Love, Acceptance and Fighting for What is Right: Interview with Laura Jayne Bateman and Aneesa Kaleem

As the highly anticipated The Pride comes to the New Theatre this week, Impact Arts’ Michelle Williams sat down and spoke to the director, Laura Jayne Bateman and producer, Aneesa Kaleem about the show, its resonance today and how they juggled creating the show alongside university life.

 Can you tell us a little bit of what the show is about?

Laura Jayne Bateman: The play looks at the ways that the world we live in shape our identities and shape who we are. You have the same three characters, Oliver, Phillip and Sylvia, and two time periods, 1958 and 2008. It looks how different their lives have been and how different they would be as people, depending on which sort of era they are living in.

Was it hard using different time periods with the same characters in the play?

Aneesa Kaleem: I think it adds an extra layer to the show because you aren’t just looking at it from one perspective. The actors definitely found the 2008 scenes a little bit easier, because in terms of the way its set, its a bit more natural for them to act in that way. But they have worked well in both eras.

LJB: Logistically it is quite challenging, as because of the way the play is written you have alternating scenes. So there is one section in Act Two where Oliver and Sylvia are in 1958, and straight away they are back in 2008 and there is no intermediary dialogue, so you have to work out a way of having a scene change or a costume change as a way of making it clear. So logistically that’s a bit of a nightmare.

But it has all been good fun and we have been able to get quite creative with it. For the actors it is nice to create almost two different versions of the character. They need to create those kind of continuing characteristics across the universes, but based on the attitudes of the worlds they are living in.

What was your favourite parts of producing and directing the show?

LJB: All the shows I’ve directed so far have been period pieces in one way or another, so I loved the period element of the play, but I also enjoyed the challenge of the modern scenes. Not only in terms of language and themes addressed, but the modern scenes have a different dynamic. So the 1958 scenes are much more serious whereas the 2008 scenes have much more comedy. So I’ve really enjoyed the challenge of creating the blend between the two worlds.

AK: For me, the set design and how we’ve created the concept of the play has been really interesting because we have all of these different things going on. We are basically setting it in a warehouse, its somewhere where you might have been a bit ashamed to have been in the ‘50s, it is illicit.

But nowadays, the same setting could be a place that’s been converted into a trendy Starbucks. So it is that kind of duality built into the set and not only the plot that was really fun to play around with.

What has been the most challenging part of the process?

LJB: I think what the play deals with, thematically, as a large part of it deals with LGBT issues. So you have the differences of being an LGBT person in 1958, when it was illegal to be gay, and then the switch to now when, of course, it is legal but there are still challenges. It is presenting issues and themes like that, and also issues such as sexual violence and the role of women in a respectful way.

Its about honouring those people’s experiences, who obviously went through incredible difficulties, but also not just making it doom and gloom. For me the play is about love, acceptance and about fighting for what is right, and so the challenge is balancing some of the trauma of the moments but using that to inform that message of love, acceptance and pride.

AK: I am on the same vein, trying to stage the dramatic moments is quite difficult to watch and choreograph and be in the room for, but once we had got some of the scenes down we were like ‘this is going to affect people’. That’s what we want, we want people to come out of the play thinking about it and thinking about some of the themes that are explored. But it is just difficult to do it.

LJB: Even with what’s happened only last week with the elections [in the US], it is also with what has happened this year with Brexit. With Trump it’s like hate and ignorance are winning.

This play has the message that we can fight this hate, ignorance and prejudice just by believing in who we are, and just by accepting other people. I like to think that in this time of uncertainty that people will come out of the show feeling a little bit hopeful and happier of who they are.

How do you think your version of the play is unique from other versions?

LJB: So we are setting it in the round – technically in the square! This means we will have audience on all four sides, and it’s never been done like that before. Normally it is very naturalistic, in terms of sets, costumes with an audience here and the play there, and then there is that fourth wall. But because the themes are so resonant with so many people we wanted to break that down a little bit.

So by setting it in the round you have this connection between the audience and actors, because the audience are able to absorb a lot more of what’s happening all around them. From that perspective the way we are doing it is quite unique because we are not subscribing to those naturalistic conventions quite as much.

How have you managed to juggle directing/ producing the show alongside uni life?

AK: I’m based on the Derby campus, so trying to fit in travelling back and forth from Derby, and trying to get to rehearsals and stuff is a bit funny. It is doable, but it does mean that I don’t have too much time for other stuff because I do want to be there as much as I can.

LJB: My course is a bit less intense, I do English so I don’t have as many contact hours. But we have done it so much by now. This is my fifth show that I am directing, and the second time Aneesa and I have done a show together, so we kind of know how it works now!

Sum up The Pride in three words!

Both: Effecting, celebratory and hopeful.

Michelle Williams

Image credit: Nottingham New Theatre

‘The Pride’ will be running at the Nottingham New Theatre from Wednesday 16th November to Saturday 19th November. For more information and to book tickets, see here.

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