This is the first of two interviews with the graduating directors from the Richmond Orange Tree theatre’s one year trainee directors programme. Teunkie Van der Sluijs’ showcase piece is a London premiere of Winter by Jon Fosse which is in production until July 9th. It is a difficult watch and one that is unlike anything I have seen on the stage. The performances are really very strong, and the tension is prominent if the storyline, purposely, is a little baffling. I struggle with minimalism and heavily styilised pieces and this is certaintly a toughy, but the ideas behind it are very strong, the direction is promising and if Fosse is your cup of tea I imagine this could rival the invention of the PG tips triangle tea bag. Teunkie very kindly took the time to answer a couple of questions for us about the play and his time in Richmond.
The orange tree is a wonderful space, how have you found working there for a year?
The year has been incredibly intense, in a good way! There are very few opportunities to learn the craft of directing ‘on the job’, and I struggle to think of a better environment in which to develop as an emerging director than the Orange Tree. You gain a lot of ‘hands on’ experience through working as assistant or associate director on the venue’s productions, and through directing your own work. When you’re not in rehearsals, you develop a thorough insight into all facets of a producing house – from work in the literary department, to outreach and education work, to all elements of a production process. The Orange Tree’s trainee director scheme is now in its 25th year, and it has been a real priviledge to have been taken on by artistic director Sam Walters onto this incredibly valuable scheme.
Are there more limitations or liberations that come with theatre in the round?
It is exciting because you need to reconsider a lot of the things you think you know about stagecraft. You cannot create stage pictures in the same way as you would in a more conventional theatre space. But I think it is incredibly liberating, because an in-the-round setting allows actors to be much more free and life-like in the way they use space. And the proximity of the audience creates a more intimate set-up that can bring out certain elements of a play much more strongly than the relative divide between spectators and actors in other theatres.
How have the rehearsals been?
Jon Fosse writes very ‘open’ text. His plays look, on the page, more like a poem than a playtext. There is no punctuation, and lines are very short, rhythmical and often unfinished. This gives immense freedom to actors, but it also requires strong dramaturgy. The only stage directions he will give you, apart from numerous pauses, are where he indicates a character “stops himself.” However, for an actor, it is essential to know how these thoughts would continue if they would voice them in their entirity, because I do believe the characters complete the thoughts in their heads. But what this thought is, and what it is that prevents the character from saying it in full requires a lot of work in rehearsal. And then there is the repetitive, elliptical nature of the writing, which requires careful handling. Fortunately, Jennifer Higham and Stuart Fox have been amazing to work with, constantly willing to try new things, new readings of the text, new insights into their characters, new physical tones to rendering them. And the Orange Tree’s production and stage management team have been amazingly supportive, which made rehearsing this play very smooth.
Whats next after the Orange Tree?
Winter is going to my native Amsterdam in September, which is exciting, as it is the first time in a year I’ve shown something there. I wonder how the show will be received there, as Jon Fosse tends to get a lukewarm response in Britain, where reviewers are often perplexed by the lack of ‘literalness’ or simple answers in the text. In Europe, where he is currently the most performed living playwright, there is – I think – a more open and receptive attitude towards his writing, and less of a desire to see social realism in theatre. Audiences there tend to be more attuned to just taking something for what it is, and not demanding of theatre that it reflect their lives literally, but rather metaphorically. And then there is another show in Amsterdam next season, my first main house production for Amsterdam’s primary new writing venue, although I will remain based in London, where I have lived since my drama school days.
Whats the best thing you’ve ever seen at the theatre?
Most things I really like tend to be by quite strong auteur-directors, often from outside Britain. I am a huge fan of Robert Lepage, and his Far Side of the Moon, Lipsynch and The Anderson Project have been truly amazing. Thomas Ostermeier, artistic director of the Schaubuehne in Berlin, is a huge influence, and his productions of Hedda Gabler and Hamlet were unforgettable. As was Lev Dodin’s production of Chekhov’s Platonov for the Maly Drama Theatre of St Petersburg.
What made you want to become a director?
Being interested in way too many things: literature, music, acting, movement, visual art, film, design, lighting… And theatre is really the only art form where they all come together. And then there’s the fact that when you’re in a rehearsal room, and you’re working with actors to unlock a script, you constantly stumble upon insights into how we function as humans, into why we do what we do. A rehearsal room is an incredibly exciting place to be, and good actors are the most generous people in the world, because they will share insights into what it is to be a human being for six, seven hours a day. Not verbally, but through how they render human behaviour. It is a real priviledge to be around them. And then they go out and share it with an audience…
Whats your favourite film?
Una Giornata Particolare by Ettore Scola is just wonderful, the incredibly intense relationship he managed to capture between Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren, both cast competely against type, is amazing. La Haine, by Mathieu Kassovitz, is an all-time favorite. And Requiem for a Dream is a masterpiece, both visually and in terms of character development and storytelling.
The Good Review would like to say a big thank you to Teunkie Van der Sluijs and which him and his production of Jon Fosse’s Winter all the very best at home and on its travels.
Winter is being performed as part of a showcase evening at the Orange Tree Theatre Richmond from 29th June – 9th July for more information and to book tickets please go to their website: