The National Youth Theatre’s 2017 season will include their first ever ‘East End season’ at the Yard Theatre this summer, after the sell-out success of their season of new writing at the Finborough Theatre last year.
The East End Season will feature Olivier Award-winning Jessica Swale’s Blue Stockings, the premiere of The Host, a new play commission by NYT in response to 23 June 2016 and the European refugee crisis by Nessah Muthy and the return of Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist.
In this series of NYT Interviews we chat to the directors behind these shows and we start with Prasanna Puwanarajah, Director of The Reluctant Fundamentalist.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist will play at The Yard Theatre as part of the NYT East End season, what can you tell us about the play?
The play is an adaptation of Mohsin Hamid’s novel of the same name, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2007. It spans a decade in the life of a young Pakistani man who studies in the US and begins a relationship with a woman who is going through a bereavement. The story charts his life following the 9/11 attacks: how a seismic event challenges an individual’s sense of where their identity may previously have been tethered as it changes profoundly in a landscape that no longer recognises the same person.
How does it differ from the original novel?
Steph Street who did the adaptation has a uniquely emotional and layered theatrical voice and the play is a communication and collaboration with the source material rather than a page-by-page-to-stage. The novel is a direct address to one person: the reader. Our audience is bigger – we’ll hopefully have around 90 people in – so there is a shift in that sense.
It’s been staged before and the original cast are returning, have there been any changes?
We have 7 out of the original cast members returning which is just wonderful, as well as the creative team, some members of stage management (though sadly not all). We have a new performer joining us which will ensure that we re-examine everything with fresh eyes which is really exciting, as well as having all that togetherness and texture that we found last time. I hope our collective memory of the show will have changed and morphed a little bit since last summer: a lot has happened in the world since then and theatre is an evolving, alive medium that opens its arms to a changing world.
What most excites you about working with the National Youth Theatre?
So much. The performers are committed, bold, hard-working; the technical and stage management members frequently surprise incoming professional creatives with the quality and detail of their work. And there is an opportunity every time an NYT member works on a show: the audiences are public national audiences and the learning opportunity is therefore huge. The company helps young people discover the “them” inside them, whoever that person may be and whatever they feel they could be in the world. It is a genuine national treasure.
What has been most challenging about directing The Reluctant Fundamentalist?
The show has 14 characters, the settings are genuinely global, and the material is huge in its reach and spirit. It’s the best kind of challenge I think: to reveal story and character with minimal fuss and maximum range. But most of all the material is difficult because this is a story for anyone who has ever felt that the shifting climate of the world pull apart whatever sense of identity they have. It’s personal and therefore a huge challenge: both to give the best of myself to the work but at the same also somehow to stay dispassionately outside of it and make sure it’s objectively in good shape and that everyone’s happy. It can feel tough being both people at once, but it’s the best problem to have as a director: the problem I am constantly searching for in a piece of work.
- The National Youth Theatre present a season of three plays at The Yard Theatre from 8 – 26 August. Prasanna Puwanarajah directs The Reluctant Fundamentalist from 8 – 12 August; Alice Knight directs Blue Stockings, from 15 – 19 August and Zoe Lafferty directs The Host from 22 – 26 August.