Hester Chillingworth directs Nicki Hobday and Nando Messias in Sylvan Oswald’s radical new work Trainers… a queer, visionary adventure story, which asks what separates us from each other, our bodies, and ourselves, and how we might complete one another.
Trainers… is at The Gate Theatre 27th February to 21st March 2020.
You’re directing Trainers… at The Gate Theatre, what can you tell us about it?
Trainers is a new text by US based playwright Sylvan Oswald. It’s about activism and apathy, queerness and transness, what it is to have a body and what it is to be looked at on stage and in the street. It’s set here and now, and also in the past and the future. It’s almost irresolvable! What it is changes fluidly from one moment to the next. Just like life.
What were your first thoughts when you read the play?
I was struck by what I would call the transness of the form of the writing. There’s lots of stuff around at the moment which has trans and queer content, but not so much in terms of form. The questions the piece asks about gym life, and how queer and gender non-conforming bodies negotiate these spaces, also really grabbed me. I’m non-binary and the realness of the questions hit home.
Why do you think it’s so important this play is staged in London?
I think it would be important for it to be staged anywhere. Sylvan’s work hasn’t been performed in the UK before so London is a good place to start! But my hope would be that even wider audiences could see the work. There’s a lot in the text about seats of power and how power is misused to oppress, so I think London audiences will feel a strong resonance with that. I think historically we in the UK have thought of the politics of the US as quite distant from our own, but that’s less and less true, so this piece by a US writer actually feels really necessary in the UK, right now.
What inspired you the most about Sylvan Oswald’s writing?
The ever-changing form of the piece was a big inspiration, along with the challenges of staging that this brings. I’m used to making experimental devised work and I could already tell, from the text, that this piece would not look like any ordinary ‘play’ and would draw as much from a performance art heritage as from theatre – that appealed to my taste a lot!
What do you think will be the biggest challenge for you as director of this play?
There are 2 (amazing) performers, one narrative voice which belongs to neither of them, a multitude of characters, a multitude of timelines and a multitude of modes of address! And no ‘setting’. So I would say it’s all a challenge. Which is why I love it and why audiences won’t have seen anything like it.
What would you say to anyone thinking of coming to see Trainers…?
I’d say ‘Brilliant! Welcome! Our space is your space! We are here. You are here. We’re here together. This is happening right now, and your presence makes a difference as we sit together in this room above a pub, that has seen so much, held so many different groups of people over the years’. And to quote a person from the past (but not from the play) “I have become a good deal disillusioned over…large gatherings. I pin my hopes to quiet processes and small circles, in which vital and transforming events take place”. Look forward to seeing you, come and say hi to us in the bar. Help us make things transform with this trans form.
Main image: Hester Chillingworth directs Trainers. Photo by Alex Harvey Brown