Annie has written the play of her life and she is devastated to see her production team destroying her creation. She tracks down a man who inspired her early on in her career, an Australian director named Peter, but finds him cast aside as the janitor of a theatre school. Against his protestations, Annie convinces him to work on her play without realising the permission he feels granted. The Director attempts to investigate behind the scenes of an abusive and unethical director and tries to dismantle the myth of genius that keeps people like this in positions of power. The discussion of dangerous directors is typically kept under wraps, contained in rumours and whispers, but Nancy Hasty’s play brings it to the fore for everyone to consider.
Annie (Josephine Bloom) and Peter’s (Simon Doctor) relationship begins slowly when she finds him fifteen years after hearing him speak at her college. She’s still growing her career and he seems to be near the end of his, spending days cleaning and nights “experimenting” with actors. But Annie sees a solution in Peter, a chance to save her play from people who don’t understand it and won’t do it justice. Peter warns her about his difficult methods, saying no one in the industry will work with him anymore, but she doesn’t heed the warnings and they begin auditions.
From the get-go Peter is superior, in his element, lauding over fresh up-starts with his references to actors and directors that explain his “unconventional” methods of directing. The actors get a taste of his style as he begins bullying, lying to, and manipulating the auditionees, pushing them to leave and then guilting them into staying. It continues throughout the rehearsal process as Peter betrays his actors’ trust, oversteps boundaries, assaults them, and then, just when they’ve had enough, lights that insidious spark of affirmation, pets their immature egos with notions of being special and a part of something big, and coaxes them back into the fold. It a cycle of manipulation that repeats throughout the production as Peter blurs lines of reality and fiction until his ultimate reveal.
These unethical and abusive methods of direction aren’t new to the theatre world. They come from directors who believe their art to be above all else and who thrive on the power of their position. The theatre industry does a lot to protect people like this by praising their work, stamping titles like genius or master on them, and re-entrenching these attitudes into the art over and over again. Hasty’s script does a good job of representing the rehearsal room of these people, the way they use manipulation to encourage their collaborators to accept and perpetuate mistreatment. The problem lies in that fact that this production doesn’t offer a counter-argument to the dangerous attitudes it’s presenting. The most each character can muster in defence against Peter is to call him a monster which, while possibly true, is inadequate as a retort to the overarching argument about the theatre industry.
The design is bland as an empty rehearsal room typically is, except for the opening scene where Peter sits amongst his piles of books. It looks pleasant for any bibliophile but required far, far too much time to remove and reset, drowning out otherwise lovely live transition music, to be worth it.
The acting and characterisations were similarly bland with the actors seemingly relying too heavily on the argument of the text to justify their actions. Doctor, in particular, meandered through his speeches and exercises apathetically and drastically slowed down the pace to the point of losing all tension in the climax. Some choices in direction, for Doctor plays the titular directer and also directed the production in real life, were odd, including the choice to create wholly unnecessary and unbelievable sexual tension between Annie and Peter. Alex Rowe is a stand-out as John, finding all the comic moments in the text that work wonders to keep the production moving forward. He appears the most at ease on stage and adapted well into difficult dialogue.
This isn’t a topic to be taken lightly as every few months a few of our theatrical greats are outed as abusive, manipulative, and dangerous. Hasty’s script attempts to unravel the people who take advantage of their power in the theatre but it fails to truly flesh that out or combat it head-on.
The Director is running at the Playhouse at Actor’s Pulse from October 25th – November 10th