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Iain MacDonald on The Deep

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The Deep, by Graeme Maley, opens at the Brewery Theatre on 4 September, and is a one-man show promising humanity, humour and an aching beauty that will speak to all who have ever admired the power of the sea.

Based on a true event, The Deep is directed by Iain MacDonald, and is being staged as part of the Tobacco Factory’s initiative to incentivise local theatrical talent to stay in Bristol, and offer an annual Graduate Director’s Slot for an exceptional graduate from Bristol Old Vic Theatre School to direct a show at their Brewery venue.

Iain took time out from rehearsals to answer a few questions for Whatsonstage.

Tell Me about The Deep?
The Deep is originally an Icelandic play by Jon Atli Jonasson based on a true event in the waters of Iceland in the 1990s. This version has been adapted by Graeme Maley, setting the play in Scotland and the North Sea. The play is a one-man show about a young man who goes off for another season deep-sea fishing on the trawler boats. He tells us of his life, friends and dreams but as he and the crew await arrival on fishing grounds, disaster strikes and the men are left at the mercy of the sea. It’s a very uplifting, albeit tragic, play. There’s a lot of humour in it and some really lovely poetry – it’s very moving. It’s a universal human story about hope amid fear, something that everyone has experienced in one shape or another.

We are also lucky to be working with the Fisherman’s Mission – a charity that supports the 13,000+ men and woman who work in the fishing industry, giving support to the many fishing communities that help keep our country afloat and fish on our plates. We are hoping to raise a bit of money for them and spread some awareness.

Why did you choose this work?
I am from a small town in Scotland called Thurso, which is on the North coast in the county of Caithness, so the sea has always been a big part of my life. I enjoy things about the sea - it’s such a rich resource both in terms of performance and life. Fishing is one of the oldest trades in the world – people have always depended on the sea which both gives and takes. The play combines all of these things. It shows our dependence on the sea, its beauty and also its tragedy. Not to mention the fact that the writing is beautiful. There are a number of Scottish colloquialisms in it which gives it a real cultural identity, and that’s really what I look for in projects. A sense of place.

Tell me a little more about working at the Tobacco Factory?
I recently graduated from the directors’ course at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School and during the time we were interviewed by Ali Robertson who runs the TF. He asked us each to pitch an idea for a play to take place at the Brewery which could be whatever we wanted. Myself and the others directors each had a go and Ali picked me as he seemed to love the play. Having been awarded the position, the Tobacco Factory gave me a small budget and some marketing support to help make the show a success. I’m delighted as it’s wonderful to have brought a piece which is very dear to me, both on a personal and cultural level, and for Ali to have taken a chance on it. As I said to him during the pitch – ‘if I don’t do this play, no one else will.’ I guess in that respect, it’s going to be a pretty unique run.

Along with designer, Halla Groves-Raines you were jointly awarded Bristol Old Vic Theatre School’s ‘John Elvery Prize’ for best director/designer collaboration on Knives In Hens. How significant is industry recognition?
It’s wonderful to have your work recognised in that way, especially since myself and Halla work so well together. I’m not one for chasing awards but it’s certainly not something to be scoffed at if achieved. My main hope is that people enjoy the shows we do and come away with something – that’s an award as good as any other as far as I’m concerned.

How did you decide and go about a career as a Director?
Where I come from in Scotland isn’t exactly a hub of theatrical activity so there’s a high level of determination needed. I used to write a lot as a child – screenplays, poetry, short stories. When I became a teenager I got involved in amateur dramatics and had some great experiences. There was also a professional theatre company based in Thurso, led by George Gunn who helped me realise a career in theatre was possible. I wanted to be an actor at first and did quite a lot of youth theatre on a National level. I worked with Scottish Youth Theatre on an NHS funded show about sexual health called ‘Dying for It’. There was about twelve of us in the cast and the show toured over a two year period in various schools and festivals in Scotland and Ireland. We performed at the opening of the Scottish Parliament in front of the Queen as well! I think everyone from that cast has actually gone on to be involved in the theatre in one way or another. That whole process really defined me and gave me the chance to realise that rather than being an actor, I preferred working with actors, writers and designers.

I’m really into storytelling, and as a director I have a wider vision and concern for story. That’s what I really enjoy; stories.

What are you looking for in your next production?
Myself and Halla are already thinking about what’s next. We’ve got a number of options but I’m starting to get quite interested in devising and verbatim theatre. Whatever it is, you can be sure it’ll be about the sea.

The Deep runs at The Brewery Theatre, Bristol from 4 to 15 September


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