourn writes, particularly, stage directions –
JJ: Right. Alan Ayckbourn: if you are reading this, please stop reading this now. Because Alan Ayckbourn is a bit of a controlling writer. We’re fairly sure you can give this script to actors, and they would put on pretty much what Alan Ayckbourn wanted to put on, because he’s literally written every single detail into stage directions, which isn’t that fun for us as directors, so we’ve got used to telling our cast, “Please ignore a lot of what Alan Ayckbourn is saying.”…I really hope Alan Ayckbourn stopped reading…But it’s given us the freedom to find the jokes that aren’t just on the page. Alan Ayckbourn is a very clever writer (you can start reading again Alan) –
NR: – Mr. Ayckbourn
JJ: There’s very good jokes in his writing. But there’s also a lot of fun you can have playing around with things. Our actors are allowed to make decisions. One of our actors, Hamish [Rea], who’s playing Mickey, is fantastic for it, because he will – there’s a lot of times in this play where characters won’t be doing much. They just have to be there on stage, and that’s always troublesome for an actor because you have to find things to do. And Hamish finds hilarious things to do, all the bloody time and it’s really – it’s great – but’s its really distracting for the other actors, because they’re trying to do their important scene and I’m pissing myself laughing because Hamish has picked up a child’s cartoon book and is just reading it like it’s the Bible. And it’s fantastic. All of our actors are wonderful, and we allow them to play around with the stuff that’s not on the page, and find the funniness outside the puns that Alan Ayckbourn writes, and the sex jokes and all of that. And it’s great, but we like to find the jokes elsewhere as well.
NR: A lot of the visual gags, you just walk into them without realizing and then you think, “this is gonna be fucking great!”
JJ: Or not. We’re really worried that we’re the only people who’re gonna find this play funny.
NR: Please come to our show.
OE: So, another thing I like to ask is what the show is going to look like in terms of physical things. That’s props, costumes, lights. What’s your image?
NR: It is nice, because the Barron is a nice, intimate little space, and there are scenes where we’ve had to change things around slightly, because it’s not as big as we might need. But it’s nice being so small, because it’s really like you have a window into this couple’s flat –
JJ: Ha. Window. There’s a window in this play, guys.
NR: It’s gonna be great! But yeah, you get this sense of being voyeurs (I told you, it’s really pretentious) and just watching the drama unfold. At the same time, we get quite cheeky with it, quite self-aware, so there are moments when you can expect the fourth wall to be brought down, and then brought right back up again.
OE: Why should we see RolePlay?
JJ; This fucking apple thing, I’m telling you.
NR: Honestly, the apple and the window are the greatest gags.
JJ: Yeah, those are the two things that are good about this play…I’m refusing to give a real answer to that.
NR: So that’ll just be the end?
JJ: Yep. Apple and window.
NR: Why don’t you come see the play and –
JJ: Nope. Nope. Apple and window.
NR: Apple and window.
So I guess it’s up to me. Come see RolePlay, it promises to be at least as funny as the directors, and certainly much more coherent.